New Paltz has a new eatery at 232 Main Street in the space that formerly housed Gomen-Kudasai. Crazy Bowlz Asian Mexican Grill is the second iteration of the concept for owners Jenny Yeung and Ben Dong, who opened the first Crazy Bowlz in Kingston five and a half years ago. The ongoing popularity of that spot, with a customer base spanning the region, is one of the reasons the husband-and-wife team wanted to open another restaurant locally.
But it’s not their first effort in New Paltz. The couple previously held a food services contract at SUNY New Paltz — while also running their Kingston restaurant — but eventually decided the shared kitchen and limited space on campus was inadequate to offer the full menu of fusion cuisine they’ve developed. Yeung says they were actively looking for two years for the right location to open a second restaurant in this area until a serendipitous luncheon with a friend, who told her Youko Yamamoto was closing Gomen-Kudasai.
It took five months to do renovations, with Crazy Bowlz opening the last week of November. The café offers take-out or dining in with counter service and seating for 38 at tables along one wall or at the striking red quartz countertop facing the street.
And what is a “crazy bowl,” you ask? The focus of the menu is on “bowlz” of either rice, noodles or salad, topped with a protein of the customer’s choice and accompanying ingredients offering either Mexican or Asian flavors, the final product remaining true to its origins or becoming a pleasing combination of the two. There are also quesadillas, tacos and burritos along with steamed Chinese lotus buns served “taco style” with an assortment of fillings. Beverages include bubble teas and individually brewed Vietnamese coffee drinks along with a variety of sakes and beer.
Serving quality food is the most important thing about the restaurant, says Yeung, with all sauces made in-house and fresh ingredients cut and prepped daily. (The difficulty of finding kitchen staff who have experience dealing with an entire pork belly or lamb leg, not to mention a whole duck, is one of the challenges they face.) No MSG is ever used.
Asian-Mexican fusion food has been popular in California — and Mexico, for that matter — for years now. When the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act banned Chinese immigrants from entering the work force in this country, many went to Cuba, South America and Mexico. Those who settled in places near the U.S. border developed cuisines that blended the flavors of their countries of origin with those of their new home, and those influences have endured through the generations who followed.
For the proprietors of Crazy Bowlz, their fusion of Asian and Mexican cuisines came about through both experience and experimentation along with the love of good food. Yeung’s first-generation grandparents had a restaurant in Philadelphia, and her parents had restaurants in Virginia and Maryland. As a little girl, Yeung says, she began to cook with the intention of making her dad something special to eat, but with him being a professional chef trained in Hong Kong, she stayed away from Chinese dishes, learning instead to make Italian and Mexican food he wouldn’t critique.
Yeung became a district manager for ExxonMobil for a time, supervising managers of service stations in a territory that stretched from Manhattan to Highland, where she met the man who would become her husband. Ben Dong is a longtime restaurateur, proprietor of both Asian Garden and China Garden restaurants in the hamlet of Highland.
“When we were dating, we’d cook together, and he’s a really good cook,” Yeung says. “He’d say, ‘why not add some of this’ or ‘why not add that’ and it would really work. So for a long time we had this idea in the back of our minds to open a fusion restaurant together. What you get at Crazy Bowlz is what I cook at home as a Chinese person who grew up in Maryland. And we stock our restaurant kitchen in the same way we stock our home kitchen, with daily deliveries of fresh ingredients.”
The look of the restaurant echoes the same blending of styles, with Yeung responsible for choosing the red quartz countertops and gray stone accents with Dong choosing the black matte wall covering with a faint blueprint pattern, of a material usually used for flooring.
One of the advantages to fusion cuisine, Yeung notes, is that the entire family can dine together without anybody sacrificing what they’re in the mood for.
The “bowlz” are priced based on the protein chosen: organic teriyaki tofu or grilled chicken, for example, costs $8.50; grilled or teriyaki steak ups the cost to $8.95; and a bowl with grilled lamb, teriyaki shrimp, braised pork belly or Korean bulgogi beef will cost $9.50. Hand-pulled duck is $10.95. There are other protein options, as well.
The standard Mexican bowl is topped with pico de gallo, corn, red onion, green pepper, sour cream, cheese and cilantro. Guacamole is an additional $2.50. The Asian bowl is topped with cabbage, carrot, cucumbers, bean sprouts, broccoli, bok choy, egg and cilantro. Sauces are teriyaki and red, yellow or green curry. But any of these options are just that, with mix-and-match a possibility only limited by one’s appetite (and perhaps, adventurous spirit).
Rice is available in white, brown or seasoned varieties; salads are a mix of Romaine and organic spring mix lettuces; and there are four varieties of noodle to choose from: thin rice noodles or lo mein and the less common Cantonese and Shanghai flour noodles.
The Chinese steamed lotus buns are something Yeung grew up eating for breakfast, she says; a soft, slightly sweet doughy bun that at Crazy Bowlz are filled taco style with options that include hand-pulled duck, organic teriyaki tofu or ground steak ($7.50 to $8.95). Quesadillas come with unexpected fillings such as kimchi or duck as well as the more usual grilled chicken or cheese ($5 to $8). Burritos are accented with fresh mango salsa or pico de gallo (price based on protein chosen) and there are nacho options with Asian or Mexican flair along with soups and dumplings and appetizers that run the gamut from spring rolls and crispy wontons to grilled steak skewers and shrimp tempura.
Signature dishes include “Crazy Bibimbap,” a fusion of white rice, kimchi, pickled vegetables, bean sprouts and more served with red pepper paste on the side and topped with a sunny-side-up egg (9.95) and “Crazy Pad Thai,” fresh rice noodles topped with red onion, bean sprouts, dried tofu, egg, crushed peanuts, cilantro and lime ($11.95).
The hours at the New Paltz Crazy Bowlz Asian Mexican Grill are Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 10 p.m. The restaurant is closed on Mondays. Online ordering through the Crazy Bowlz app, already available for the Kingston location, will be an option in New Paltz soon. To order take-out, call (845) 255-0179. For more information, visit https://www.crazybowlz.net/. ++