I walked into Puma Yu’s — a new Southeast Asian restaurant in Athens — an avid hater of all things coconut and almond adjacent. I left stupefied, knowing that over the next few days I’d crave the almond-flavored tart filled with mango and pineapple, pillowed under a fluffy dollop of coconut cream.
Truly. Whenever I look at clouds now, I think of that coconut cream.
Dessert aside, Puma Yu’s is an atypical restaurant for Athens. According to chef Pete Amadhanirundr — who co-owns Puma Yu’s with mixologist Ally Smith — that was on purpose.
“I just wanted to bring a little bit of my culture to this town while using locally sourced ingredients and Southern ingredients,” Amadhanirundr said.
Puma Yu’s is located near a few Chase Street restaurant staples, such as Maepole and Tlaloc. It’s the only restaurant in the historic Southern Mill Complex, an adaptive reuse project on Oneta Street that now has offices.
The ingredients were not the only things that were locally sourced — Amadhanirundr and Smith even worked with local interior designer Tami Ramsay from Cloth & Kind. The restaurant interior is rustic and industrial, with exposed pipes at the ceiling and lightly painted brick walls. Edison light bulbs warmly light up the dining room, floral lamps hang over the bar, and plants adorn the restaurant’s nooks and crannies. There’s also a covered patio with sparkling lights.
Despite the hip atmosphere, it’s not exactly student friendly. Food prices average at about $18, with the $12 tart as the cheapest item and the spicy basil flounder as the most expensive at $36. The menu is fluid, Amadhanirundr said, and changes depending on what’s available and when he gets bored of making the same dishes.
Adorned with scallion, red onion and mint, the crispy rice salad rice is eaten on a head of lettuce. The peanuts mixed in gave it an extra crunch. It’s similar to a quinoa salad, just not as soft — even the underside of the rice itself was crunchy. It’s a safe dish, perfect for those with less adventurous appetites.
The hotness of the blue crab claws immediately hit my tongue, but I was satisfied with the buttery and warm notes at the end. It works as both a shareable appetizer and an individual entree.
But Puma Yu’s is about more than just the food. Smith, who has a background of making drinks at The National and Old Pal, made a lengthy drink menu. Knowing I have a particular taste, I asked our waitress what the sweetest drink on the menu was.
She recommended the “gimlet of the day,” which was a vibrant pink color. The hibiscus and prickly pear gave it a natural, cleansing flavor, but the real punch was with the lemongrass and mint gin, filled with bittersweet notes. The gimlet changes depending on what’s available, Smith said.
The shrimp in the chili shrimp noodles was savory and buttery, but the chili flavor was lacking. It came unpeeled with its heads and legs attached, so I spent more time preparing the food than actually eating it. The bluntness of the potatoes mixed with the slippery glass noodles felt strange, the textures battling in my mouth. Still, this is a dish I would get again; it’s just not quite as spicy as I hoped.
The special was the deliciously salty and sweet roasted butternut squash. The coconut sauce was the star of the dish, the creaminess melting on my tongue as I bit in. The khao soi beef was an amalgamation of noodles, curry and crunchy chips; it was the most subtle dish on the menu. Another safe bet for the less adventurous, it was a relieving break from the explosion of flavors from the other foods.
There are some items the menu can do without. The Thai hot chicken sandwich, or T.H.C., disappointingly tasted like a spicier take on any fast food buffalo chicken sandwich. The tom yum clams taste like clams from anywhere else — not bad, but nothing special.
Still, Puma Yu’s should go down in the books for its refined cuisine yet casual atmosphere. If nothing else, try the coconut almond tart and be taken to another dimension.
Nimra Ahmad is a senior majoring in journalism and international affairs.
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