The catchy name Fat Choy immediately drew me in. I knew exactly what kind of restaurant Fat Choy, a small scrappy restaurant in the Lower East Side, would be, and I wasn’t wrong. It was playful and homey, a little bit familiar and a little bit not, a perfect description of the “kinda Chinese” but mostly tasty ethos that drives the cooking at the Fat Choy kitchen. Kinda Asian restaurants are in abundance these days. You can imagine some second or third generation chef making some tweaks to a family recipe, smiling if it works and shrugging her shoulders if it doesn’t. The angle at Fat Choy is that its kinda Chinese food is vegan. It sounds impossible at first, since we tend to associate Chinese food with pork or chicken, but when you think about how tasty Chinese vegetables are on their own, then it makes a lot of sense.
The menu is small, and so are the portions, so if you go with a friend, you can probably order almost everything on the menu and share. That was our approach for a recent lunch outing. Individually we couldn’t decide on whether we should order the mushroom sloppy or the rice roll, two of the featured Chef’s specials, but together we wouldn’t have to miss out on anything. It was a good thing we could share, because neither one of us truly enjoyed the mushroom sloppy (seasoning was a little off, a little too much cilantro and five spice or anise is my guess?), but we did like the rice rolls. The rice rolls are different from the wide, flat dim sum variety. In a way it has a lot in common with Korean tteokbukki, since the rice wrappers are literally rolled into thick cylindrical nuggets. The black vinegar sauce is the key to bringing it all together.
My favorite dish, though, was the sticky rice dumpling. Imagine dumplings shaped like a ravioli and pan fried to a satisfying golden brown, adorned with some bright chili crisps. On the menu it’s described as “grandson style”, another reminder of Fat Choy’s kinda Asian style of cooking, and a very successful example of what that can mean. I also loved the salt and pepper cauli, and while batter-fried cauliflower isn’t a new thing these days, the extra crisp nature of the cauliflower at Fat Choy is special. The one dish that tasted the most traditional, mostly and not just kinda asian, were the little bok choys. I do think Fat Choy is more successful when things are just kinda and not fully asian.
Fat Choy is the type of restaurant I’d go back to frequently. The menu is accessible and I already know what I want to order. I like how the menu is short and to the point. Sometimes too much choice is a bummer, especially when I want to keep things quick and casual. Rice rolls, salt and pepper cauli, sticky rice dumpling on autopilot, done. You can eat it outside or take it to go, whatever you want, and it’ll probably taste the same in either situation. Kinda asian, always delicious.
250 Broome St (between Orchard and Ludlow St)
New York, NY 10002