The moment I walked into Hao Noodle and Tea by Madam Zhu’s Kitchen, a new Chinese restaurant in the West Village, it was such a shitshow that I thought there was no way the food here was going to be good. I was greeted by a hostess with a blank stare who kept quoting guests wait times that probably weren’t real and showed us to the waiting area, handing me a menu of “mocktails” and teas that I could order from, only two out of the three special teas were not available that night. It didn’t really matter if I wanted anything, because no one was really around to take my order. The whole staff looked like they had been cobbled together at the last minute to run this restaurant, except no one gave them any guidance on how to do it, and no one looked like they really cared.
The interior was also a little strange. It looked more like a cutesy West Village bistro with its exposed brick and wood floors, but something felt a little off. Like this was a Chinese person’s idea of what a West Village restaurant should look like but the execution wasn’t quite right, even though they threw a lot of money at it. The restaurateur is a woman named Zhu Rong who apparently runs a Madam Zhu’s Kitchen franchise in China and this is her first foray into New York, so I guess that explains a lot. I did think it was a nice departure from the dingy places in Chinatown or the predictably super slick red and black Asian decor at the fusion places. And another good sign was that there were a lot of Chinese people eating around me. So maybe this wouldn’t be a disaster after all.
With such an inauspicious start, the food actually arrived in a timely manner, and it was pretty decent. The flavors were clean and refined, a different take from the homey, punchier flavors that we’ve come to expect from Chinese food in the States. The Chinese chives with clams were served cold, with just a hint of sesame and ginger to lend a bit of savory flavor. The sweet and sour soy marinade on the smoked sole was perfectly sealed in as a crispy glaze, making it one of my favorite dishes from the night.
I generally do not like Sichuanese style chicken, as I’m not a fan of things drowning in greasy chili oil and I hate the lingering heat from the peppercorns, but Hao Noodle’s version, the Le Shan chicken, removed those offensive traits, which was nice. I still preferred the roasted Cantonese chicken, which was probably the least adventurous choice that we made for dinner, but sometimes you need a dish like this one that will be a safe and solid option in case your riskier choices are too out there. Chinese noodles, the dan dan and lo mein noodles of the world, also serve that purpose, and the scallion noodles did not disappoint. The noodles were thickly coated in a light gravy, and maybe they weren’t as gut punching delicious like the dan dan noodles from Han Dynasty, but we finished them pretty quickly. We probably could have done without the tomato rice stew, which tasted like a strange jook, but that was the only real complaint foodwise I had about our dinner. Now if they could get it together with the staff and get a proper alcohol license, I would probably come back regularly.
Hao Noodle and Tea by Madam Zhu’s Kitchen
401 6th Ave (between Waverly Pl and Greenwich Ave)
New York, NY 10014