What do you do when a restaurant runs out of its signature dish? This would be like going to Momofuku Ssam Bar and finding out they ran out of the pork buns, or walking into Russ & Daughters only to discover that they were out of bagel and lox for the day. The equivalent of this happening at Hwa Yuan, an iconic Chinese restaurant run by deceased restaurateur Shorty Tang that was recently revived by his son in its original space, is if it ran out of its famous cold sesame noodles.
When we placed our order, the waiter declared that since this was opening week, everyone would get a complimentary plate of the cold sesame noodles, hooray! Only to backtrack 5 minutes later to say that they had run completely out of them, boo! I was disappointed and a little annoyed, because to be honest the only reason why we were here and not some other Chinese restaurant was because of the highly acclaimed sesame noodles. And to add insult to injury, they then came back to tell us that they ran out of white rice, an essential staple at any Chinese restaurant. So no famous noodles and no white rice, things were not looking very good for us.
We decided to stick it out and see whether Hwa Yuan had more tricks up its sleeve than a plate of sesame noodles, and luckily, there’s a lot to like about the restaurant outside of this iconic specialty. The dry sauteed tangy crispy beef was a universal favorite, crispy and sweet and satisfying like eating a chicken nugget fresh out of a fryer. The Beijing duck, which arrived with much fanfare and was personally rolled out and carved by an employee, really did deserve that type of treatment and was enjoyed by all. The whole fish with hot bean sauce may not have been the most visually attractive dish but it tasted much better than it looked.
It’s interesting that all of the dishes we did like were specifically called out as specialties on the menu. The kung po chicken didn’t receive this designation in print, and coincidentally it turned out to be bland and unmemorable. Same thing happened with the hot tang tang noodles, which we ordered as consolation for the absence of cold sesame noodles, and it definitely didn’t make up for it. But a 5 out of 7 hit rate isn’t bad at all. Hwa Yuan is more than just a pretty plate of noodles.
42 E. Broadway (between Market and Catherine St)
New York, NY 10002