When you hear that a former executive chef of Din Tai Fung is making soup dumplings in Soho, you run, not walk, to that restaurant as soon as possible. While the soup dumpling scene in New York is improving, nothing quite compares to Din Tai Fung, and since we’re not getting a NYC branch anytime soon, I figured this might be the next best thing. We dropped by Pinch Chinese, the restaurant in question, on a Saturday night, praying that there wouldn’t be epic waits for a dinner table.Read More
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.Read More
Everyone knows about hot pot, but what about dry pot? I didn’t even know dry pot was a thing until I heard about Málà Project, a restaurant in the East Village that specializes in it. I was trying to research the origins of dry pot, and I found a few links that referenced the Chongqing area of Sichuan as the birthplace. It uses the same seasonings and ingredients as hot pot, except there is no soup base, hence the name.
The East Village is home to both dry pot and hot pot, and the restaurants are nearly a block away from one another. Málà Project is on 1st Ave and 7th St, and Hou Yi Hot Pot, the extremely popular hot pot restaurant in Chinatown, recently opened a location on 2nd Ave and 6th St. So what do you do when you’re at a hot pot crossroads, do you make a left and go wet, or do you turn the corner to go dry?
It’s not even a question, as I would choose Hou Yi over Málà any day. You simply cannot complete with an all-you-can-eat $30 hot pot buffet with unlimited drinks and ice cream. This is how the dynasty of Todai wields its power in the suburbs of America, and now the children of those value-driven Asian families who’ve moved to cities will gladly keep those traditions going at Hou Yi. I am one of them, and I cannot tell you how excited I was that I got to drink as many lychee and chrysanthemum drinks as I wanted, and we were not shy about asking for multiple orders of beef, to get the most out of our $30 buck.
Obviously quantity over quality has its drawbacks. The quality of the beef, fish balls, tofu and vegetables are good, but the chicken and fish are not. The sheer number of options at the sauce bar can be overwhelming. Do you use peanut sauce, bbq sauce, sesame paste, soy sauce? Do you mix every single thing together? Are you even supposed to do that? I decided to throw together a base of sesame paste, some soy sauce, a little chili oil, some fish sauce and a few scallions, and that actually worked out pretty well.
Another drawback is the smell. Hot pot stinks up your clothes, and in anticipation of that, the staff covers your jackets in plastic. The hot pot cooks directly in front of you, and all the meat-broth steam gets up in your pores like the steam machine at a sauna, so you are literally saturated in hot pot broth. There’s no way around it. Just wash your clothes immediately after. This is one area where Málà has an edge. All the dry pots are cooked in the back, so your clothes are safe.
One thing that both hot pot and dry pot have in common? Spicy means SPICY. At Málà, we ordered one non-spicy pot and another mild spicy pot, and everyone was struggling with the mild one. Meat sweats, hiccups, multiple glasses of water, you name it. They are not messing around with heat at either place. Hou Yi at least has a remedy for bringing down the heat, an unlimited ice cream bar. The whole experience at Hou Yi is just so sweet, from beginning to end, and there’s no question which kind of pot will reign supreme.
Hou Yi Hot Pot
97 2nd Ave (between 5th and 6th St)
New York, NY 10002
122 1st Ave (between 7th and 8th St)
New York, NY 10009
The best thing about having Asian relatives over is that a meal of dim sum will likely take place in the near future. Which is what happened over Thanksgiving weekend, we all went to my favorite dim sum restaurant in the city, Dim Sum Go Go. A lot of purists look down on this place, saying that it’s Americanized, but I don’t care, I love how civil the experience is and I prefer the cleaner flavor profile. There are no pushcarts roaming about, you tick off the items you want to order, and the food arrives as it’s ready. Dim Sum Go Go was especially on point during that visit, all my favorites were fresh and at their best–the shrimp rice roll, the shumai, the shrimp balls, and the seafood fried rice. Maybe it’s not the way your grandma made it, but the ABC way is the way I like it.
And the best part about dim sum is that you’re never so full that you don’t have room for a little more. Like some ice cream from The Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. All the Asian flavors you could ever dream of are served here, and nothing gets more Asian than an ice cream cone with a pink Pocky stick in it. With some sweet scoops of taro and black sesame, now your meal is really complete.
Dim Sum Go Go
5 E Broadway (between Chatham Sq and Catherine St)
New York, NY 10038
The Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
65 Bayard St (between Pell and Bayard St)
New York, NY 10013
Mission Chinese got a major upgrade in its new digs on East Broadway. Gone are the janky Chinese takeout counter and that floating pinata, and in their place are fancy red booths and gold plated dragons on the walls. While I loved how much roomier and civilized this space felt versus the old Orchard spot–you can actually hear your dinner companion across the table, and you can even make reservations on Reserve–I did feel that it did lose some of its gritty charm. Mission Chinese definitely sold out a little bit and became a little less cool, but the food is still the same, and I would take that over the 3 hour wait in a cramped, LES basement any day.
The best way to experience Mission Chinese is to go with a group of friends and order a ton of things family style. In the old space, a table for 15 would have been unthinkable, but you can now book one through Reserve. And with big groups, they seat you downstairs, which has a funkier vibe reminiscent of the old Mission Chinese. One stipulation with big groups is that you have to either order off of a group pre-fixe menu, or you have to order one of the large format protein dishes. The latter is a better deal, as it allows you the flexibility in ordering other mains or sides that you want, and financially, even with drinks, it will cost less than the pre-fixe option. As an example, for 13 of us, our all-in bill was $52/person, which is significantly less than what the $69 or $99 option would have been after tax, tip and drinks.
I used to be a Mission Chinese hater and thought Danny Bowien’s Asian-but-not-really-Asian cooking was overrated, but I think I’m coming around, as I really liked all the dishes that we had that night. The salt cod fried rice is just as good as ever, and the spicy chonqing chicken wings still leave your lips feeling numb. The chewy green tea noodles, a new addition, are a fabulous choice of carbs, as are the bowls of rice porridge, of which we ordered three. I was absolutely floored by the thrice cooked bacon, which featured fried pork fat at its very best, and is proof that the tired bacon trend still has some legs. With all these fried, pan-fried, chicken/pork fat dishes, I found the lettuce wraps quite refreshing and was impressed by how well the beef tartare and salmon roe paired together for a very satisfying but subtle surf-and-turf bite. The clams in pig’s blood (don’t be afraid, it tastes like black bean sauce), mapo tofu and big tray fish, I probably could have done without, not because they were bad, but they were wallflowers in comparison to their brashier colleagues.
The widely hyped Josefina’s house special chicken arrived like a Faltstaffian goose overstuffed with chorizo, olives and butter. After living the good life, this chicken met an unfortunate end with its head chopped off, but at least it was a life well spent and well fed. I personally found it to be a little too rich for my liking, maybe because I was already pretty full by the time this arrived at the table, but you won’t find a more tender or flavorful piece of stuffed chicken in town.
Leaving you comfortably full and lightly buzzed, a meal at Mission Chinese is a good time. To get there, you have to trek a little deeper into the Lower East Side, but it’s worth the trip. And while you’re there, you might as well make a night out of it at Forgetmenot or Mr. Fong’s for $5 Tsing Tao. Getting the most bang for your buck, it’s the Chinese way.
171 East Broadway (between Rutgers and Jefferson St)
New York, NY 10002