Málà Project Dry Pot vs. Hou Yi Hot Pot

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.

complimentary dumplings at mala project. plus the restaurant is byob
complimentary dumplings at mala project. plus the restaurant is byob

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.

perhaps our third order of meat
perhaps our third order of meat

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.

boiling hot pot...so good but so smelly
boiling hot pot…so good but so smelly

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.

the spicy bowl at mala
the spicy bowl at mala

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
(212) 966-3420

Málà Project
122 1st Ave (between 7th and 8th St)
New York, NY 10009
(212) 353-8880

Dim Sum Go Go

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.

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char siu bao
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chicken feet. very polarizing.
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shumai, spare ribs, shrimp and chives dumplings, char siu bao
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chinese pea shoots
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dipping sauces
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seafood fried rice with dried scallop
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fried shrimp balls
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shrimp rice roll
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tripe
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turnip cake

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.

taro and black sesame ice cream
taro and black sesame ice cream


Dim Sum Go Go
5 E Broadway (between Chatham Sq and Catherine St)
New York, NY 10038

(212) 732-0797

The Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
65 Bayard St (between Pell and Bayard St)
New York, NY 10013
(212) 608-4170

 

 

 

Mission Chinese, Part Deux

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.

big group dinner crew at mission chinese
big group dinner crew at mission chinese
remnants of mission chinese's hipster takeout past
remnants of mission chinese’s more humble past

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.

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chongqing chicken wings – very spicy
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chewy green tea noodles
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beef tartare with salmon roe
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westlake rice porridge with rare beef, crunchy scallop floss and soft egg
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thrice cooked bacon with shanghai rice cakes, bitter melon and sweet tofu skins
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clams in pig’s blood
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mapo tofu
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big tray fish with purple taro, turnip and wheat noodles

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.

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josefina’s house special chicken
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the chicken head is the best part

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.


Mission Chinese
171 East Broadway (between Rutgers and Jefferson St)
New York, NY 10002
(212) 432-0300

Shanghai Cafe Soup Dumplings

The first time I ever had soup dumplings was at Joe’s Shanghai in New York, but the first time I ever had great soup dumplings was at Din Tai Fung in Shanghai. The sacs of thin, delicate dumpling wrappers filled with hot, flavorful broth were nothing like the thick, rough buns that were somehow in so much demand in Chinatown. Din Tai Fung is a worldwide chain with locations everywhere but in New York, and Joe’s Shanghai seems to be the only game in town, so eating soup dumplings is a rare occasion for me.

I was talking to a coworker one day, and she was the one who let me in on the little secret that is Shanghai Cafe Deluxe, a restaurant in Chinatown that apparently makes better soup dumplings than the ones at Joe’s, and perhaps even better than the ones at the indomitable Din Tai Fung. I had to get to the bottom of this and headed to the restaurant on a Sunday, where I ordered both the pork and the crab meat & pork soup dumplings. Unlike Joe’s, there isn’t really a line at Shanghai Cafe, and we waited about 5 minutes for a table. Things were off to a good start.

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a close-up of the steamed tiny buns with crab meat and pork
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the steamed tiny buns with pork

The verdict? The wrapper was a little thicker than I liked, but it wasn’t as bad as Joe’s. It doesn’t hold up too well when it cools, though, and the wrapper starts to get very chewy. So obviously, eat it as soon as you can. The crab meat is the way to go here. The broth has that great, briney flavor that is unmistakably crab roe, which makes it a pleasure to bite into. The pork dumplings are solid, but the broth is a little more one-note. The dipping sauce is horrible. The soy sauce tasted bitter and burnt, like a batch of espresso beans gone bad, and I wonder if the restaurant used a bottle well past the expiration date. The broth is so flavorful, though, that you don’t really need any of the sauce.

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the hot mess that is cabbage and crab meat…

When ordering other entrees, proceed with caution. We tried a cabbage with crab meat dish, which Ruoxi wanted because it reminded him of a dish his mom used to make. We were setting ourselves up for failure, one, because nothing can ever compare to your mom’s cooking, and two, sometimes those homestyle, family dishes are a little too authentic, if you get my drift. As expected, the cabbage with crab meat was nothing like the one Ruoxi’s mom made, it was a hot mess that looked like a bowl of leftover egg drop soup. Just tasting it, you knew it was bad. It was probably 90% cornstarch, 5% fake crab meat and 5% other. There were these random heads of baby bok choy that were hard to eat because they were just slipping and sliding everywhere. Morale of the story–stick to what you know, order the crab meat and pork soup dumplings, and make sure to bring some cash!!


Shanghai Cafe Deluxe
100 Mott St (between Hester and Canal St)
New York, NY 10013
(212) 966-3988
*Cash only

Shanghai Café

Epic Peking Duck @ Decoy

Thanksgiving came several days early this year. I already had an epic group dinner at Decoy, in which the six of us stuffed our faces with 2 nice, fat and crispy Peking ducks, after having already filled up on four “small” appetizers and some deceptively light fish skin chips, and just when we thought we were in the clear, a bowl of fried rice, another side, and three additional main dishes rounded out the meal. Does this sound like a lot of food? Would it help if I mentioned that we also had pickled vegetables and shots of duck consomme? Clearly I should have done a better job of saving some room for actual Thanksgiving day.

But despite the enormous, and at times overwhelming, amount of food, I thought the duck dinner here was fabulous. In fact, I would highly encourage you to skip the usual dry turkey and just order the duck dinner at Decoy with your closest family members and friends, because the restaurant is open on Thanksgiving!! The Chinese members of this entourage commented on how authentic and high quality this Peking duck was, and their opinions are pretty legit given their exposure and preference for the super traditional preparation. And with all the attention paid to the duck, it’s impressive that the accompanying sides and mains were just as memorable and mouth-wateringly delicious as the duck. I definitely swooned when I had a bite of the juicy marinated rib steak and the pastrami triangles, and my heart skipped a beat with a spoonful of the crab and scallop fried rice. You seriously can’t go wrong with anything here. Click through these pictures, see what looks good, and chances are you will love how it tastes.


Decoy
529 ½ Hudson St. (between Charles and W. 10th St)
New York, NY 10014
212-691-9700

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Decoy