Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Chinatown Project - Day 9 & 10, the finale!

A quick finale to the Chinatown Project. As the last two days of jury duty wound down we hit two final restaurants. So far the batting average had been pretty high so I hoped to finish strong. We did OK. On day 9 we were in a snow storm so we went to a restaurant that was really close to the courthouse. On day 10 we went to a restaurant based on a fellow juror's recommendation. This is how we fared.

China Village is a small restaurant on Baxter Street right behind the court houses. It is seafood focused and solid. The scallion pancakes were decent, and the Seafood Fried Rice was enjoyable. There were two standouts.

Shrimp Dumplings (Hong Kong Style) -

Fresh, plum and delightful. A nice change of pace from pork.

Salt and Pepper Shrimp - 

Excellent dish. Savory fried shrimp, salt and pepper batter heightened with fresh herbs, onions, peppers and scallions. A highlight.

China Village will do nicely in pinch.

China Village - 94 Baxter Street between White & Walker

456 Shanghai Cuisine came with decent reviews and a recommendation. It is a bustling restaurant with white tablecloths and attentive waiters in buttondowns and bowties. First the bad. The Scallion Pancakes were doughy and soggy. We ordered Pork Shoulder in Honey sauce. It was, in theory, the same dish as Dong Po Pork at Shanghai Heping but it wasn't in the same league as that wonderful dish. The pork was drenched in a sauce that was sickly sweet and unbearable. The same was true with Baby Shrimp in Chili Sauce. Sweet, sloppy and unappetizing, I longed for Shanghai Heping's version.

Diced Chicken with peanuts was good and saved the main courses from total failure. There were two standouts at 456.

Juicy Pork Buns -

 Really top notch buns. Worth going for.

Fried Tiny Pork Dumplings -

The name of this dish is counter to what it is. These are anything but tiny. They are massive. And they are not really pork dumplings.  This was a unique dish that I didn't see anywhere else. They are cased in the pillowy dough of a pork bun. The filling is the pork of a soup dumpling. The buns are deep fried which makes the outside of the bun crispy and the inside juicy and filled with broth, like a soup dumpling. Outstanding.

I wish 456 Shanghai Cuisine was a stronger restaurant. It is a boisterous restaurant with good service and some standout dishes. My guess it is the kind of place that takes a few visits to figure out it's strengths and weaknesses, but once you do it is a solid place to eat.

456 Shanghai Cuisine - 69 Mott Street between Canal & Bayard

Ten days, ten different restaurants. I finished my two weeks in Chinatown with a renewed appreciation for the area and a list of great restaurants. The best part is that I barely scratched the surface. All the places I went were west of Bowery. I did not get to explore the East Side of Chinatown, which is rich with great restaurants, at all. Just imagine the gems hidden there. I promise to share them when I dig them up.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Chinatown Project - Days 8 - Shanghai Cuisine

On day 8 we decided to roll the dice and try a restaurant we had walked by several times, Shanghai Cuisine. Check out the reviews on line for this restaurant and you will see a 50/50 split of people who love the place and those who think it is one of the worst experiences they have ever had. What brought us in were all the posted reviews from local papers and praises from various chefs like Ming Tsai and Eddie Haung. Any place as polarizing as this one was was worth checking out.

Shanghai Cuisine bills itself as a throwback. Eating there is supposed to evoke Shanghai in the 1930s. I can't attest to how authentic it is, but I can attest that it is a throwback. Shanghai Cuisine fully embodies what it was like to go out for Chinese in New York City in the 70s and 80s. The waiters wear black pants, white button downs and black bow ties. The restaurant is decorated with red lanterns, fake strings of firecrackers and other festive decorations. The nod to 1930s Shanghai are the portraits of women is 1930s garb. The tables are covered in red checkered cloths. There is a full bar in back. The menu has all the "Chinese Food" classics as well as more "authentic" dishes. I could imagine myself here in high school, getting dinner and ordering a Sloe Gin Fizz, knowing the waiters never carded.

 Here is what we had:

Sticky Rice with Pork in Bamboo Leaf -

A little sweet and savory and very tasty.

Shanghai Pork Soup Dumpling -

At this point I was an expert on soup dumplings. Shanghai Cuisine's are great.

Fried Pork with Salt, Pepper and Garlic -

I was not sure what to expect from this dish. It was listed under "Traditional Shanghai Cuisine in 1930s." When it arrived I was a bit disappointed. It looked like strips of pork with the life fried out of it. One bite changed my tune. It was delicious. The pork was tender and moist. The breading was light with no hint of grease. The seasoning was excellent. A perfect balance of salt and pepper with a wonderful, savory tang from the garlic. I would return for this dish.

Crispy Pan Fried Noodles with Chicken -

Had to do it. Never my favorite, but just had to order it. It was fine.

Shanghai Cuisine is more expensive than a lot of the other restaurants in Chinatown. I can't say I would make it one of my go to spots, but for a touch of nostalgia, and some good food, it is worth the occasional visit. It is the perfect place to take the family when they come to visit from Ohio and want to go to Chinatown for "real" Chinese food. You and I both know they want Sweet & Sour Pork and General Tso's Chicken. Shanghai Cuisine fits the bill. They will love it. And you can slip in some "real" Chinese food to boot.

Shanghai Cuisine - 89 Bayard between Mott & Mulberry

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Chinatown Project - Day 7 - New Bo Ky

Day 7 found us at New Bo Ky, a restaurant with a fairly singular focus. New Bo Ky specializes in noodle soups. A lot of people go to New Bo Ky thinking it is a Vietnamese restaurant because the sign out front says PHO in big letters and. I believe it has some Vietnamese writing as well (I confess my ignorance). It is not. New Bo Ky is a Chinese restaurant, but it's offerings do touch ground in Vietnam. That focus pays off.

New Bo Ky looks like your standard bare bones Chinatown restaurant. Chances are you will be seated at a large table with other customers. The clientele is heavily Chinese and most of the waiters have a minimum grasp of English. The service is brusque but very fast.

Bo Ky offers soups with beef, pork, chicken and various other animal parts. For those who like kidneys, intestines and feet, Bo Ky has you covered as well. But since they specifically tout their seafood noodle soups on their store sign, that is the way we went.

The best thing not soup related is their roast duck. Bo Ky calls it Country Duck.

A little sweet and sharp with a vinegar bite. We devoured it.

Fish Dumpling w/ Flat Noodle Soup:

A winner. Great fish dumplings, wonderful seafood broth and excellent noodles.

Jumbo Shrimp and Egg Noodle Soup:

Another fine seafood noodle soup. Can't go wrong with either.

Mustard Greens:

Simple greens with a little sesame oil. Nice.

One special note. In addition to all the usual condiments there are two containers of home made hot sauces on each table. One is a red sauce, similar to what you would find in a spicy wonton dish. The other is a green sauce, with green chilies that would not be out of place in a Mexican restaurant. Use them. They are amazing. In fact, when we paid the bill, the woman who gave us our check asked if we had tried them. We told her we had and loved them and she was very happy. It turns out, she makes them herself.

Quick, easy and delicious, New Bo Ky brings the goods for all noodle soup fans. Oh, and one more thing. It is insanely cheap. That big bowl of Fish Dumpling soup? $4.75.

New Bo Ky Restaurant - 80 Bayard Street, between Mulberry and Mott

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Chinatown Project Day 6 - Shanghai Asian Manor

Getting into week two of lunch in Chinatown I was starting to get a good feel for the restaurants. I had tried to hit a few different styles of Chinese cooking and felt I had done a fair job so I was ready to start comparing restaurants with similar styles and menus but mixing up the dishes as well. So on day 6 we hit Shanghai Asian Manor on the corner of Mott and Mosco.

Shanghai Asian Manor is a fairly small restaurant. Big booths run along the right side of the room, two and four tops fill the rest of the room. It is a comfortable place with a fairly modern look and well kept. Here is what we had.

Steamed Tiny Buns with Crabmeat and Pork:

More soup dumplings, but we mixed it up and went with the house specialty, crab and pork. Really nice soup dumplings and the crab/pork combo was a winner. The crab brought a little bit of the briny sea to the standard pork filling. A nice change of pace.

Wonton Szechuan Style:

This was my favorite dish at Shanghai Asian Manor. The noodles were fresh and delicious. The spicy Szechuan sauce was thick like a paste, not runny. The sauce was fiery and rich. No dumbing down here. An excellent version of this dish and worth returning for it.

Sliced Chicken with Mixed Vegetables:

Solid dish. Honestly not would I would usually order but the table wanted it and again, a really good version of the dish.

Sauteed Baby Shanghai Boi Choy:

Good, fresh, clean, simple and virtuous. 

Diced Chicken in Hot Pepper Sauce:

Also known as Diced Chicken with Hot Pepper and Peanuts. Another top notch version of a classic dish. Nice chunks of chicken. The two keys were the sauce, which was piquant and flavorful, and the peppers. Red and green, crisp and fresh. Perfectly cooked so they retained their snap and bite. This confirmed Shanghai Asian Manor as a solid go to in Chinatown.

Shanghai Asian Manor is a really good restaurant with consistently good cooking and good ingredients. If you want to dig deeper into the menu you will be rewarded. But if you are looking to order the same things you always get, they will have one of the best versions you have had. Definitely worth a visit the next time you are on Mott Street.

Shanghai Asian Manor - 21 Mott Street @ Mosco