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weinoo

Mission Chinese Food – 154 Orchard St.

38 posts in this topic

Last night was "opening" night, and a friend and I were lucky enough to score a pair of seats at Mission Chinese Food, after a nominal 20 minute wait, at the ungodly dinner hour of 6:30; normally, we're drinking at that time - and aren't you? Whatever, here we were, greeted warmly by the host and hostess (Anna and Aubrey), and invited to share a celebratory beer while we waited for our seats to become available. Quite festive...

2012_05_22 Mission beer.jpg

Mission Chinese Food, for those who have either been Rip Van Winkle-ing or who don't check Huff Po, Eater, Twitter, et.al. obsessively every 10 minutes of their life, is the New York City outpost of, ummmm, Mission Chinese Food. Except that one's in San Francisco, and it opened as a pop-up inside an already existing Chinese restaurant called Lung Shan, on Mission St.

The brainchild of Chef Danny Bowien and partner Anthony Myint, SF's MCF took the food world by storm, and ever since it became clear that Orchard Street and the lower east side would become the home of the 2nd Mission Chinese, NYC's been all atwitter (hmmm) with anticipation.

All well and good. It's not like there aren't 100,000 Chinese restaurants here already; it's just that most of them suck. I've gone into that before and don't need to go into it again right now, but anyone trying to do the right thing with a great cuisine is OK in my book. And a quick chat outside with Chef (who might indeed be TV ready, looking all California-cool in his white chef's jacket, white shorts, baseball cap, hipster glasses and flowing tresses) led me to believe that he's very excited to be on this beautiful block of Orchard Street, dealing with some of NYC's fine purveyors both at the high-end (that meat guy) and the ones that supply Chinatown with a vast selection of greens and other goodies. As a matter of fact, he was simply qvelling when telling me how great some of the prices are here compared to SF - and take that, SF!

The team has also taken what was home to a few less-than-successful fooderies over the years and turned it into a nice, fun space that feels bigger than it really is. I liked the atmosphere, and there are even backs on all of the chairs, which is good for the altacockers like my buddy and me.

I ordered way too much food, but what the heck? The sharp tang of Chinkiang vinegar, heat from chili pepper and buzzy numbness from Szechuan peppercorns is thankfully not dumbed down, at least not in any of the dishes we tried. So, for instance, the Chili Pickled Turnips and Long Beans blow open the taste buds but are impossible to stop eating. As are the Beijing Vinegar Peanuts, meant to be eaten one at a time with chopsticks - order these immediately, so you can eat them with your beer.

Lamb Cheek Dumplings in Red Oil are explosive...and good.

The Tea Smoked Eel was a favorite of ours; it's wrapped in cheung fun, a rice noodle made on the spot at a few places around Chinatown; as a matter of fact, my very first blog post was about this type of noodle, made around the corner at Sun Light Bakery!

I think my favorite dish last night was the Mouth Watering Chicken, a chicken "terrine" with dry-spiced chicken hearts and vegetable "noodles." The hearts are cooked medium-rare, lending them a unique flavor and tenderness, and the breast is nice and moist. They hit it out of the park on this dish.

Was everything perfect? Hell no...I would've liked a little less salt (or saltiness in whatever form) in the Broccoli Beef Cheek with Smoked Oyster Sauce, impossibly tender beef nestled under a bed of some sort of Asian broccoli. But it's oyster sauce and that stuff is, shall we say, saline (and I ate all the cheek anyway).

So - when am I going back? As a matter of fact, I've already made a reservation for this coming Sunday night. They're taking reservations, but only for the bar seats at this point. Otherwise, it's all walk-in. And delivery. And lunch soon.

Orchard Street has been looking better and better for the last 10 years; now with Mission Chinese Food hitting the street running on all cylinders, it's gotten that much more tasty.

(More pix over at my blog.)


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Was Kung pao pastrami on the menu?

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A second visit, and MCFNY’s got some flow going (I mean it did on the first night), and as soon as all 4 of us were there, we were seated and an order of peanuts was on the way. Our niece, a foodnik if ever there was one, as well as owner of the blog Chronicles of a Stomach Grumble, commented: “why don’t we use black vinger on everything?” and our taste buds were on the way for some serious fressing.

Fressing indeed, when you consider the Kung Pao Pastrami, thankfully served last because I don’t know what else you’d want to taste after it. You know, feuds have been fought over less than who has the best pastrami in NY. And I know it’s been on the menu in San Francisco. For. Ever. But it takes balls, here on Orchard Street, basically the birthplace of the delicatessen, to strew little cubes of pastrami throughout a dish (of course I asked where the pastrami was from and I was told conspiratorialy that it was sourced locally and smoked in house – wink). Wherever the pastrami’s from, it’s just one component in a dish that also has peanuts, celery, potatoes and that finishes with EXPLOSIVE CHILI. It’s the kung pao you know you always wanted…fuck the cubes of barbecued pork.

Chinese food was the first cuisine I taught myself to cook when I started seriously playing with food. Szechwan food was a big part of it (indeed one of the first Chinese cookbooks I owned was Mrs. Chiang's Szechwan Cookboook - I have the 1976 first edition), and back then you couldn’t even get Szechwan peppercorns (unless, I guess, you knew someone in Chinatown). Now, Chef Danny is using them with abandon – and it’s great. I don’t know what it is about Szechwan pepper, but it numbs and tricks your mouth enough that the rest of the spicy stuff goes down nice and easy. But do yourself a favor: like any well-constructed and balanced Chinese meal, you need to order some dishes that aren’t hot at all – and trust me, they’re good too.

Like the salt-cod fried rice, salty from the baccalà and sweet from the lap cheong. I’m sorry local take-out joint – your fried rice ain’t gonna cut it any more. And the weird comfort-y taste of the winter melon soup with XO sauce – it’s hot too, temperature wise, and it works to cool you down. As does all the spicy stuff – I mean, that’s why they’re eating chilis in the hot parts of the world – they help to cool you down! As an aside, it hit a nice, muggy high of 85° yesterday (no, this isn’t San Francisco any more, my friend) and the air-conditioners were wheezing in that cute back room…I’m guessing more BTU’s will become necessary at some point this summer.

The bacon (yes, Benton’s) was fine in the Thrice-Cooked Bacon, but a big surprise was how much we all like the bitter melon in the same dish. It wasn’t a surprise as to how much we loved the Shanghainese rice cakes, because there’s just something about the texture of those gummy little paddies…put ‘em all together and everyone’s happy. I even liked the soy milk poached tofu, not a product I go out of my way much for, but here it maintained a nice texture, and the sesame leaves added a not-often-tasted element.

Well – what can I say? I’m pretty much excited by all the flavors going on here. And the prices. And portions. The staff. The philosophy. All, in my opinion, good. How they should be. In a way, it reminds me of those early, glorious days of both Noodle and Ssam Bar - as a matter of fact, we used to eat standing up at the back table in the original Ssam Bar...now, for good measure, even the chairs have backs on them.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Don't order the mapo dofu. It's the one inexplicably awful dish on the SF menu.


PS: I am a guy.

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Damnit Shalmanese, this thread just makes me more upset we are gonna miss it this week!


Sleep, bike, cook, feed, repeat...

Chef Facebook HQ Menlo Park, CA

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Don't order the mapo dofu. It's the one inexplicably awful dish on the SF menu.

That's weird. Have you had it multiple times and it just sucks, or did you have it once when it sucked?

Per Serious Eats:

"Bad: Fans of the old mapo tofu at San Francisco's Mission Street Food will be disappointed, as the mapo tofu here has been completely overhauled into a new dish.

"Good: The old mapo tofu was not good anyway. Now this is some seriously good Mapo Tofu. This is one of the dishes Chef Bowien says, "I made like 40 times with 40 different chefs in Chengdu and realized that it's not all just about the searing heat I was doing in San Francisco." The old one was one-dimensionally hot. The new one is deep, rich, and complex."


"I'll put anything in my mouth twice." -- Ulterior Epicure

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Don't order the mapo dofu. It's the one inexplicably awful dish on the SF menu.

That's weird. Have you had it multiple times and it just sucks, or did you have it once when it sucked?

Per Serious Eats:

"Bad: Fans of the old mapo tofu at San Francisco's Mission Street Food will be disappointed, as the mapo tofu here has been completely overhauled into a new dish.

"Good: The old mapo tofu was not good anyway. Now this is some seriously good Mapo Tofu. This is one of the dishes Chef Bowien says, "I made like 40 times with 40 different chefs in Chengdu and realized that it's not all just about the searing heat I was doing in San Francisco." The old one was one-dimensionally hot. The new one is deep, rich, and complex."

So you mean I'm allowed to order it?


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Ryan Sutton in Bloomberg News awards MCFNY 2.5 stars...

Mission Chinese is proof that an excellent restaurant can keep things affordable even while coddling the customer a bit. It offers those once familiar vestiges of a bygone era: Bar stools with lumbar support, superb service, the Smashing Pumpkins playing at reasonable levels and the acceptance of plastic...

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Don't order the mapo dofu. It's the one inexplicably awful dish on the SF menu.

That's weird. Have you had it multiple times and it just sucks, or did you have it once when it sucked?

Per Serious Eats:

"Bad: Fans of the old mapo tofu at San Francisco's Mission Street Food will be disappointed, as the mapo tofu here has been completely overhauled into a new dish.

"Good: The old mapo tofu was not good anyway. Now this is some seriously good Mapo Tofu. This is one of the dishes Chef Bowien says, "I made like 40 times with 40 different chefs in Chengdu and realized that it's not all just about the searing heat I was doing in San Francisco." The old one was one-dimensionally hot. The new one is deep, rich, and complex."

So you mean I'm allowed to order it?

I had it recently when I was in NYC. The mapo tofu was delicious.


Andrew Vaserfirer aka avaserfi

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A few more visits keep confirming that Chef Bowien is putting out some amazing food and is not averse to tweaking the menu, depending on availability of various proteins and produce.

Lunch is a civilized time to try MCFNY, and last week Significant Eater and I did just that. A few standouts included this fiery catfish dish, Catfish A La Sichuan...

2012_07_06 MCFNY Cafish.jpg

It was so bloody hot, that we figured a cold dish would hit the spot. We weren't wrong when we went with the Chilled Buckwheat Noodles...

2012_07_06 MCFNY Soba.jpg

I'd been wanting to try the Savory Egg Custard for a while, and was happy it was available...

2012_07_06 MCFNY Chawan Mushi.jpg

Easily one of our two or three favorite restaurant openings this year.

As an aside (okay, maybe not an aside), I just think the service here is great. Everyone is so nice and helpful. Keep up the great work!


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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so if you only get one chance to eat delicious Chinese in NY, would this be it? Or would there be a better choice? (Yes, I'm planning a trip an there's only so much Chinese my family will let me make them eat. :wink: )

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so if you only get one chance to eat delicious Chinese in NY, would this be it? Or would there be a better choice? (Yes, I'm planning a trip an there's only so much Chinese my family will let me make them eat. :wink: )

Tough call. This is far from standardized American Chinese fare. So, if they like spareribs and wonton soup, this isn't the place for you.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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It is also very, very spicy, and after a while, your palate needs a rest. And there is a lot of Sichuan peppercorn. Those unaccustomed to Sichuan peppercorn may find the numbing/tingling feeling alarming. It's also loud and crowded during dinner service, and there can be a long wait. The tables are very close together, and they often seat parties of 3 at tables that look like they're only meant for 2.


"I'll put anything in my mouth twice." -- Ulterior Epicure

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It is also very, very spicy, and after a while, your palate needs a rest. And there is a lot of Sichuan peppercorn. Those unaccustomed to Sichuan peppercorn may find the numbing/tingling feeling alarming. It's also loud and crowded during dinner service, and there can be a long wait. The tables are very close together, and they often seat parties of 3 at tables that look like they're only meant for 2.

Those tables are for models, so 3 can fit where 2 normally would...I think McNally perfected that at Schiller's... :wink: .

I've been able to cobble together my meals so that not everything is super spicy, which is really the way to go.

I love this place.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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so if you only get one chance to eat delicious Chinese in NY, would this be it? Or would there be a better choice? (Yes, I'm planning a trip an there's only so much Chinese my family will let me make them eat. :wink: )

The word "family" makes me think this is not the best option. Annoyingly enough, this place is pretty much impossible to visit with the 4-6 - person party I tend to prefer for eating this type of cuisine.

If you can't leave Manhattan, I'd say Hot Kitchen, X'ian, or (for a more upscale alternative) RedFarm. In Queens, the list is gigantic; consult the eG Flushing threads for some suggestions but at minimum Hunan House is worth a visit.

MCF is very good, but I have to say that it isn't a unique exemplar of its cuisine. I don't say that as a bad thing; I think it's a testament to the diversity and quality of Chinese restaurants in NY. But getting in is a royal pain and the food is only bare justification. I must confess that I'd rather burn my ridiculous wait times on Torrisi.


Mayur Subbarao, aka "Mayur"

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Unlike the impatient Mayur, I've never had a wait getting in, save for my 20 minutes on opening night. Of course, I don't mind eating early or eating lunch, which tends to be a bit more civilized. As a matter of fact, I have a reservation for 6 for next Friday night, which wasn't a problem to get hold of.

I tend to think of MCF's food as unique, only because I don't really see any other restaurant making Kung Pao Pastrami, Salt-Cod fried rice, Broccoli beef using brisket and smoked oyster sauce, cumin scented lamb breast and so on. YMMV.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Thanks, everyone. My family doesn't much know what American Chinese food looks like so I think I can give them anything. ;) But I get what you're saying, weinoo. I looked at the menu and it was quite enticing, I must say.

I will definitely take a look at those other places, Mayur! Thanks for the head's up. Definitely something to think about-especially since my son is going on four.


Edited by ambra (log)

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I was there, I left without eating.

You have to pass the kitchen thru a long narrow passageway to get to a packed dining room.

I couldn't see a way you could exit if there was a fire in the kitchen.

None of the construction is fire-proofed. I did not see a sprinkler system.

Tell me I was wrong.

dcarch

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I don't know for sure, but I'd have to think they passed fire code.

I think the place may be illegal construction.

In addition to fire safety issues, I don't know you can file for a pemit in NY with no consideration for A.D.A. compliance.

dcarch

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