An abridged version of this article originally appeared in Open City Magazine in March 2013.
There’s no other way to say it. Mission Chinese is a tease. It lures you in with the promise of Chinese takeout favorites, free beer, and a piece of the foodie hipster scene. But just like at The Roxbury, a night at Mission Chinese should come with a disclaimer: The wait is long. The beer is weak. The food is, well, interesting. Results may vary.
Chef célèbre of the moment, Danny Bowien, opened the latest outpost of Mission Chinese–first conceived as a pop-up restaurant in San Francisco–on the Lower East Side last spring. Since then the joint has been mobbed nightly by droves of foodies, hipsters, and everyone in between looking to shock their tastebuds with a mouthful of mind-altering Sichuan pepper.
The chatter swirling around Mission Chinese has reached a fever pitch in recent months, with exalted reviews from The New Yorker and New York Magazine, along with nods from culinary heavyweights Martha Stewart and Anthony Bourdain. New York Times food critic, Pete Wells, wrote: “Mr. Bowien does to Chinese food what Led Zeppelin did to the blues. His cooking both pays respectful homage to its inspiration and takes wild, flagrant liberties with it. He grabs hold of tradition and runs at it with abandon, hitting the accents hard, going heavy on the funk and causing all kinds of delicious havoc.” Read more…
Chinese restaurants are a fixture of the American foodscape. As such, many of us are familiar with the slightly tacky, unintentionally funny names they give themselves (Fu King Chinese Restaurant in SF, anyone?). Restaurant names also tend to cater to the clientele they hope to attract. And in New York, even within the confines of Manhattan, every neighborhood has its own personality and distinct demographics. It turns out, where you eat says a lot about who you are. Can you guess the neighborhoods these restaurants belong to?
China Fun‘s glossy website shows pictures of cheerful families enjoying the food and boasts a singing deliveryman who performs Bejing Opera nightly. The menu includes Filet Mignon Chinese Style along with sushi–which, in my opinion, is a dead giveaway that a restaurant is catering to people who don’t know the difference between Chinese and Japanese food.
A few years ago one of my uncles shared an observation that has stuck with me ever since. He said to me, “You know, when I was growing up being Asian wasn’t cool. Not like it is now.” I cocked my head to the side. Wait, it’s cool to be Asian?
He was right, though. America has one big giant Asian fetish these days, especially when it comes to food. In fact, 2012 has already been proclaimed the year of Asian Hipster Cuisine. Perhaps that Urban Outfitters catalog shoot set in a Chinatown restaurant was more prophetic than I gave it credit for.
Here’s what the foodie pundits have to say about the year ahead: Read more…
One weekend at dim sum in Brooklyn, I happened to notice a kitschy painting hanging on the restaurant wall. I was able to make out the four characters printed in the corner: 马到成功 (mǎ dào chéng gōng). I translated the phrase literally in my head: horse arrives success. Or, perhaps, more emphatically: horse arrives = success!
Since when have horses been a symbol of success? Sure, I know the gold-attracting cat, but Mr. Ed with money bags? I shared my observation with a friend sitting next to me, and she responded matter of factly: “Yeah, when the horses arrive it means success.” Read more…
Chinatown is changing. Of course, all cities are living, breathing organisms that are constantly changing, adapting, sometimes deteriorating, and often transforming themselves in a dynamic give-and-take with dips in the economy, successive waves of immigrants, and bursts of urban renewal. But even so, there have been many recent changes in the neighborhood too big to ignore. Here’s a quick rundown.
Open City Mag reported on the unlawful eviction of tenants at 11 Allen Street this past summer. The Lo-Down just published an exhaustive review of the LES hotel boom, including the newly minted Wyndham hotel on Hester and Bowery that opened on Nov. 1 (and looks tacky as hell). Read more…