Mission Chinese – Finally Americanized Chinese Food Done Right (Part 1)

The term “Americanized Chinese” conjures up thoughts of cheap take-out food featuring gloppy sauces, unidentifiable fried meats and fun names like General Tso’s chicken and moo goo gai pan.  However, while many “foodies” may act like it’s a sacrilegious, for many it has a nostalgic quality about it and I have many friends who really like having this type of food from time to time.  That said you’d be hard pressed to find someone who really thinks of this type of food as cuisine that you would go out of your way for.  The problem is that mentality this has created this idea that this is actually what Chinese food is like (i.e. basically cheap, greasy food).  Besides the fact that saying “Chinese food” is kind of ridiculous because it’s literally like saying European food, it’s really created this stigma that people can’t get over and to a certain degree it’s created this self-perpetuating cycle because many restaurants think that’s what customers expect.

This has finally started to breakdown as people have become more educated on Chinese food via the media and as authentic Chinese food has become more readily available.  However, in terms of Americanized Chinese, I did not grow up eating Americanized Chinese food and it holds no nostalgic quality for me and most attempts to make fusion Chinese food have generally been awful in my experience.  So is it possible to make good Americanized Chinese food?  I think the answer is yes as places like Mission Chinese are making great food that is not authentic Chinese, so it truly is Americanized Chinese.

The restaurant is a tiny space on Orchard and looks like a take-out joint up front and opens up into a small room with fluorescent lights in back.  The wait times are ridiculous at 2-3 hours at peak times and so you constantly see lines out the door.  However, luckily I live close enough to get take-out from here and I just call in my order and pick it up 20-30 minutes later.  I haven’t actually eaten in the restaurant since I don’t want to wait, so it’s tough for me to comment on service.

Here’s what we got:

Thrice Cooked Bacon:

This is one of the signature dishes.  Its chunks of bacon stir fried with rice cakes, tofu skin, bitter melon, chili oil and fermented black bean.  It tastes exactly as it sounds and was surprisingly quite ma la (numbing and spicy).  I’d read that this place makes stuff quite ma la and it did live up to its reputation.  I liked the tofu skin and rice cakes as well; they provided a nice textural balance to the dish.  Also, as a word of warning this dish is quite salty although it’s salty in a good way.  Overall, this was a very good dish.  8.25/10

Kung Pao Pastrami:

This was another signature dish.  Its chunks of pastrami, which I believe they get from Katz’s, stir fried with peanuts, celery, potato and chili oil.  This was also quite ma la although more la (spicy).  It was also a bit of a salt bomb since pastrami itself is quite salty, but it tasted really good with rice.  It had decent wok hay, which is the smoky flavor you get from stir frying in a very hot wok.  Overall, this was another very good dish. 8.25/10

Stir Fried Sweet Peas:

These were individual peas, pickled ramps and chili oil.  I thought it was a really well prepared dish as I found the flavor of the sauce to be excellent and was also again nicely ma la.  However, I thought I was ordering pea pods and I don’t really like sweet peas, so while I thought it was a very good for a sweet pea dish, I don’t really sweet peas so it’s hard for me to be really constructive on this dish. If you like peas you should try this dish. 7.25/10

Fresh Tofu Poached In Soy Milk:

This was interesting, it was tofu in a bath of soy milk with spicy fermented bean paste (dou ban jiang).  The tofu was just regular tofu and the soy bean milk was quite milky in flavor probably more so than usual.  It was actually quite a light and refreshing dish, which was a nice contrast to the other dishes.  The dou ban jiang was salty and spicy and the fermented flavor went well with the dish.  Overall, I thought it was a reasonably tasty dish and a good compliment to the other dishes. 7.75/10

Mapo Tofu with Pork Shoulder:

This was the last signature dish and was probably the most normal tasting dish in that it tastes reasonably similar to an authentic version of mapo tofu.  It was quite ma la, oily and salty.  I’d say that it was probably a little more salty than normal, but not in a bad way.  The pork shoulder was different since you normally use ground pork, but I liked that a lot because the pork was pretty decent quality.  The other thing that was different is that they use a more firm tofu as opposed to a silky tofu.  I liked the tofu, but I prefer silky tofu.  Overall, this was very good and definitely worthy of being a signature dish.  8.25/10

Beijing Vinegar Peanuts:

These were roasted peanuts in the skin with smoked garlic, anise and rock sugar in black vinegar.  I was hoping these would be more similar to the ones at BaoHaus which I really like.  However, these were just so so, they just tasted like regular roast peanuts in some vinegar.  6.75/10

Stir Fried Pork Jowl and Radish:

Jowl are the cheek and are similar to pork belly or thick cut bacon.  This dish was jowl stir fried with fermented black bean, shiso and mint.  I could see where they were going with this dish, but this was one of the duds for me.  I felt like it was just a bunch of ingredients put together, but they didn’t meld well.  In particular I thought the shiso and mint were totally out of place with the black bean.  So while it was an okay dish, it wasn’t something I’d go out of my way to order.  6.75/10

Barley Rice:

This is just rice with barley in it, but for some reason I found it particularly tasty.  It was cooked very nicely, slightly al dente and the barley gave it a slight bit of flavor and it tasted great with the other food. 8/10

Overall, I enjoyed Mission Chinese a lot and I have a lot of respect for what Danny Bowien and Anthony Myint have done.

154 Orchard St (between Stanton & Rivington)
New York, NY 10002
(212) 529-8800

Baidu Shabu Shabu / Mapo Szechuan – Delicious Hot Pot in Flushing

Typically, I haven’t been the biggest hot pot fan, I generally like it, but I never crave it.  However, for some reason recently I’ve really been craving it; maybe because it’s been so cold, I don’t know.  I asked around and some people recommended Baidu Shabu Shabu in Flushing, so I met up with a friend and stopped in. Fyi, I don’t believe it says Baidu anywhere in English only in Chinese, it says Mapo Szechuan in front.

Baidu is surprisingly upscale for Flushing, its brand new looking, very clean and quite modern looking.  Looks similar to some of the place you get hot pot in Taiwan.  Its two levels with the bottom level having a full bar with a big TV and the upstairs having tables, some of which have TVs playing the Chinese channels (ours did).

The service was fine, not super attentive, but that’s generally how hot pot is anyhow since you’re serving yourself.  There was about a 20 minute wait when we were there as the place is definitely pretty popular.  My friend knows the owners (who weren’t there that day) and it’s actually the same family that owns the Ollie’s chain in Manhattan.

They have a full Sichuan menu and a full hot pot menu, but we only got the hot pot.  I did see some Sichuan dishes on some people’s tables that looked pretty good, but most people seemed to be there for the hot pot.

Here’s what we got:

Kimchi Broth:

You have a variety of choices for broth and you can get the split pot where you get two different broths.  My friend wanted to get the kimchi broth, getting the kimchi broth was against my better judgment (kimchi in a Chinese place), but I was so hungry that I just went with whatever my friend wanted.  Although later I talked to another friend who eats there frequently and she told me that’s actually by far the worst broth and that we should have gotten the duck broth.  The broth was alright, it had a kimchi flavor, but it was a bit weak in flavor.  Honestly though after a little while we had diluted the broth so much by cooking stuff in it and asking for more broth that it had no kimchi flavor at all and I probably wouldn’t have noticed the broth no matter what flavor it was.  6.75/10

Angus Beef:

This was quite good, the beef was clean and fresh tasting unlike a lot of hot pot places I’ve been to in NY where you could tell the beef was old (gray spots, odd looking meat etc).  We actually ended up getting two orders of it because we were so hungry and it was very good.  Beef is always my favorite part of hot pot.  7.75/10

Short Rib:

This was also good as well, clean and fresh tasting again.  The meat was a little fattier, but it tasted great as well.  8/10

Seafood Platter:

I was a little sketched out ordering the seafood platter because typically the seafood I’ve gotten at hot pot places in NY has been pretty bad quality, but again the seafood all tasted pretty fresh and it all came out pretty good when you cooked it.  7.5/10

Mushroom Platter:

This was good as well.  All the mushrooms were fresh and tasted great when you cooked them.  Also, I those seashell looking things are actually fishcakes that taste like Japanese kamaboko if you know what that is.  We were confused as to why they were part of the mushroom platter, but they were good nonetheless.  7.5/10

Vegetable Platter: 

The vegetables were very fresh and tasted great.  8/10


They have a sauce bar where you can make sauces and they also have a rice cooker there as well which is actually really convenient because you can just go get your own rice.  I got ponzu sauce, sha cha sauce (a sauce made from soybean oil, garlic, shallots, chilis, fish, and dried shrimp) and then I mixed a sort sauce of sesame oil, homemade soy sauce, chili oil, minced garlic and cilantro.  All the sauces were good and I particularly liked the sauce I created.  8/10

Overall, I liked it a lot and I’d definitely come back.  It was probably the best non-Sichuan hot pot I’ve had in NY.  Highly recommend.

37-04 Prince Street
Queens, NY 11354
(718) 939-3808

Old Sichuan – Good Sichuan Food in Chinatown

Last night I went to Old Sichuan 老正川 with some chowhound people.  It is a new Sichuan restaurant that is located where the now defunct Yeah Shanghai Deluxe used to be.  According to some people on chowhound, it is the same owners as Yeah Shanghai Deluxe.
The owner was extremely nice and very talkative.  She runs Old Sichuan and her husband runs Old Shanghai Deluxe down the street.  I’m pretty sure she is Shanghainese, but I didn’t ask her specifically.  She told us that the chef at Old Sichuan is from Chengdu, which is the capital of Sichuan province.  He started cooking when he was 19 and has been cooking for 30 years.

The restaurant is reasonably nice with exposed brick and this weird bridge with a rock formation and water along the wall when you first enter to the restaurant.  It’s clean and much nicer looking than most Chinatown restaurants.

On to the food:

Roasted Peanuts and Seaweed:

This was served at the beginning of the meal. Both of them were pretty standard and self-explanatory, but they were good.  7.75/10

Pickled Cabbage (Si Chuan Pao Cai):

I’m not a huge fan of this generally, it’s just pickled white cabbage.  It’s a good version here though, crispy cabbage, good flavor and not overly sour. 7/10

Ox Tongue & Tripe with Spicy Peppery Sauce (Fu Qi Fei Pian):

This a famous Sichuan dish made of thin slices of tendon, tongue and tripe served cold in spicy red oil sauce with chopped up peanuts and chili peppers.  The version here is excellent, very clean tasting and you could taste both the ma (numbing sensation) and the la (spicy).  I really liked this dish a lot.  8/10

Sliced Pork with Spicy Garlic Sauce (Suan Ni Bai Rou):

This was definitely my favorite dish of the night.  The dish is thin sliced pork served cold topped with spicy red oil, garlic, chopped peanuts, diced scallions and red chili.  The sauce was spicy, but really fragrant and slightly sweet.  I really liked this and I could eat a whole plate of this with some rice and be happy.  8.5/10

Pan Fried Chicken Tiny Bun (Sheng Jian Bao):

Normally, I’d never order these at a Sichuan restaurant, but the owner recommended them and I believe she is Shanghainese, so it sounded like a reasonable idea.  She told us how they use chicken meat instead of pork, which is the normal meat you use.  The bottoms were perfectly crispy, the bun was not too doughy or thin and the meat inside was tender and flavorful.  I thought these were really good.  8.25/10

Water Cooked Fish (Shui Zhu Yu):

I think this dish was actually on the specials menu which is only written in Chinese on a blackboard.  In this dish, the meat is poached in water then put in a bowl with chili peppers and vegetables and then a bath of hot vegetable oil is poured over it.  The result is very tender meat, but a very oily and spicy bath of sauce over it.  The fish meat was excellent; it was a clean tasting white fish that was super tender although maybe too tender as it was hard to pick up.  Although the sauce was quite spicy, I felt was missing something.  When you have a really good version the sauce is very flavorful, but I felt it was a bit under flavored.  Overall, I thought it was quite good, but not amazing.  7.75/10

Shredded Potatoes with Vinegar Sauce (Suan Liu Tu Dou Si):

This was interesting and was recommended by the owner.  It was julienned potato strips with a few julienned sliced green peppers and carrots in it.  The dish was served hot and had a sour vinegar sauce on it.  I thought it was a bit plain; it would’ve been better if it more sour.  I wasn’t crazy about it, it would have been better cold.  6.75/10

Lamb with Cumin Flavor (Zi Ran Yang):

This is the typical sliced lamb in cumin.  The lamb was very tender here and not gamey.  The cumin was not as strong as most places and was also not really noticeable on the outside like it normally is. I liked it, but I think Szechuan Gourmet’s version is better.  7.5/10

Chong Qing Dry & Spicy Chicken (Chong Qing La Zi Ji):

Generally, I’m not a huge fan of this dish.  This is small chunks of dark meat chicken on the bone in a bath of chili.  The version here is pretty decent, but I’m still not a huge fan of the dish.  7/10

Sour String Beans with Minced Pork (Suan Dou Jiao Rou Mo):

This looks like a Taiwanese dish called cang ying tou, but tastes completely different.  It was finely diced snake beans with minced pork and some other vegetables.  The beans are sour, but I found the dish oddly bland.  It wasn’t bad, but didn’t have that wok flavor or anything all that distinctive about it.  I feel like it could be really good, but was just decent.  7/10

Sweet Eight Jewel Taro (Ba Bao Xiang Yu):

This was interesting, normally ba bao fan is made with nuo mi (sticky rice), but here she told us a specialty of theirs was to make it out of taro root.  It’s a mound of mashed taro that has sweet red bean paste inside it and raisins and dates on top of it.  They pour a condensed milk sauce over it.  Clearly, an extremely healthy dish!  I liked it a lot though, however it is a very Chinese old people type of dish, so I’m quite certain there are a lot of people who would disagree and not like it at all.  7.75/10

Overall, it was a mix of some very good dishes and some decent dishes, but a lot of promise.  I thought the dishes were probably a little better executed than most Sichuan restaurants in the city.  I definitely plan on coming back, so I would recommend trying this place out.

65 Bayard St
Manhattan, NY 10013
(212) 227-9888

Yu Chuan渝川菜館 – Great Sichuan Private Kitchen in Hong Kong

Yu Chuan is a small private kitchen serving Sichuan food in Wan Chai.  Private kitchens are something do not exist in the US.  They are unlicensed places that serve food.  They’re usually in an apartment building and you have to make a reservation and then usually ring some bell to get in.  A lot of them happen to serve amazing food.  I really like the whole private kitchen thing, I wish NY had an equivalent.

Yu Chuan is on the 2nd floor of a non-descript building in Wan Chai.  When you get out of the elevator there are two doors one is to a Chinese dessert place and the other is to Yu Chuan.  You knock and they let you in.  It’s a reasonably small restaurant, there are probably 10 tables in the place that are meant for family style dining.  The lady that runs the place is very nice and the service was very good.

Cold Sichuan Noodles:

These were quite good.  It was thin white noodles with bean sprouts, diced scallions and crushed peanuts tossed in ma la chili oil served cold.  Ma means the numbing sensation you get on your tongue from the Sichuan peppercorns and la means spicy in Chinese.  The noodles were well cooked and al dente.  The sauce was nice, not overly oily and went quite well with everything. 8.25/10

Ma La Pi Dan (Preserved Duck Eggs in a Ma La Sauce):

These were ridiculously good, probably the second best version of pi dan I’ve ever had (first is Yung Kee).   The pi dan (preserved duck eggs) are cut into quarters and then topped with a sauce that is made up of chili oil, pickled vegetables, chilis and diced green onions.  The sauce is so good and perfectly pairs with the pi dan.  I loved this dish. 8.75/10

Cold Cucumber in Garlic Sauce (Liang Ban Huang Gua):

This was a solid rendition of a dish that I like a lot.  The cucumbers are diced and dressed in sesame oil, garlic and a little bit of salt and served cold.  The cucumbers were fresh and had a nice crunch to them.  The dressing was very good, a lot of places don’t have the right amounts of the various ingredients (too much or too little garlic etc), but the version here was very nice.  Overall, this was a nice refreshing dish. 8.5/10

Water Cooked Beef (Shui Zhu Niu Rou):

Shui zhu preparation is a specific cooking preparation from Sichuan.  The meat is prepared with water, starch, and a slight amount of salt. Boiled vegetables are placed at the bottom of the serving bowl or dish. The prepared raw meat is poached in water.  Then it is drained and put in the serving dish with vegetables. Minced dried chili, sichuan pepper, minced garlic, and other seasoning are spread over the meat. Vegetable oil is heated in a pan nearly to smoking point, then poured over the prepared meat and vegetable.  It results in really tender meat, the meat was melt in your mouth soft.  Although the dish clearly has a ton of oil in it, it actually doesn’t taste all that heavy when you eat it.  The flavors were outstanding; I thought their version was very good. 8.75/10

Stir Fried String Beans (Gan Shao Si Ji Dou):

This is string beans stir fried with chilis, Sichuan peppercorns and some pickled vegetables.  This version was really good, it had that great wok flavor and the string beans were cooked perfectly.  They make an excellent version of this dish. 8.75/10

Shrimps with Spicy Sichuan Salt:

I’ve only had this dish once before and it is a great dish.  Shrimps that are still in their shells are stir fried with just a little bit of oil, diced green onions and a spicy salt.  The shrimps are a bit crispy on the outside and the spicy salt is so good.  It’s kind of hard to explain, but this dish is really outstanding. 8.5/10

Ma Po Tofu:

They make a pretty good version here, the flavors were quite good and although it looks really oily, it was surprisingly not too heavy. 8.5/10

Hot and Sour Eggplant (Suan La Qie Zi):

This is sliced eggplant with spring onions, minced garlic, chilis and a maybe a few other vegetables in a hot and sour sauce.  Another great dish, the sauce was not gloppy or overly salty and went really well with everything. 8.25/10

Unfortunately, I had to tone down the spice level because a few of my friends can’t handle really spicy food, but the food was still great.  I thought this was a wonderful restaurant and really makes me want to go back to HK right now.  I definitely recommend coming here.  Small caveat, a good friend of mine from Sichuan thought it was good, but she thinks Si Jie is better, so I’ll definitely be trying out Si Jie next time.

Shop B, 1/F, Hundred City Centre, 7-17 Amoy Street, Wan Chai
Phone: 2838 5233 / 9858 1561