Hunan Manor – Excellent Hunan Food in Manhattan and Maybe One of the Best Chinese Restaurants in the New York
Hunan Manor is owned by the same family that owns the much-heralded Hunan House Restaurant in Flushing. As the name would suggest they specialize in Hunan cuisine. Hunan is a province in China that’s known for its’ spicy food. Its’ cuisine is quite popular in China and probably one of the most well known cuisines. However, despite the fact that you often see Hunan listed on the menus of various Americanized Chinese food places, actual Hunan food is not common in the US.
While it’s tempting to make the analogy that Hunan food is very similar to Sichuan food because it is spicy, I find their food to be quite a bit different. Their food while spicy (“la”) doesn’t have the “ma”, which is the numbing quality that is synonymous with Sichuan food due to the use of Sichuan peppercorns. I also find their food to be on the salty side (in a good way) and there tends to be a lot of cured meats compared to other Chinese cuisines. It is definitely one of my favorite styles of Chinese cooking.
The restaurant is located in the area that seems to be the new mecca for Sichuan cuisines in Manhattan (Murray Hill / Kip’s Bay / Koreatown area) with restaurants such as Szechuan Gourmet, Lan Sheng, Mapo Tofu, Great Sichuan and Grand Sichuan all in this area.
The restaurant is fairly simple with white walls, dark wood furnishings and various Chinese tapestries hanging on the walls. The service is nice and reasonably fast. The owners are very nice and everyone can speak English, however you won’t hear much English as most of the clientele is mainland Chinese.
Here’s what we got:
Sliced Fish with Pickle Cabbage Soup:
This was a soup that had sliced white fish with pickled vegetables in it. I was expecting something much heavier in seasoning and flavor, but instead it was quite light. The broth was a nice fish stock, the fish was fresh and cooked perfectly and the pickled vegetables added a really nice dimension to the soup with the slightly sour flavor. This was excellent. 8.25/10
Sour String Bean Noodles in Soup:
This was a rice noodle soup dish with a topping that consisted of diced sour string beans, chopped scallions, ginger, red chili and minced pork. The soup broth was slightly spicy and sour. The topping was tasty with sourness from the sour string beans, heat from the chili and saltiness from the other toppings. The rice noodles were decent, but a bit overcooked. Overall, it was a good dish. 7.75/10 (7.25/10 for noodles, 8.25/10 for everything else)
Cold Cucumber Salad:
This was a simple dish with cold diced cucumbers, minced garlic and red chili in a light sweet soy sauce. I’m a big fan of this style of cold cucumber and they did a nice job here. 8.25/10
This was mashed pumpkin that had been breaded in a panko type crust. The pumpkin was perfectly mashed and sweet and the outside was nicely crispy. The only issue was it was a little too oily, if it has been less oily this would’ve gone from good to excellent. 7.75/10
Steamed Eggplant with Salty Duck Egg:
This was steamed purple eggplant in a light slightly sweet soy sauce topped with minced pork, ground up salted duck yolk, diced scallions and red chili. While it looked heavy it was actually quite light. The eggplant was very tender from being steamed and the slight sweetness of the sauce and the saltiness of the toppings all came together very nicely. This was a very good dish. 8.75/10
Braised Sliced Beef with Chili Sauce:
This was sliced braised beef topped with diced scallions and red chilis in a spicy black bean sauce. The beef was perfectly tender and the sauce was really good, it was salty from the black beans and spicy from the chili oil. The toppings were salty, but in a really good way and tasted wonderful with white rice. 8.5/10
Braised Winter Melon:
This dish was “hong shao” braised winter melon. “Hong shao” preparation involves braising meat or vegetables in a combo of ginger, garlic, chilis, sugar, soy sauce, rice wine and other spices. This was a strange preparation for me because growing up I always had winter melon either in soup or as part of a dessert, so having it as a braised dish was something quite new to me. The winder melon was cut up into cubes and was very tender. The sauce was very nice, slightly sweet and slightly spicy. I enjoyed this dish a lot. 8.25/10
Sautéed Preserved Beef with White Chili:
This was one of the cured meat dishes I wrote about earlier in the post that I’ve found to be common in Hunan cuisine. The meat was good; it was salty and dry from being cured, but dry in a good way. It had interesting dried white chili topped on it, I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten these before. I liked it, but I didn’t think the white chilis did much for the dish although overall it was good. 7.75/10
Sautéed Pork Stomach with Smoked Bamboo:
I surprised everyone by ordering this and not telling them what it was, but they all ended up liking it a lot though. This was sliced pork stomach with slices of bamboo shoots with chilis and scallions. It was actually really hard to tell which pieces were stomach versus which were bamboo until you bit into them. The stomach was very tender and the bamboo was slightly crunchy and the sauce was a simple soy sauce. While it was a simple dish, it was really good especially with some rice. 8.5/10
Chairman Mao`s Red-Braised Pork:
This was another “hong shao” dish except this one was with pork belly. The reason it’s called Chairman Mao’s is because Mao was from Hunan and supposedly this was one of his favorite dishes. This was really nice, the sauce was great and the pork belly was nicely tender. I will say it wasn’t quite as flavorful as a really good pork belly dish, but nonetheless this was still quite good. 8.25/10
Cumin Flavored Beef on Toothpicks:
This was beef on toothpicks that had been seasoned with cumin and it was topped with a green vegetable I couldn’t identify, chilis and scallions. It is very different than other preparations I’ve had; it was much lighter in cumin flavor and it was actually slightly sweet. The meat was really tender and I liked the flavoring a lot. This was definitely a pleasant surprise. 8.5/10
Steamed Fish Head with Chopped Chiles:
This was a big steamed fish head topped with chilis and scallions in a slightly spicy soy sauce. I tried this dish at the Flushing branch as well and I actually liked it better here. The sauce was quite nice as were the toppings. The fish was clean tasting although there wasn’t that much meat and the meat wasn’t quite as tender as I’d like. It was a good, but not great dish. 7.75/10
Hunan Style Blue Crab:
This was blue crabs cooked in a slightly spicy sauce. The shells were so soft that I actually just ate the shell in most cases. I tried this dish twice and one of the times the shells had a lot of crab roe which was a nice touch. This was a good dish. 8/10
Green Bean Soup:
This was given to us on the house. Unfortunately it wasn’t very good; it was too watery and not sweet enough. 6.25/10
Sesame Sticky Rice Ball Soup:
This was tang yuan which are sticky rice dough balls filled with black sesame paste in a soup with egg white and fermented rice. Tang yuan is one of my favorite Chinese desserts and I thought this was excellent. It is a very Chinese style dessert, so I’m not sure if everyone will enjoy this as much as I do, but if you like Chinese desserts you will like this. 8.5/10
Overall, I’ve been very impressed by the level of cooking that is going on at Hunan Manor and this is a “must try” type of restaurant as it’s definitely a notch above most Chinese restaurants in NY. I highly recommend coming here.
339 Lexington Ave (between 39th St & 40th St)
New York, NY 10016
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