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
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