I originally went to A-Wah in April 2010 and wrote a very favorable review of the restaurant on chowhound, which you can see here. A-Wah had by far the best bo zai fan (claypot rice) in Chinatown and probably the best version I’d had in the US. I re-visited it probably 5-6 times shortly after that and it was always excellent. Soon after that the NYT and Eddie Huang of Baohaus both ended up getting writing very favorably about it which made me happy since I always want good restaurants to do well.
Since then there have been some reports on both chowhound and yelp that either people didn’t like it or thought it was going downhill. It had been 4-5 months since my last visit, so I stopped in today for lunch to find out whether it had actually gone downhill or whether some people just didn’t like bo zai fan in the first place (it’s not a dish that everyone universally loves).
Unfortunately, the naysayers are very much correct in their assessment that it is no longer very good. So apologizes to all who tried it after it had gone downhill because you never got to experience what it should taste like.
Bo Zai Fan (Bao Zai Fan / Claypot Rice):
I got the house special which is called hua zai bao zai fan in Chinese (hua zai is the name of the restaurant in Chinese). I immediately noticed a difference in the amount of meat they gave you, which was probably half as much as before. I also noticed that the meat was drier and less flavorful than on my previous visits, I think it might have been re-heated. The rice itself had definitely been pre-cooked and then they just threw some meat on top. The rice was not that flavorful and was a bit on the dry side. Because of the short cutting on the preparation the rice no longer has that great flavoring from the meats that good bo zai fan has. The homemade soy sauce was still excellent though. Overall, this was quite disappointing and I thought it was pretty mediocre. 6.25/10 (8/10 for the soy sauce though)
Salt-Baked Chicken (Yen Ji):
Their shao la (Cantonese BBQ) has never really been their strong point, but today was particularly bad. The chicken was quite dry and the skin wasn’t very flavorful as all. I had to really put a lot of the scallion, garlic and ginger oil on it to make it worth eating. This was not good at all. 6/10
Thousand Year Egg With Pickled Ginger (Suan Jiang Pi Dan):
I wasn’t expecting this to be great, but I love this dish so I ordered it anyhow. The pidan (thousand year egg) was the molten kind where the yolk is a bit runny, they weren’t bad, but weren’t great either. The pickled ginger wasn’t very good, it had a sort of weird taste to it that I didn’t like and it wasn’t sweet enough. The last time I had this was in July at Yung Kee in Hong Kong, so my bar is pretty high and it’s probably unfair to compare it to the best pidan I’ve ever had, but that is the bar in my mind right now. Overall, it was okay, but nothing special. 6.25/10
Choy Sum With Oyster Sauce (Hao Jiang Cai Xin):
This was pretty good, the choy sum was cooked perfectly and they didn’t douse it was oyster sauce. This was the only thing I thought was really good. 7.75/10
This happens a lot in Chinatown where a restaurant starts off strong and then goes downhill. I thought A-Wah would be different because I believe the chef is the owner, which in my mind is great since you can’t pouch the chef if he is also the owner. I’m not sure what happened? Maybe they got lazy, the traffic got too high for them to handle after the media coverage or maybe they decided to cut costs, but whatever the reason I was pretty disappointed and this went from being one of the best restaurants in Chinatown to being another mediocre Chinatown restaurant. I plan on going one more time for dinner to see if I had an off day or the chef was off or something.
5 Catherine St (between Division St & Broadway)
Manhattan, NY 10038