Chinese food Christmas Day!
Hmmmm...cheap Chinese food below 14th St. on the East Side...well, there are no great Chinese restaurants in the East Village, so make that below Houston. 2nd thought, make it below Delancey. Incidentally, I like Evergreen Shanghai very much.
I have to say that I do not know which restaurants will and won't be open on Christmas. That aside:
One restaurant I like and find interesting is Congee Village, east side of Allen St. just below Delancey. They clearly spent a lot of money on their decor, which includes a big artificial jungle tree and an indoor bamboo gazebo. Their clientele is mostly Chinese, with some non-Chinese chowhounds sprinkled in.
The cuisine there is fully authentic and in no way that I can tell adapted or attenuated for Western tastes - except that if you want something truly out of the ordinary (e.g. the fish head congee mentioned below), you may sometimes have to persuade them you really want it, and there are a few items listed only in Chinese (but they explained them to me when I asked).
I have to say that my adventurousness has produced mixed results there. I had fish head congee on my first visit and loved it. It was soothing and tasty, with ginger, scallions, and shallots as notable tastes among the rice porridge, fish, and egg. That night I was hungry, and ordered a second dish, pan fried noodles with sliced beef in black bean sauce, which was a bit oily but very tasty and delicious (and seems to be popular with the restaurant's Chinese clientele). The black bean sauce was only one of several strong tastes in the dish, which included ginger and scallions; the dish also had a lot of sliced carrot nicely sauteed, and I think I remember bean sprouts, too. The dish was so big that I took half of it home, and that plus an apple served as a complete meal!
On another trip, I decided to order duck web noodles (actually goose web that day, I was advised) in a clay casserole. The dish was delicious, but the goose webs were mostly bones and it was hard to eat. Live and learn.
One evening after work, I stopped off at Congee Village, looked the menu over carefully, and came up with a delicious vegetable dish: lotus root in red bean sauce. It was also a very big dish ($7.95 or so, just to give you an idea of the prices you're dealing with). It was just a little oily, but such an imaginative dish, I thought - let's put it this way, in all my years of eating Chinese food around the world, I've never had a dish like that one. The pureed red beans gave it a sort of robustly sweet taste, but not at all dessert-like, and the crunchy lotus roots were cooked perfectly.
Some of the staff has rudimentary command of the English language, but though I've had to wait at times to get busy waitresses' attention, I've never had any question go unanswered. I won't say the service is wonderful, but the manager/cashier is conscientious and cares about her customers. In my humble opinion, Congee Village is more of a bargain than many other Chinese restaurants, because of the range of interesting and unusual dishes one can get there. I hope some other chowhounds will check it out and let me know what you think of it.
Other suggestions? How crowded is Shanghai Gourmet, a couple of doors down from Evergreen on Mott St.? Based on one visit, their food seems to be quite good.
I'm a big fan of Congee Village; I've wondered why it hasn't been discussed on the board here before.
The congee porridges are delicious indeed. True comfort food, comparable in their own way to cassoulet or meatloaf in other cultures. There's a big variety and they are nothing like the generic congee you get in some Chinatown places. They are stuffed with meat and vegetables in wonderful harmony and are full meals.
Stephanie, have you ever ordered from the first page of the menu -- dishes listed as "congee" but mostly seeming to be ingredients for congee? I guess congee doesn't only mean porridge, which leaves me confused.
re: Patrick A.
Has anyone seen or eaten at an uptown branch? I may have been hallucinating, but I think that I saw one driving south on 2nd Ave. just below 96th st. I wonder what the market for it would be like on the upper east side. Would people be clamoring for their congee with thousand year old eggs, or will it get dumbed down?