Chinatown's East Ocean Restaurant (long but succulent and tasty review)
In just a few short weeks, East Ocean Restaurant has become my favorite Chinese restaurant. It opened recently, replacing Taste Good Restaurant (which I will miss) at 53 Bayard Street, and I've already eaten there five times, most recently last night. I wrote down accounts of each of those visits and I think the best way to describe East Ocean's delights is to share these entries with you.
A new Chinese restaurant just opened on a side street in Chinatown. Wood paneled walls, rather elegant, jampacked. Lots and lots of Chinese families. I'd looked in a few days ago, noticed the English menu was skimpy, so I looked around for a hidden Chinese menu. Many places in Chinatown do this trick. It's usually a small plastic-bound book, six inches high, and is often hidden in a stack near the cash register. That's where it was hidden here.
Tonight I went in and took a Chinese menu as I was shown to my table. The waiters tried to take it away but I politely held on to it. When they saw me read it and understand it well enough to order something from it, they broke into smiles. They all wanted to talk, and asked me how long I had stayed in China, etc
It was a dish I'd had in many other places. Usually, pieces of chicken are boiled in a broth with a few onions. It was done much better here. The chicken was diced in a very thin batter, seared and partly cooked in a wok, then put into a clay pot with mushrooms, onion, celery, and slices of tangy Chinese sausage and simmered in a lovely brown sauce.
I think I have a new favorite Chinese restaurant.
Back to East Ocean, that new Chinatown restaurant. Even more crowded than last time, but after a short wait I snagged a table in the main room. So much fun to watch all the big, loud, happy groups of Chinese -- families, mostly, but one or two big groups of friends. They are happy cause the food is so good.
The waiters are reconciled now to me using the Chinese menu. I got a clay pot filled with thinly sliced steak, scallions, ginger, and angel hair noodle all coated with a lovely curry sauce. Yes, curry. Singapore-style curry. It's fusion cuisine.
Back to that fabulous new restaurant in Chinatown. It's still jumping, and I had to wait for a table even on Tuesday night. A big clay pot with long strips of pork belly -- fat, meat and all... like bacon... with preserved vegetables, a lot like collard greens, all in a rich broth. This typical Chinese dish would be well loved in rural America.
I went to that spanking new place in Chinatown. It was jampacked as usual. I ordered from the Chinese menu, what I thought was a lovely chicken casserole. Interminable wait. After forty minutes, there came a platter, not a casserole, of chicken pieces covered by a curry sauce and a few pieces of lemon. I had just ordered chicken curry in a Chinese restaurant!! So I squeezed the lemon onto the chicken and sauce, and the result was wonderful. A smooth, creamy, delightful sauce in which the lemon and curry flavors blended. But it left a question. Did the chef intend that the lemon be squeezed and the fabulous blend of flavors be obtained? Or was it just by chance, a once in a lifetime event never to be repeated again (since I will never order curry in a Chinese restaurant again), that those flavors were obtained???
Fifth visit (last night)
Last night I went back to East Ocean in Chinatown. It was so crowded I had to share a table, a young American born Chinese couple and a German guy. They were missionaries for Jehovah's Witness, they spoke in English, they ordered Sesame Chicken from the English menu. I ordered something from the Chinese menu. I knew only two characters, one meant Fragrant and the other meant Casserole. And a huge clay pot arrived, and when the waiter, with a flourish, removed the lid, I could tell that it was indeed fragrant. The missionaries gasped with envy and asked mw what it was. The casserole was delicious. Tiny cubes of yamlike taro were topped with a sliced assortment of Chinese sausages. Sausages have been made all over the world since ancient Roman days (that's why Roman doctors discovered and named botulism), and China makes sausages good enough to win the approval of any Italian salumeria. These were some of the best I've had. And there was a liberal amount of a creamy beige sauce flavored with star anise, and a lot of other spices as well. I've had this dish in a lot of other restaurants and this was by far the best rendition.
The only problem with this place is that much of the good stuff seems to be on the Chinese menu. But some of the waiters speak English, and so you can ask for some of the dishes I have described above. Enjoy!
There was another glowing post on East Ocean at the end of January so we went by and it was terrific. But then we went again a month ago and it was not nearly as good, with identical dishes from the previous time being a little on the bland side. It was a rainy night and the restaurant was uncharacteristically quiet, so I don't know if it was an off night or if something has changed.
Hmm...it's kinda funny...I've been there twice for dinner and it was not crowded either time. In fact,it was almost empty.
The food is OK, IMO Nothing like an epiphany. I speak Chinese, didn't bother to order off the "secret menu". Just asked the waiter what was "fresh".
AS I said, not bad, but nothing to write to Guandong about
re: Buddha Belly
Well, if you happen to go again, and I can certainly understand if you don't, why not order one of the casseroles from the Chinese menu? Maybe not epiphany, but noticeably better prepared than in other places. By the way, won't they be offended if you ask what is fresh? I know you don't mean it that way, of course. Also if you ask for a recommendation,they will recommend something safe and bland which they think you will like, rather than what they consider the best thing, which they fear you might not like.