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Chinatown Brasserie review (very long and very negative)

  • s

OK...granted i went there on the third day while they are/were working out the kinks...but given the multi-faceted lameness of the place, i'd be shocked if it improves measurably...

i should have known better than to even try this place, but a) i love Chinese food, b) the chef is Thai-Chinese which gave me some hope, c) the dimsum chef has street cred, d) it's a five minute walk from my home, and e) i walked by it that day and took a peek inside and decided to make a reservation because i was having a mellow dinner w/ someone whom i knew would be up for trying a new place...a mistake all around...

When we arrived at 7:30, the reservation area was jammed w/ a surfeit of staff and fake smiles...i gave the name, and the obnoxious guy in the middle (manager?) barked at the hostesses: "Two menus!", as if they'd done something wrong...so we moved toward them only to have the same guy bark at us: "Wooo! Actually, we need a few minutes! Please move to the bar!"...sigh...ok...but has he learned that this isn't the DMV?

In the bar, we perused the wine by the glass list: numerous choices but mostly ill-suited to Chinese food...we tasted a pinot noir from Santa Barbara which turned out to be quite heavy...ditto the Cotes de Rhone...at an upscale Chinese restaurant, there should be at least one light red available by the glass (the other choices seemed likely to be even heavier: a Shiraz and a Ribera del Duero)...we settled by default on the pinot, but as it was being poured a hostess arrived to lead us to the table...i offered to settle the bar tab but she told me they'd simply move it to our dinner bill...great?...NO, the bartender interrupted and insisted we settle it there...OK guys, we just want to eat: figure it out...the bartender declared, as if he was being robbed, that they "don't do that!"...at that moment a third staffer appeared and told us that "they coooould move it, but they'd reallllllly prefer it if we paid at the bar because it's just sooooo confusing otherwise"...fine, but they seemed to forget that i'd *offered* to pay at the bar initially and that they were the ones making things complicated and annoying...

Dinner: our waiter was quite friendly...he seemed to have tried most things on the menu and offered suggestions...a nice guy, who was the only hospitable person we encountered there...we had:

potstickers: VERY BAD....the dough was dry and the meat tasted like leftover fastfood hamburger...

shrimp&snowpea leaf dumplings: WORSE......the wrapper was like dried glue, *very* tough and chewy...and grotesquely decorated to look like goldfish w/ red dots of what seemed *literally* to be glue for eyes...truly awful, maybe the worst piece of dimsum i've ever had...

roast duck dumplings: EH/OK...the wrappers here were very tender but the roast duck might as well have been bits of chicken wing...no great shakes...

(overall, the dimsum was far far worse than the fairly decent dimsum which i get delivered -- for half the price -- from the St.Marks Grand Sichuan, which isn't even a dimsum place! For a "brasserie" -- *laugh* -- which touts itself as dimsum heaven, this was atrocious food...

shrimp w/ black bean sauce: on this one, we decided to throw the chef a slight curve ball and asked that it be cooked extra spicy...it came out somewhat spicy but it was about six medium shrimp in a goopy ground-pork-heavy sauce with an *very odd* substance coating some of it which looked like mozzarella cheese but which tasted like nothing at all (more glue?)...perplexing but not worth inquiring about...

"roast pork tenderloin": fine but compared to NY Noodletown? Vastly inferior...

To make matters worse, three (!) different servers (but not our waiter) attempted to clear dimsum plates while there were still two out of four dimsum left...(we actually let the third server take the remaining dimsum because it was really too awful to finish). Bear in mind, we didn't particularly linger; we ate fairly quickly...it was as if the army of staff had been ordered (barked at?) to turn tables as fast as possible...

On the way out, the same barking manager hollered a saccharine "Thaaaaanks!" to our backs...

(random sidenote on the crowd: as we left, we noticed that at least 75% of bar crowd were balding white men in their 40's --not judging, just describing the scene)

(second random sidenote: my dining companion, who is Korean, pointed out that one of the pictures of Asian families on the bar area wall -- which are there ostensibly to give the place a homey "Chinatown" vibe -- is actually of a mother&daughter in traditional *KOREAN* garb!...perhaps whomever decorated the place thinks that all Asian cultures are interchangeable? or they think all Asians are Chinese? or perhaps they simply don't care?...but at least that picture provided a laugh)...

Overall: (and yes, based only on this one visit), i'd say this is a gross sham of the restaurant, the kind of pretentious place that NYC should be ashamed of: bad food and clueless service, all accented with an air of self-satisfaction...if *even* the dumplings had been tasty and the vibe friendly, i might have been happy to add it to a list of slightly overpriced neighborhood places where one might eat at the bar...but it failed even at that...i will never return...

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  1. Thanks for your review - I can cross that one off my list ....

    1. b
      Bill Strzempek

      I absolutely love when people take the time to post such detailed reviews, whether negative or positive or neither. Thanks for the heads up

      1. i assumed this place would be bad. i read that there is a $75 pre fix/ tasting menu, ha. thanks for the great review.

        1 Reply
        1. re: cnrone

          i know, just walking by and looking at it made me cringe. bad mojo vibe? hmm. good to hear the reviews tho. i'm not being enticed enough by the food to run right over there so i'll wait on this one, but i might try it if the kinks get worked out.

        2. I went there Saturday night - around 7 pm. I agree with some aspects of Simon's review, but disagree with the overall sentiment. I will definitely go back.

          Service: Simon is right on about how they have a lot of kinks to work out. Runners/bus boys tried to clear our table a few too many times. Other guys also tried to serve other people's food to us a couple times too. The waiter was excellent and seemed to know what was going on. There was a snooty suit (floor supervisor type) who seemed curt with her staff. However, given that the restaurant has been open for a couple of days, what do you expect? I know that for a lot of eaters, service is often more memorable than food. At Brasserie, I would say that service was a C-, but the food was excellent.

          Dim sum: Our dim sum arrived piping hot. The pea shoot dumplings were fried, and were crispy outside and perfectly seasoned. As for the main course, the peking duck has impeccable skin, just the right amount of fat (enough to get the taste without grossing out my Caucasian friends). The Branzino was FABULOUS. This is one of the best steamed fish that I've had. The simple dishes are often the most difficult, and this was really superb. Perfectly balanced - seasoned, but let the simplicty of the ingredients shine though. For food, I've give the place an A.

          Decor: The restaurant is beautiful and the execution of the space with the center harkening the traditional courtyward really works. On the main floor, I have a real sense of shanghai in the french concession before the war. The downstairs lounge looks like it will be awesome. It reminds me of cool nightclubs from Hong Kong that embraces its Chinese, but also Western influences. Whoever did the interior design deserves an A+.

          Overall: This place is not perfect. Amazing food is most important in my book. The decor is awesome and will not change. Service will improve. There is no other Chinese, fusion, or eastern place like this. I say give them another month to get some practice and go back. If the service still sucks, then sure - maybe this place will not make it. But - this beats 66 and Shun Lee any day of the week.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Leslie

            i wanted to get the branzino, but my dining companion was not in the mood for it -- i saw it being served and it looked far better than what we had...glad you had a tastier dinner than we did...

          2. Great review --thanks. They had some kind of "star-studded" pre-opening shebang on a Sunday night a few weeks ago, complete with photographers and klieg lights and clipboard-toting manager types standing around outside on the sidewalk. What a joke.

            1 Reply
            1. re: EV Keith

              A Sunday nite thing? That was Bon Appetit's pre-James Beard Awards event and not Chinatown Brasserie's doing. Few chef celeb's floating about. Dim Sum was pretty bad, but I had attributed that to the fact that it was passed around canapes. Guess that wasn't true after all.

            2. I have defend this place at least a little. I was invited to "friends and family" a few weeks ago and my experience had it's ups and downs. First of all, the decor is quite fun. It's on the verge of over-the-top, but still comfortable. The cocktails are AMAZING! As it was F&F (read: free) we tried quite a few and they were all delicious, interesting and well balanced. Frozen Mai Tai? How cool!

              There were six of us at the table and we were all being pretty chatty which made ordering a bit tedious as the menu is huge and detailed. We decided to just let the waiter choose and, moments later we began to be bombarded with food. A few things that stood out were the curry chicken pastries, fried shrimp and chili dim sum and the parnsip cake...all really nice. The dumplings I tried were merely competent...nothing to write home about.

              The entrees were another story. All of the items that one traditionally associated with Chinese Takeout (chicken in garlic sauce, beef with broccoli) were all quite boring. The fresh waterchestnuts were fabulous (i wish they would do a dish of just those!) but they were the only part of those particular dishes that were memorable. Whole Bass with Chili sauce...eh. Orange Beef...sickly sweet. The Pekin Duck was pretty bland. The entrees were, indeed, a disappointment.

              Oh, but then there were the desserts! Sesame Parfait was so so so delicious. It had a faint peanut butter aire to it...rich, cold and creamy. The chocolate cake was deep and delicious but the accompaniments escape me at the moment. I know we had another dessert and I remember it being really wonderful, but that escapes me as well. We also tried the 'dessert dim sum', little logs of semi frozen pistachio cream robed in chocolate rice dough....good lord those were tasty.

              The question in the end was would I return as a paying customer and the answer is definitely yes. I would certainly sit at the bar for some of those cocktails, dim sum and dessert. Would I sit down and throw entrees into the equation? Not sure. Hopefully there'll be some more reviews to help me decide!

              1. z
                Zachary Davies

                Is it fair to be so brutally judgemental of a restaurant that I think is less than a week old?

                I have some chef friends that went to their "soft openings" and were actually pretty impressed by a lot of the food - especially the dim sum specialities.

                And what's with the 40 year old bald men thing??? You pointed it out in two different postings.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Zachary Davies

                  -- i think it's okay to be brutal as long as you let people know that the place has recently opened (then they can judge what they think might be fixable and what's not)...and since they were open, they did take my money...

                  -- re: the age/appearance demographic of the bar crowd, i mentioned it earlier in a reply to someone else's post where they described the crowd very differently, so that was really just a reaction to their post...and i wanted to mention what the bar crowd looked like when i gave my review of the place...but i'm sorry if it offended or came off as rude (and i admit it sounded harsh): like i said, just a description w/ no slight intended, as i have plenty of friends who fit exactly that description...

                2. I had a great dining experience there two weeks after it opened and am looking forward to going back. I found the food, service and preparation to be excellent. It is also a beautiful restaurant and obviously much care went into it's design. Moreover, although there are plenty of young, hip, cool beautiful people, you don't feel like a dinosaur if you happen to be middle aged (not that there's anything wrong with that).

                  What other restaurants have you reviewed? Any that you Zagat rated? It would be interesting to see which restaurants you do like.

                  1. My wife and I were there last night and had a very enjoyable experience. We both like Chinese food but are tired going to the hole in the wall places. Chinatown Brasserie is one of the few chinese restaurants where you have good food with fresh ingredients, and with a hip ambiance and upscale decor. The formula works and there is a demand out there for it. The only others that I know are Xing, 66, and Mainland.
                    Our dim sum selections were: crab and pork soup dumplings, pot stickers, shrimp and pea shoot leaf dumlpings. The soup dumplings were heavenly, delectable morsels of yumminess. The water chestnut and snap pea side dish was amazinginly fresh and crunchy. You don't ingredients as fresh at the hole in the wall restaurants in chinatown.
                    For main course, we ordered general tso's chicken, which we liked as well. The only gripe I have is the steep markup of the wine on the wine list.
                    Other than that, it was an enjoyable experience and we will definitely be back.

                    1. The food was horrible and pricey.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: emolles

                        I thought it was just me! A friend took me there for a "special" catch-up on life lunch and while I liked the room, it just made me miss HSF that used to be at 30th & 2nd. She says that they seem to have broken all the fancy plates that made the presentation so special, but given the price and the schlepp (for me) I think that good ol' Evergreen is a far better value and much tastier and more flavorful than Chinatown Brasserie. Not great ambiance though, I admit. Certainly wouldn't bother to go back, and wouldn't recommend it unless it's your own "neighborhood chinese". I think she was disappointed too - it seemed to live better in her memory of it's earlier days. And I think our waiter was stoned - literally. He had that glazed, I'm trying hard to focus look.

                      2. No disrespect to you, but I you shoulda known better! Everyone knows this place is a hustle! When I see really well-heeled people going into this place,(and many are gorgeous women), I feel they're going for ambiance and will get their just desserts: rotten faux-Asian. The only question is why? When one can get to Chinatown or Grand Szechuan (yes, their dumplings in hot oil are great) in only a few minutes. I know from L.A., some people are just more comfortable in a place where you spend an inordinate amount for some ethnic food you can get twice as good and half as expensively at some more modestly decorated place blocks away.It remains a mystery to me, as I always opt for the smaller funkier model. Friends tried to get me their and I told them "no way!"

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: sing me a bar

                          I was invited, and in this case it would have been very rude to question the host's selection. Sometimes, you just have to go with the flow. My usual fall-in place for chinese is a block from home - Panda. Perfectly adequate for most needs and out-of-towners insist it's better than anything they get at home in the hinterlands. I believe it.

                          1. re: Jane A.

                            No argument there! I get coralled into stuff all the time by friends visiting. They read somewhere that they MUST go to One If By Land or some other place with a better publicist than a chef. See also: The Corporate Decision, where someone who is supposed to be some kind of a "tastemaker" does the research and decides on someplace you know walking in is a rip-off. I can usually see the signs as in a nightmare. "Oh, there's the cranky, foreboding matre d', and see the busboys milling around staring at you as if you've stumbled into hell" I have even bolted in some cases where I could tell and smell there was no good food in the joint! For me the worst is when it's Italian and I can SEE the overcooked (pre-cooked) pasta on some poor soul's plate. I always want to shout, "RUN"! Upscale Asian I just don't do, with a few exceptions in L.A. (Chinois On Main, notably).

                            1. re: sing me a bar

                              Actually the dumplings at Chinatown Brasserie are as good if not better than any in Chinatown. I am a die hard Chinatown fan and go for the the small mom and pop Chinese places 99% of the time. Upscale asian restaurants are usually awaful.

                              But....Chinatown Brasserie while no where near perfect does have amazing dumplings (steamed, pan fried etc..) They hold their own or surpass any you will find anywhere.....