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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.