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Extraordinarily Bad Experience at XO on Walker

I kind of like the XO on Hester (though, come to think of it, it's been a few years), so I thought I'd try the original branch on Walker.

We ordered dao mu/snow pea leaves with garlic (waiter confirmed: "with garlic?" I replied "yes, with garlic"), sticky rice with sausage wrapped in lotus leaf (I always forget the Cantonese name, prefering to think of them as Chinese tamales) and oysters with XO sauce. Waiter said, stone-faced "we're out of XO sauce", which is ridiculous for several reasons. I was incredulous, but he wouldn't yield, so I ordered shrimp in black bean sauce.

Then something I've never seen before. Waiter headed into open kitchen, and started fooling around with a wok. While holding a cellphone with one hand the entire time.

Snow pea leaves arrived, over-cooked, water logged, no oil and no garlic. Particularly ironic because I've spent the past two weeks mostly eating a macrobiotic diet of steamed plain greens. Shrimp were undercooked, black bean sauce tasted canned. Tamale was a no-show.

I could not attract the attention of any waiter to request a redo of the snow pea leaves. After picking disgustedly for ten minutes, we asked for a check. Manager came over and said the tamal was coming. I said "cancel it". He asked if anything was wrong. i started to tell him what was wrong. He literally - I'm not joking - turned his back and walked away, to resume his stone-faced position at the cash register.

This was my first stiffed tip in over two years.

The check came to $30 (with two tsing taos).

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  1. Having a waiter do emergency duty in the kitchen is far from unheard of in Chinese restaurants. A friend of mine who is now a successful businessman but who worked his way through college working as a waiter in various Chinese restaurants in Honolulu says he was often thrown into cooking service even though he had absolutely no training as a cook. Due to this experience he fancies himself as a pretty good Chinese cook--but his wife says his cooking is terrible.

    1. I wouldn't have minded the waiter pitch-in. It was the combo of that and his yapping non-stop on cellphone as he worked that annoyed me.

      though, granted, worse things happen behind closed kitchens! :)

      3 Replies
      1. re: Jim Leff

        What you couldn't know was what the guy was being told over the phone:

        "OK, soy sauce, not too much. Now stir it all together, make sure the garlic's well mixed. You didn't put in the garlic?! Put in the garlic!! Yes, the black beans were supposed to be in there too! Whaddya mean you forgot the shrimp??! Get the shrimp! I DON'T KNOW WHERE THE HELL YOU PUT THE SHRIMP! ..."

        1. yikes...i'd been thinking of trying the Walker location for the first time, but i'll cross it off my list (after my miserable dimsum brunch at Golden Bridge on Sunday, i don't need another sour Chinatown experience anytime soon) ...

          i've had good meals at the Hester St location recently though...

          1. Isn't the one on Hester the original one?

            9 Replies
            1. re: csw

              csw, you may be right. I wasn't thinking.

              simon, yeah, I think you can cross it off. I'm pretty tolerant to bumpiness and inconsistency, but this place strikes me as categorically badly run and scornful. Thanks for the update on hester street. My fave there was always goose feet (much better than duck feet!)

              1. re: Jim Leff

                my usual order at the Hester branch is the congee w/ dried scallop and gingko nut, and the snow pea leaf dumplings...i also enjoyed the salmon soup in the past but haven't had it recently...

                1. re: Simon

                  I love gingko nuts. Any other places you get 'em?

                  1. re: Jim Leff

                    i'm sure they are around (and a separate post would likely bring gingko nut fans out of the woodwork)...but XO Hester is the only place in NY i can remember seeing them (maybe the first place i ever tried them too)...

                    1. re: Jim Leff

                      Sachikos on Clinton has gingko nut kushiage (on a skewer). http://www.sachikosonclinton.com/

                      1. re: small h

                        awesome, small h, thanks. can't wait to try it.

                        Sachiko's 25 Clinton Street (212) 253-2900

                    2. re: Simon

                      This is a losing battle, I'm afraid. Ginkgo nuts. Not gingko.

                      1. re: grocerytrekker

                        Don't dismay, grocerytrekker, at least I'm taking note!

                        Ginkgo. Ginkgo. Gingk...argh! Ginkgo...

                    3. re: Jim Leff

                      And to think there seems to be no shortage of cooks in XO Hester!

                      Btw, the Japanese Pan Fried Dumplings (their take on Gyoza) in their Hester branch is perhaps the only reason I come to XO regularly. I might have a different dish each time but the JPFD is a staple.

                  2. the walker branch is horribly inconsistent, i've eaten there many times...it can be good like the hester branch or really bad like your experience

                    generally i like xo, its one of the better restaurants in ctown...i only go to the hester branch now

                    1. Haven't been to the Walker St branch in ages - don't remember it ever being that busy which is probably a bad sign.

                      At the Hester St branch I like the roast pigeon (yum greasy!), the rice noodle rolls, the congee served in cast iron pots, the braised snow peas. Only good experiences from that branch. Which reminds me, is the noodle cafeteria Hong Kong Station still in business on further east on Hester?

                      Elsewhere, I remember having gingko nut on a grilled yakitori stick in the East Village. You can also get them freshly vaccuum-packed in clear plastic in the fridge section at the big Asian supermarkets, near the pickles, sometimes innocuously labelled as "white bean" which is a literal translation of the Chinese name. Someone told me it's an old wives tale not to eat more than 5 at a time.

                      1. The food at XO on Walker is still horrible. Had a giftcard so was forced to go.

                        The razor clams in black bean sauce were nice and gritty.
                        The snow pea leaves with garlic were ok, just not very garlicky and very watery. Boiled in garlic flavored water maybe?
                        Baked seafood and pork chops over rice in casserole was mediocre. Not much flavor but not overly salty, watery or cold.
                        The walnuts and broccoli in my shrimp with walnuts were still cold, they must have been taken straight from the fridge and tossed on the plate. The shrimp were hot at least. The mayo was plopped on about 4 of the shrimp. For those shrimp all you tasted was mayo and the others were basically plain fried shrimp.
                        Korean style lamb chops were really really SALTY.
                        The wrapper of the har gow was tasty but the innards were bleh. Tasted like shrimp but very mushy.

                        For a chinese place in Chinatown the portions were really small. This of course was a good thing in this case, since most of the stuff was awful. They also couldn't figure out how to determine the value on my giftcard even though according to them only 2 had been sold in the last year and a half. The waitress said, " we know the card is good, but we don't really know how much is on it." We told her that it was for 55 dollars and showed her the receipt for it. She told us to wait. After about 10 minutes of her messing around with it, the card machine and an old ratty notebook we told her to just charge us the difference between the bill and the value of the card. Eventually she and this really unhappy looking manager decided to just let us pay the difference and we were finally able to escape.

                        1. I was forced to have lunch due to co-workers. The place is dingy, tables sticky and the food is totally not comparable to the Hester location. Just stay away and go to Hester location!