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Visiting Chinese foodies; lower and upper East

Hi friends. Boston hound here. I am hoping to get some recommendations for an upcoming visit to New York.

I will be the primary guide around Manhattan for two Chinese friends--major foodies--for about four days. Our activity will center around the lower East side (32 and 5) and the upper East (the Met, vaguely).

I am loathe to take these folks for Chinese food, as good as it may be, because they have access to such wonderful things of this type at home. Also, I think the American "fine dining" experience would turn them off, even if the food is wonderful.

One other criterion: my Chinese foodie friends seem turned off by the custom of waiting for any amount of time without real food on the table (bread and rolls don't really count for them). They appreciate the constant barrage of small dishes that typify the Chinese dining experience, so I am seeking non-Chinese restaurants that also value this kind of constant service approach--lots of courses, lots of small dishes. I imagine a good tapas place could fit the bill, but I am wondering if there are other types of cuisine/restaurants of this type within the orbits of the areas I have described that I haven't thought of. I imagine Korean food will be involved, but I am particularly interested to look beyond East Asian. I am looking for lunch places as well as dinner places. As far as price goes, moderate would be best with a couple of upper moderate to low expensive meals thrown in.

Thanks in advance for any help you can offer.

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  1. A tasting menu sounds like it'd be a good idea for you. WD-50, Blue Hill and Annisa have great ones, IMO. People seem to either love or hate wd50, tho, so perhaps you don't want to take that gamble.

    A buffet might also be a good choice. Hopefully other Hounds can suggest some good ones, since I don't really know the buffet scene around here.

    As for cuisines, French and Italian are probably good, but I've found that my friends from mainland China don't particularly like Indian or Mexican food.

    (For the record, I don't think there's anything particular to Chinese dining culture that makes waitng around for the next course uncomfortable. Keep talking and drinking and you ought to get through the intermissions just fine.)

    2 Replies
    1. re: cimui

      Thanks for the suggestions. I think tasting menus will be absolutely on the right track, so I will check these out.

      (By way of clarification, I wasn't citing a nervousness about conversational or social awkwardness that lies between moments of food service; this of course is situational and not something I am concerned about. The complaint that I am citing is based more on the kind of experience one expects when going to a restaurant to dine. In my experience, a good percentage of my Chinese friends (from China) find the custom of being served a small appetizer followed by a long period of waiting around for a large entree to be a lousy way to eat out. Also, this can be mistaken for bad service by folks unaccustomed to the rhythm of American dining, which can put the host in an awkward situation.)

      1. re: East Cambridge Hound

        Ok, I understand--tho I do think that visitors to the US like to visit to experience some cultural differences. The non-threatening ones, in any case. =)

        It's a little untraditional, but perhaps you could ask for the appetizers and main courses to be brought out at the same time. Or just inform the wait staff that you're in a hurry and you don't want a long wait between courses.

        For small plates, look into Kefi on the UWS. The food (Greek) is excellent and prices are moderate for NYC. The downside is that Kefi doesn't take reservations and chances are you'll have to wait around at the bar in the front room for a bit.

        Flor's Kitchen in the West Village might also suit you for a very casual, inexpensive meal. My favorite way to dine there with friends is to order a wide array of non-entree items (many different kinds of arepas and empanadas, ceviche, tostones and other sides) and a pitcher of sangria. It gets a little messy, but you can even cut each of the arepas and empanadas up into several small pieces so everyone can sample everything. (Not entirely unlike mooncakes or dim sum, right?) The non-entrees are much better than the entrees, actually.

        Another idea is to go to a steakhouse or barbecue joint where you order lots of sides for the table and no appetizer. There's a communal dining element to it and no wait (except the initial one) for food. They might enjoy the barbecue, especially, as something distinctly American that also sounds familiar notes in its similarity to char sui meats.

        I'm sorry I don't have more suggestions for you re: tasting menus. As much as I like them, I usually don't have time to do the full experience. I know there've been some recent threads on the subject, though, so a search might give you some good leads.

    2. Before I put out any ideas, I just want to ask a few questions to get more understanding pf your criteria:

      - When you said lower East side (32 and 5), what is 32 and 5 (32th St and 5th Ave?)? Because if that's the case it is not lower East Side in NYC location reference (more like Midtown).
      - Are you Chinese foodie friends from China or from Boston? Or are they familiar with American food? Are they up-to-date in the American dining scene? (I know you mentioned that they are foodies, but I am not sure if they are foodies for Chinese food only or in general...)

      1 Reply
      1. re: kobetobiko

        Yes, our location is 32nd St. and 5th Avenue, so midtown.

        My Chinese friends are coming from China, and though the dining scene in Beijing is increasingly cosmopolitan, it is quite different from the scene in a city like New York. They are not particularly familiar with American food.

      2. one of my favorite authentic chinese restaurants is the " Grand Sichuan Eastern" between 55th and 56th street on second avenue. here's there website: http://thegrandsichuan.com/

        you wont be disappointed.


        kiosk realty

        1 Reply
        1. re: kiosk realty

          I think they will enjoy that since they are from china. It will be a disapointing experience in America.

        2. Not sure what you have planned by now, but why not take them to St. Marks? Somewhere like Oh! Taisho or Yakitori Taisho is cheap, but also a unique and fun experience for them. Also, thought about taking them out to Shake Shack for a nice juicy burger in the park? Good luck!

          I like to eats.

          1. I often have business associates from Hong Kong who ask for recommendations and they prefer Korean to the Chinese food in the city. Since you'll be staying at 32nd and 5th, right in Koreatown, you might as well check it out.

            Seoul Garden is great for Kalbi, bul go gi, jap chae and soon doo bu (their bi bim bap is pretty good too). they're generally pretty quick the everything and the small dishes come out as soon as you order.

            There are a few places to get korean style fried chicken too...worth checking out. Try Bon Chon for that.

            1. Hi ECH,

              Since I travel to Asia a few times every year (usually stay in Japan and Hong Kong, but stop by China or other countries / cities quite often, I think I have a good idea what your foodie friends are accustomed to. I agree that you should look beyond East Asia cuisines as they are vastly available in China now (both fine-dining and causal). As for American / French / Italian, I believe French fine-dining is popular the most accessible in China, as well as Italian, but they tend to be more traditional. So here are some ideas that I have (and I will explain why I choose each one as well):

              LES Food Excursion (by RGR) - You can definitely bring them to have the RGR's famous Lower East Side Food Excursion. With this tour not only will you be able to hit many historic / iconic establishements in LES, it also depicts some history of Manhattan, which IMO is something that every out-of-towners should do. Do a seach on the Manhattan board and you should be able to find the tour.

              - For tapas, I will suggest Degustation. At this place they will be able to watch the chefs cook right in front of them, and I think it should be interesting for your friends as the way chefs operate and prepare food in the US is very different from Chinese chefs.

              - I would also add the Bar Room at the Modern (right next to MoMA). The place has a sleek decor, plus a lot of contemporary American small plates. A good way to introduce them about modern American food (not the typical burgers, steaks or surf and turfs).

              - For upper moderate, Blue Hill came to mind. The reason for choosing Blue Hill is because this restaurant really focuses on local, seasonal, and home-grown ingredients. Given that Chinese cuisine (particularly upscale) also emphasizes a lot on choosing ingredients based on seasonality and local specialties, I think it will be a great way to showcase them what American chefs do in this aspect. Food is excellent, and the price is moderate (and well worth every penny).

              - For Italian, I will recommend Otto. Normally I will tell people to go to Babbo for pasta tasting, and if the budget / reservations (30 days in advance and gone in first 10 mins every day) work for you, by all means do Babbo. Otto is a great alternative because you will be able to order a lot of dishes that are real Italian yet not too conventional (i.e. not just spagetti + meatballs or pepperoni pizza). There should be a lot more interesting ingredients at Otto that are rarely available in the Italian restaurants in China. For instance, I know they do have excellent and extravagant truffle tasting meals in Italian restaurants in China, but lardo on pizza or testa may be more interesting to your foodie friends.

              If they want more tapas, there are also other spanish tapa restaurants such as Tia Pol, or Cararus Arepa Bar that you can get some small plates and sangria.

              If they are into desserts, I think cimiu's suggestion of WD-50 is excellent. Their dessert tasting is certainly worth a trip. A new (possibly hottest) dessert place to visit will be Tailor in Soho. ( I will avoid P*ONG because there are too many Asian ingredients that may not be as interesting to them)

              By the way, don't forgot to bring them to one of the good bagel places (Ess-a-bagel or HH or so) to have a classic NY bagel. I am telling you it is SOOOOOO HARD to find good bagels in Asia. They just can't get the consistency and texture right! I have had good pizza and pasta in Asia, but never a bagel that can satisfy me like the ones here!

              Not sure how many meals you are planning to bring them to, so here are my suggestions for now. If you need more ideas, feel free to post it and we will come up with more.

              1. I got your spot, Pipa, on E. 19th St. This place serves tapas. You get small dishes brought throughout the evening and can order more at any time. The tapas range from olives to octopus to ham croquettes w/ sherry drippings to peppers stuffed with crab meat. They have tasty Spanish dishes and drinks, great seating with cushions and tons of candles. I have enjoyed everything I have eaten there. Oh and they also have a special cheese and cured ham menu.

                1. My thanks to all for the detailed and helpful posts. This gives me a great start as I begin to plan my trip. I will keep notes and post a summary-type report on restaurants tried and enjoyed during our trip, which should be up by about October 25th or so.

                  1. You wrote: One other criterion: my Chinese foodie friends seem turned off by the custom of waiting for any amount of time without real food on the table

                    I think you should not take this into account in choosing where to take them, though you might want to give them an enticing detailed description on how the food is being carefully prepared as you wait. Instead, I think you should take them to the best places, regardless of food waiting time. If I visited Peking, and Chinese friends took me around, and at the end of my trip I told them how good the food was, and they said, oh, Peking has restaurants which are infinitely better than the ones we took you to, but they are brightly lit and we know that you Americans can't stand bright lighting, I would be devastated to say the least. You say that your friends are foodies and by definitlion a Chowhound will never turn down a stellar food experience because there is a ten minute wait for the food.

                    Strangely, if you did a survey on Chinese restaurant owners' beliefs about their non-Chinese American patrons, "they expect their food to be ready within two minutes!" would be the winner.

                    So take them to the best. Perhaps Jean-Georges, to see how French cooking techniques meet Asian influences. Also they will have heard of this, because of the Shanghai branch.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Brian S

                      Brian S-
                      I appreciate your comments, and I see the reason in them. Let me respond with two thoughts. First, my ideas about the kind of experience I think my friends will enjoy are based on years of living and eating in China. I have also done my share of hosting Chinese friends on visits to the States. I am not Chinese, but I like to think there is more to my notion than hearsay--it is based on actual experience and observation and a decent-sized sample. Your hypothetical example of hosts in Beijing seems a poor analogy, because it sounds like it would be based on cultural stereotypes, rather than observation.

                      Second, I do not plan to take these folks to second-rate places. I want rather to take them to wonderful places that have an even pacing of food spaced throughout the meal. By way of example, I plan to take them to Oleana (oleanarestaurant.com) for the tasting menu when we return to Boston. I'm trying to strike a balance of eating great things and maximizing our chances for a mutually gratifying experience.