Chinatown Christmas -- all restaurants FULL except for new Fujianese banquet hall on Chinatown's fringes
I write for the future. To those in future years who think Christmas in Chinatown is a great idea and do a search on this board to find out which restaurants are open. Well, every restaurant is open, but if you rush to your favorite place at a peak hour assuming you'll get a nice table right away, a big surprise awaits you.
Usually I spend Christmas in Tulsa. My family moved there from New York and I have a lot of friends there. But this year I couldn't make it. Alone on Christmas! I craved crowds, pullulating swarming masses of humanity. And that's what I got in Chinatown. It was quite nice strolling around at 6:30 on a pleasant evening. The streets were packed and there was a definite holiday spirit. But every restaurant, even places normally empty, had lines out the door! Delight 28 is so huge I was sure I'd snag a spot... but they had a wedding reception going on! (That's one couple who will never forget their anniversary!) So I went south and east, toward the fringes, but even that Fujianese restaurant I sometimes go to on Eldridge didn't have an empty seat in the house.
So north I went, on dark dreary Forsyth St, Just before Grand there was a big new banquet place that just opened a few days ago. And they had a table empty! Brightly lit, new, maybe the most elegant Fujianese around -- quite a step up from the dingy soup shop in Good Good Taste. The menu is almost entirely in Chinese, and most things are priced at $15 and up (maybe that's why there were empty tables), although as I was leaving I saw a small supplementary menu with some things priced lower. Anyway, one thing on the main menu that was $12 was a pork belly casserole, so I got it. And then the big clay pot came, and opened to reveal slice after slice of rich fatty pork belly, neatly arranged in a row, swimming in a sumptuously oily brown sauce. It looked so good! And the fat and indulgence helped me get in the Christmas spirit. I ate every bit of it, to the delight of the watching waitresses, who, not used to seeing someone who was not Chinese, stood around watching me eat, bringing spare napkins, toothpicks, whatever they could think of to provide an excuse to get close, observe, say a few words of English learned in a school in China. They made me happy on Christmas, and I think I brought some fun into their lives too.
84 Forsyth Street
re: Miss Needle
I went to Shanghai Cafe at about 5:30pm on Christmas Eve and was seated immediately (GREAT Xiao Long Bao).
Not wanting to deal with the Chinatown crowds on Christmas day, I headed to 32nd instead and had some soup and Korean dumplings at Mandoo Bar. No crowds, good food and friendly service.
I was in Flushing Chinatown at 5:30PM on Christmas Eve and it was full too! Spicy & Tasty, usually empty at that hour except for the waiters, was full. I managed to get a table at Little Pepper, and a few minutes later that was full too. So Christmas Eve was as full as Christmas day.
Thanks Brian for this! I stopped in for lunch and sampled the Oxtail Noodle Soup off the Chinese menu. Hot steamy and delicious broth with perfect to-the-bite noodles ($5.) They were also serving Cantonese style dim sum. The manager is Cantonese and told me the kitchen staff is all Cantonese. Perhaps a Cantonese take on some Fuzhou dishes (northern Cantonese and Southern Fujian have incorporated influences from each other) or a Cantonese effort to take advantage of "Fuzhou Fever" occurring east of Bowery?
I've been back twice since Christmas and had two excellent meals. This strange, always half-empty place on Chinatown's fringes serves some of the best food in Chinatown. And yes, it's Cantonese. Here's what I had:
1) A big clay pot filled with transparent noodles mixed with sliced chives and celery and topped with ten or twelve big shrimp, heads and shells still on. The broth was redolent with ginger and spices. If you put lemongrass in, you'd have a perfect Thai meal.
2) Pieces of fish (cod or whiting) were mixed with spice-infused ground pork and sauteed with lots of crunchy green beans and a few fermented black beans for flavor, served surrounded with a decorative border made of cucumber rounds.
There are two menus, both entirely in Chinese except for a few humdrum dishes like General Tso's chicken, sweet and sour pork, and noodles. Some of the waitresses speak English, so you could go in and say, I want shrimp casserole, or pork, and work something out.