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Down a hidden staircase in Chinatown, Eisenhower-era American food

Brian S Feb 26, 2008 07:51 AM

Walk along that crowded, bustling stretch of the Bowery -- between that old old house that George Washington likely stopped to admire and the Civil War era tunnel under Doyers -- and I'll give a thousand to one odds you'll never notice that tiny doorway at 16 Bowery. Through the door and down a narrow staircase, beyond a curtain and around a corner is a restaurant that looks like a Polish luncheonette on Ave B with trendy lighting and paint job. That's Win Luck Restaurant, and it serves American food to adventurous Chinese people with a yen for the exotic.

You can get Steak Diana, or lobster with baked cheese, or maybe some eggs over easy with bacon. If you have a sweet tooth, you can try waffles with ice cream and a chocolate shake. A trendily-dressed young lady at the next table picked at fried chicken. An older, not very trendy lady near me exclaimed in Chinese, "This is western food!" I opted for red wine baked ox tail. First came cream of chicken soup and garlic bread. And then the main event, a ramekin with the oxtail, potatoes and carrots bobbing in a thick gloppy sauce that looked like Campbell's soup. Alongside, new potatoes and a vegetable medley. It was the sort of TV dinner food you'd expect to see Mom dish out in an episode of "Leave It to Beaver" -- though I don't think that The Beav was a big fan of oxtail. Still, the veggies were fresh not canned, and the sauce, despite its appearance, was rich and flavorful, redolent of wine -- though a bit too sweet.

Not bad for eleven bucks. And, for Chinese patrons, the added pleasure of being able to say, yes I've tried American food, and our Chinese food is so much better!

Win Luck Restaurant
16 Bowery

Win Luck
16 Bowery, New York, NY 10013

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  1. Miss Needle RE: Brian S Feb 26, 2008 08:14 AM

    Evil, evil restaurant. I was once dragged there by a Chinese friend who wanted to have some Americanized Chinese food. Here I was thinking I was going to have moo shoo pork and General Tso's chicken. It was processed food hell. I think we ordered pork chops covered with canned soup and a cornish hen.

    1. Chandavkl RE: Brian S Feb 26, 2008 12:06 PM

      I'm curious if this place has been open for a long time or not. In a way it sounds like it might be Hong Kong cafe style food which has become ubiquitous in California in the past decade, but less common in New York. Typical dishes in this genre include ox tail with spaghetti (spaghetti is always offered as an alternative to rice) and baked sole in corn sauce. M Star Cafe on Division is the one place in Chinatown I can think of that fits this description.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Chandavkl
        SomeRandomIdiot RE: Chandavkl Feb 26, 2008 12:50 PM

        This place has been open for a long time(owners have changed a few times i think) and the last time it tasted good was probably in the late 80's. It's overpriced and really blehhhhh now.

        1. re: Chandavkl
          scoopG RE: Chandavkl Feb 26, 2008 01:17 PM

          Chandavkl - perhaps Kobma at 23 Pell comes close. Younger owners and younger crowds. Sort of a hip-Cantonese or hip California style Hongkong restaurant. For breakfast, perhaps Spam and Sausage Noodle Soup or Toast and Jam with Ham Macaroni Soup. Other dishes include Garlic and Ketchup Chicken Wings, Baked Ham and Cheese over Spaghetti or Squid with Sour Cabbage Chow Fun. And everybody's favorite: Salted Lemon 7-Up! I didn't think it would last when it opened but it is going strong after 2+ years.

          1. re: scoopG
            cimui RE: scoopG Feb 27, 2008 11:26 AM

            Ewww. This place sounds so gross, I may just have to try it!

            The lemonade I had in Singapore was always slightly salty. (I was not a fan.) Guess salted 7-up is along the same vein.

            Any idea whether it's kaya toast with jam or just regular ol' toast?

            1. re: cimui
              scoopG RE: cimui Feb 27, 2008 01:47 PM

              Not sure cimui! I've gotten their Chinese style dishes like Shredded Pork Pan Fried Noodles or Tomato and Egg on Rice. Lau, they do offer the Butter and Condensed Milk Toast though, as well as Peanut Butter and Condensed Milk Toast! Oh and plenty of sandwiches like "Corn Beef and Egg" and a Pork Chop one. And French Fries!

              1. re: scoopG
                Lau RE: scoopG Feb 27, 2008 02:09 PM

                oh im not sure if they have the toast with condensed milk (someone please tell me if they do)

                however, i think that place in the hallway on elizabeth might have it

                1. re: Lau
                  kobetobiko RE: Lau Feb 27, 2008 07:38 PM

                  I have been to Kobma. Its menu is very similar to that of Egg Custard King Cafe on Mott Street, with all these Hong Kong bistro style dishes. I wasn't that impressed by the food, but I have a friend from Hong Kong that is a regular. He loves their baked pork chop rice with tomato sauce and their milk tea.

                  It does serve the toast with condensed milk, and it is the Hong Kong style (thin toasted white bread). Egg Custard King also serves it. I think ViVi on Bayard serves the Taiwanese version with thick toast.

                  As for the salty 7 up, it is very common in Hong Kong bistro / cafe. It is not adding salt to 7 up (so no need to be scared!). It is just 7-up with preserved lemon, similar to the Vietnamese salty lemonade with club soda replaced by 7 up. It is actually very good!

            2. re: scoopG
              gsw RE: scoopG Mar 2, 2008 02:31 PM

              I just noticed on the menu of a vietnamese restaurant in LA a listing for vietnamese salt lemon soda - do you suppose this could be it? they also had salt plum as a flavor. I didn't try it.

              1. re: gsw
                kobetobiko RE: gsw Mar 2, 2008 02:48 PM

                The Cantonese version uses preserved (salty) lemon with 7-up, whereas the Vietnamese version uses seltzer water (and possibly with sugar, I am not sure). Kobma offers that Cantonese version with 7-up.

            3. re: Chandavkl
              Lau RE: Chandavkl Feb 27, 2008 01:31 PM

              no its not the type of hk diner that exists in LA...this is kind of just a chinese take on american food. i remember eating stuff like this in asia when i was trying to find western food...im usually not much of a fan of it as the conception of "american" food is generally just greasy and kind of weird

              the one thing i do like from that genre is the toast with condensed milk...oh and i like the pork chop rice at XO kitchen (has cheese and tomato baked over it, but its really good)

            4. MMRuth RE: Brian S Feb 26, 2008 03:28 PM

              Do love your review - not sure I quite want to try it - but love that you posted about it. Would you go back?

              1 Reply
              1. re: MMRuth
                Brian S RE: MMRuth Feb 27, 2008 08:05 AM

                Oh, I don't think I'll be going back... unless I watch one of those splashy Douglas Sirk movies from the 1950s and want to stay in the mood by eating the food that goes with it. But it was a fun experience so I'm not sorry I went. And the food wasn't disgusting or inedible (like Wo Hop); it just wasn't very good. Still, my old high school served worse.

              2. c
                cimui RE: Brian S Feb 27, 2008 11:32 AM

                This has to be the best review for a restaurant I never want to visit I've ever read. :)

                Love this line: <<And, for Chinese patrons, the added pleasure of being able to say, yes I've tried American food, and our Chinese food is so much better!>>

                That's exactly what my mom always said when we went to Pizza Hut. I'm pretty sure the only reason why we ever went was to afford her the opportunity to gloat.

                2 Replies
                1. re: cimui
                  SomeRandomIdiot RE: cimui Feb 27, 2008 12:02 PM

                  It really isn't "American food" or "Americanized chinese", it is, as Chandavkl mentions Hong Kong cafe style food. You go to these places for this specific kind of food. This just happens to be a place that makes awful food. A properly done rendition of the standard " fish baked in a cheese sauce over fried rice" is a very delicious thing. The chunks of fish are tender and covered in a cheese sauce that comes slightly browned, still bubbly, and somewhat stringy but not gloppy.

                  1. re: SomeRandomIdiot
                    cimui RE: SomeRandomIdiot Feb 27, 2008 12:44 PM

                    I don't think anyone is really asserting that it is "real" American food (not any more than we could say that most takeout chow fun and lo mien places serve "real" Chinese). Rather, it sounds like Chinese-ized American to me. Don't think that's any different from what Chandavkl is saying.

                2. DarthEater RE: Brian S Feb 28, 2008 01:43 PM

                  Ugh...you got suckered in here. It used to be called Wing Sing before it changed hands. This place is popular amongst high school kids. I recall ordering a baked spaghetti dish that had strips of ham and cream of mushroom type sauce over it. XO is way better than this place.

                  1. s
                    Simon RE: Brian S Mar 2, 2008 07:06 AM

                    haha...great review!...

                    1. s
                      sohjyu RE: Brian S Mar 6, 2008 11:38 AM

                      My friend recommended this place to us, and my husband and I loved it, until they changed owners and the name changed from Win(g) Sing to Win Luck, although the Chinese name is still the same. Now the food is ok, but not the same. Our favorite dish was always the baked pork chop over rice (breaded and fried pork chop, cut up into strips, on top of fried rice, then topped with a ketchuppy tomato sauce, then baked). This type of cuisine is HK cafe style Western food (aka ketchup=spaghetti sauce). These and other places like XO serve the HK style milk tea, which are not the same as the typically milk teas served at Chinese bakeries (where the tea comes from a tea bag). They cater to HK natives. Prices are generally reasonable.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: sohjyu
                        Lau RE: sohjyu Mar 6, 2008 12:02 PM

                        if you like the baked pork chop rice, go to XO Kitchen on hester (not the one of lafayette)...i think it might be the best dish there and i think XO is a great HK dinerish type food

                        1. re: Lau
                          Brian S RE: Lau Mar 9, 2008 06:12 PM

                          Just got back from having some really good HK dinerish type food at Egg Custard King Cafe at 271 Grand. Decor looks like the designer was watching too many anime movies, the ones that take place in, say, a gangster-controlled Tokyo in 2054. TV playing a game show from Taiwan.

                          I ordered "Baked Ham and Cheese Rice" It looked like a Domino pizza with rice instead of crust. Julienned ham, pepper, onions, mushrooms in a sea of gloppy baked cheese! Actually, mostly a bechamelish cream sauce rather than straight cheese. Underneath was the rice. Not gourmet fare, but if you're in the right mood, which I was, really really good. And only $6.50, tax included.

                          Here is an article on this type of Hong Kong eatery:

                          1. re: Brian S
                            Chandavkl RE: Brian S Mar 9, 2008 11:14 PM

                            Egg Custard Cafe did a nice physical renovation of that space, though, compared to what it was before. The prior occupant was called Pot Luck Seafood, and I strongly suspect the owners really didn't know the meaning of the name, just that it was some kind of English expression.

                            1. re: Brian S
                              Simon RE: Brian S Mar 10, 2008 09:04 AM

                              thanks for the wikipedia link: i ate at one these places in Hong Kong this morning...i had salt-baked squid...and a bowl of borsht!...it hit the spot...curious if the borsht option is as prevalent in the Manhattan ones as it is here (where i heard it started years and years ago with Russian immigrants)...

                              1. re: Simon
                                Brian S RE: Simon Mar 10, 2008 10:21 AM

                                I have seen borscht in some of the Chinatown bakeries. And as I recall I saw it years ago in Beidahe, near Tientsin, and far to the north in Harbin... brought by immigrants who took the train from Russia after Lenin took over.

                                1. re: Brian S
                                  kobetobiko RE: Brian S Mar 10, 2008 12:01 PM

                                  The borchrt in Hong Kong style cafes is definitely a different version to the Russian, without any beets involved. It is pretty much a beefy tomato soup with a lot of vegetables like carrot, celery, cabbage (for some), and with beef. A lot of restaurants also like to make it spicy.

                                  In these Hong Kong style cafe/bistro, the soup choice for any set meal is usually white or red soup. The former is a starchy based white soup and the lattter is this so-called borscht soup.

                                  1. re: kobetobiko
                                    QueenPeach RE: kobetobiko May 22, 2008 11:53 AM

                                    Kobetobiko, you seem to know alot obout this borchrt. I've had this soup at Win Luck before and it reminded me alot of the ones I had in Hong Kong that tasted so so amazing. You wouldn't happen to have a recipe for it would you? I really love it but don't want to have to visit Win Luck everytime I want some.

                        2. d
                          Deanlo RE: Brian S Jan 13, 2009 06:05 AM

                          I had a feeling this was the same place I went to back in high school, about 6 years ago. My friend brought me here thinking I would appreciate the food. I remember getting some 'special soup' they had which they called 'russian soup' and it had potatoes, carrots... chicken? Didn't taste like anything I couldn't make at home, i guess potatoes = russian? And I think I got a sandwich. Or spaghetti porkchop. Can't recall.

                          Been to XO a few times but never had the casserole. I guess I was too into authentic chinese food at the time to appreciate the concept. The grilled squid was delicious.

                          I never got the point of these restaurants until I went to HK Tea and Sushi for the first time, about a year ago. Decent food, generous portions, good prices, generally quick and mildly rude service. Only ordered the mix grill cheese baked rice upon a recommendation. It was great! Though I was expecting a chinese/italian sausage and not a hot dog....

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