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WSJ: "Why Chinese Food Isn't Hip"

I think the author is completely wrong in his views of what "hip" Chinese food ought to be.

I mean, after all, he's looking to Chinois on Main, Mandarin Express (WTF??) and Yujean Kang's as exemplars of the genre??

Your thoughts?

http://online.wsj.com/public/article/...

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  1. Whoa that's a weird one...how do you respond to that?

    The guy has a general point about a lack of "nice" Chinese places targeting non-ethnic types and fusion eaters in non-ethnic neighborhoods and the lack of hipness but it's completely over-shadowed by him being an idiot and/or food critic with a very limited understanding of food, culture, immigration and economics...and the perspective things should come to him...not the other way around.

    It's a bit of an odd article...but then if you're reading the WSJ for food tips...well you sort of deserve what you get...or they have indeed targeted their audience.

    4 Replies
    1. re: ML8000

      I'm not sure what you mean by deserving what you get for reading the Journal for food tips. The article above was written by Raymond Sokolov, the former NYT restaurant critic now WSJ food columnist. He has credentials beyond that but having read him regularly for many years I'm willing to accept that he knows what he's talking about.

      As far as recipes go, I actually keep a file of recipes clipped from the Journal. Not all of them are to my taste but I've been very pleased with any that I've made. They come from restaurant chefs around the country and, from what I can tell, cooking doesn't have a political or fiscal bias.

      Have you ever read the Weekend section of the Journal? From your comments, I tend to doubt it. What do you see as their "targeted audience?" I can guarantee you my age and politics are not what you seem to assume. If the Weekend section is a foodie secret, I'm happy to be in on it.

      1. re: rockycat

        <The article above was written by Raymond Sokolov, the former NYT restaurant critic now WSJ food columnist.>

        Sokolov has not been the NY Times Restaurant Critic for MANY years. I've lived here 15 years, and not at all during that time.

        1. re: ChefJune

          Well, "former" does mean "previous, in the past." It does not necessarily mean "yesterday, the immediate past." He was with the Times in the 1970's. Does it really matter exactly when he was there? I used that credential to show that he had food writing cred, but it seems as if some readers don't feel the Times has any cred. Oh, well. To each his own. He also writes on American foodways for the American Museum of Natural History. Does that work for more people?

        2. re: rockycat

          I get the WSJ at work. There are many well written lifestyle articles. It works very well for stuff I'm not in or for something I'm not going to invest time into. For food, I don't see it...and this article sort of proves it. He might know NYC well but his whole "I have to leave Manhattan" thing says more then not.

      2. I didn't read it that way -- I read his discussion of those places as being places that were sort of what he was looking for, but not really. And there does seem to be a dearth of restaurants that combine Chinese cuisine with Western service, wine, etc. Where's the Chinese Nobu? Or Slanted Door?

        It is an interesting question. So many top level chefs seem to be incorporating elements of various Asian cuisines in their cooking, but generally either Japanese or Southeast Asian rather than Chinese.

        I think the author is right that Chinese isn't "hip" -- there is some residual snobbery about Chinese cuisine based on decades of American experience of Chinese cuisine being sweet and sour pork and chicken chow mein. Other Asian cuisines are less familiar to Americans, and thus have less cultural baggage and fewer stereotypes to overcome.

        1. What do you think should be "exemplars of the genre?" What is "hip" Chinese food?

          I think Ruth's comments are right on target.

          1 Reply
          1. re: ccbweb

            I agree that Ruth is right on target. If a cuisine is more "hip" if one can push its envelope with spices, sourness, new techniques, etc., then Cantonese (being the original Chinese standard in America) doesn't accommodate hipness at all, the way Thai and Vietnamese cuisine seem to do.

            That said, there are a lot of chefs who riff well on Chinese, and a lot of exquisite Cantonese dishes that are not well known to the general public.

          2. Haven't Japan and SE Asia been much more accessible than China to western chefs over the last 20 years? If you can't visit, it's hard to be inspired.

            13 Replies
            1. re: babette feasts

              Great great point. Simple and right on.

              1. re: ccbweb

                Not really: what about Hong Kong and Taiwan? Although there is such a thing as Taiwanese cuisine, a lot of the chefs and restaurants there are run by or cater to ex-Mainlanders.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  I'm asking far more than saying here:

                  Haven't both Hong Kong and Taiwan been heavily influenced by the various countries (and cultures) that have ruled them over the years? Are the cuisines to be found in those places very much like the cuisine to be found in various regions of China? Are there enough of them to stand in for the kind of exposure that western chefs can get going to Japan?

                  1. re: ccbweb

                    Probably less influenced than, say, Vietnam was by the French. My impression is that Hong Kong wasn't influenced very much by the British at all. Unlike India, there wasn't a huge British colonial population there. In Taiwan, the mainlanders brought their cuisines with them from all over China pretty much intact when they fled the Communist revolution.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      Within the last decade or so, a distinct Taiwanese cuisines has definitely developed on the island, and it transcends what ex-pats here in the States commonly attribute to Taiwanese food -- i.e., pub food with things like oyster omelets, stinky tofu, vermicelli noodles, etc.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        Oh absolutely. I didn't mean to imply that Taiwan hadn't developed, and has continued to develop, its own cuisine, only that in addition to that there's a wide variety of regional Chinese cuisine from the mainland, and that some of it is still close to its "authentic" roots. So to answer the original question, which was "Are the cuisines to be found in those places very much like the cuisine to be found in various regions of China? Are there enough of them to stand in for the kind of exposure that western chefs can get going to Japan?" I would have to say yes.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          Gotcha. In fact, I think some of the best Tianjan cooking nowadays is done in Taipei.

                        2. re: ipsedixit

                          Stinky tofu didn't originate in Taiwan, it was brought there by the mainlanders.

                          1. re: Phaedrus

                            I didn't mean to imply that stinky tofu originated in Taiwan (after all the island was originally populated mostly by Japanese folks).

                            But after the mainlanders settled the island, they developed what can only be described as "Taiwanese stinky tofu" which is distinctly different than what you'll find in China.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              Taiwan is home to an indigenous population (ben di ren) that has lived there for thousands of years. The Japanese invaded Taiwan in 1895 and ruled it until 1945. Mainland Chinese influence was minimal until the Nationalists lost the Civil War in 1949 and fled to Taiwan with some one million mainlanders. Settling is far from the right word - ask any Taiwanese about 2-28.

                        3. re: Ruth Lafler

                          I think we might be a little grateful that the Chinese chef was not influenced by the Brits.

                        4. re: ccbweb

                          Not counting historical events (such as the arrival of sesame and cilantro from Central Asia and hot peppers from the Americas), the one regional Chinese cuisine I can think of that has a marked foreign influence is Macanese, which bears a strong stamp from Macau's period as a Portuguese colony.

                    2. re: babette feasts

                      There's a bit of history behind Chinese food in the U.S., starting in the 1850s.

                      When you apply immigration patterns to it, there's pre-1960s Cantonese food. After 1965 there was a slow immigration boom that crested in the '80s/'90s with a more dymanic HK-Canto food, i.e., better dim sum and higher end places that have since gone a bit little stale. This boom latched onto the existing infrastructure and communities

                      Conversely, sushi has been more of a post-80s thing based on the immigration of sushi chefs. Like-wise with Thai cuisine and Vietnamese.

                      Like the resurgence of many cuisines in the U.S., things are often immigration based. How many good new French or Italian places are started by recent immigrants?

                    3. It is kinda odd how there aren't any upscale full-service Chinese restaurants in the U.S.

                      It's not that Chinese food isn't hip or upscale. It definitely isn't the food's fault. But it's true, I've never been to a Chinese restaurant in the U.S. with the kind of service that many Westerners find requisite for a "nice" dining experience.

                      Chinese restaurant service in the U.S. can be blunt, rushed, sloppy at its worst, informal and back slapping at its best. Its not bad, once you get yourself out of the mindset of the Western style of dining out.

                      Yes, most people DON'T think that Chinese food can be all that glamorous because it only evokes images of take out sludge.

                      However, real Chinese food is absolutely delicious for those with open palates and open minds, just no one really influential seems to have teased it into a cute little tower yet and presented it on a big shiny white plate in a posh interior. (Even Ming Tsai seems to have gone the Japanese-fusion route, turning his back on his Chinese roots :( )

                      That said, I'd kill for some of my favorite restaurants in Beijing to somehow pop out an American branch. Full tableside service, lotus garden views, the works.

                      12 Replies
                      1. re: fuuchan

                        There's a place in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas called Pearl that is an upscale Chinese restaurant with full wine list, more western style service but food that was more authentic than most Chinese places I've been. (I should note: more authentic based on what I've read, not what I personally know.)

                        While we didn't enjoy Vegas, we did enjoy this restaurant. There's nothing really "hip" about it, though. The food was decidedly higher quality than our favorite takeout in San Francisco.

                        1. re: fuuchan

                          There's a lot going on with the lack of high end Chinese restaurants have to do with the capital needed to do a place right and big. A 500 to 1,000 seat place gets pricey and I'm sure a bit shocking to anyone coming from overseas.

                          1. re: fuuchan

                            Large formal banquet style Chinese places can't make it in the US, there just isn't a regular clientele which would ask for that kind of restaurant. Most of the restaurants that supply that service will serve a higher level of the Sino-American stuff that everyone is familiar with.

                            Another thing is that Chinese restaurants need to cater to the lowest common denominator, which is essentially catering to the American palate, and that has improved incrementally over the years, and the Chinese palate. As someone else had stated, the nature of Chinese immigrants have changed. From the Cantonese laborers, to the students and business people from Taiwan and Hong Kong, to the students and businessmen from China.

                            One thing that I have noticed is that the students from China have tended to prefer the all you can eat buffets more than the old guard Cantonese, Taiwanese, and HK people. So all of a sudden we are seeing more buffet style Chinese restaurants that cater to the Chinese customers. Recently, I have noticed that the buffet places have gotten much more sophisticated and the not so sophisticated ones have closed up shop. I don't know what is next, but it certainly won't be haute Chinese cuisine.

                            1. re: Phaedrus

                              Those are a lot of sweeping statements. There are large formal banquet style restaurants in places where there's a big enough Chinese population to support them (SF Bay Area, Greater Los Angeles, etc.). There are half a million Chinese immigrants in the Bay Area (not including ABCs), more than enough to provide a "regular clientele" for a diverse and thriving restaurant culture. In fact, part of the problem is that with enough Chinese customers restaurateurs don't see a lot of need to reach out to non-Chinese customers. Thus, a significant number of places where Chinese customers get one menu with the "real thing" on it while non-Asian customers get a menu of Chinese-American standards.

                              That doesn't explain why there aren't more Chinese restaurants in the vein of Nobu or The Slanted Door: restaurants that serve food that is only marginally fusion on the plate (except for dessert), but that have the service and atmosphere of a Western style restaurant, that have a serious wine list, etc. And it also doesn't explain why American chefs are interested in learning about Japanese and Southeast Asian cuisines and incorporating elements of those cuisines, while for the large part ignoring Chinese cuisine.

                              My impression is that Chinese students in the Bay Area like noodle shops and Chinese-style coffee shops, but I guess I could be wrong about that.

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                Large volume formal Chinese places do exist in the Bay Area and other large metro areas and are well on the non-Chinese food map.

                                The lack of the "bridge over" / fusion places like Nobu and Slanted Door...that's a bit more complex. That sort of place takes either a polished chef from another country or a second generation'er (or someone who came here early and is very acculturated) who has a broader sensibility, some luck or some capital, or both. Nobu Matsuhisa is the polished chef. Charles Phan is the young immigrant with broader sensibilities.

                                Also 2nd generation kids from restaurants families tend not to continue in the business...their parents want professionals, not restaurant workers/owners.

                                As for fusion, and Westerns chefs being attracted to non-Chinese food. I think you're right that there's a bit of a stereotype, non-newness factor, as you mentioned before, but there's also some hardminded traditionalists in Chinese cuisine that keeps change from the other side happening.

                                Japanese have a tradition of liking Western concepts as long as it can be Japanese. Other Asian cultures sometimes don't challenge Western ideas either because they don't feel the need or feel a need to return inquiry in-kind. Unfortunately some of the Chinese thinking is -- we've done this for 5,000 years, what's the matter with it? A Chinese chef is just as likely to say, "you can't do that," and when asked why they'll just say, "becuase you just can't" at least in regards to food.

                                1. re: ML8000

                                  Cantonese cooking can be especially innovative and chefs frequently create new dishes. Foie gras and truffles are not unusual ingredients in high-end Chinese (Cantonese) restaurants in Singapore. With the availability of more western ingredients, it's not unusual to see more "fusiony" dishes appearing on menus of mainstream Cantonese places.

                                  1. re: limster

                                    And then self-appointed Chinese food experts diss them for being "inauthentic"!

                                    Limster, I just wish you could have tasted what a master Chinese chef in Fresno does with shrimp and local, in-season Chandler strawberries.

                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      I wish I could have Chef Liu's cooking too! I suppose will have to make do with a bit of hunting the next time I'm back in Singapore, or go splurge at Hakkasan or its look-alikes....

                                      1. re: limster

                                        Sam Lau of Zen Fine Chinese Cuisine outside of Vancouver also uses foie gras. I think most of the fusion in Chinese cooking happens in the melding of the many cuisines - the influences they take from other regions. Twenty years ago I had ice cream with sweet corn in Taipei. Served in a sort of popsicle and it was great. Long ago Fujian fisherman brought sweet potatoes from the Philippines during a famine and now it is featured in their cuisine. All it takes is to add or subtract one ingredient and voila, fusion! Jennifer 8 Lee in "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles" maintains that Chinese people do not want "modern cuisine."

                              2. re: Phaedrus

                                Large formal banquet places can make it in the U.S. but it take capital and places tend to be handed over to new ownership in a serial manner...which reduces innovation and change. The few new places that open and do well...charge a lot. There's Koi Palace in SF (Daly City) that gets excellent reviews but people often are shocked at the prices. Real estate prices also factor into new places.

                                1. re: ML8000

                                  Yeah, people are shocked at the prices, even though they wouldn't think twice about spending that much per person at a French or Italian restaurant. But that's part of the cultural baggage: decades of cheap Chinese-American food have conditioned people to think that Chinese food should be cheap. Mexican food has a similar problem.

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    Right, and yet the high-end banquet places are serving up costly ingredients like abalone and, yes, foie gras, cooked with great skill. The farthest thing from a $30 two-from-column A, one-from-column B meal has to have a price far higher, too. And as far as the audience goes, some Chinese diners are prepared to pay for such meals, and some feel Chinese restaurant meals should be cheap, even if it's authentic cooking not glop - but it's cooking of a different order, in an atmosphere and with service that don't match what you'd expect in a high-end place.

                            2. Sounds like the guy wrote it when he was drunk. Along with the copy editors that let it through (and I'm a veteran with a mjor newspaper).

                              Target audience? People who think it's a thrilling adventure to travel 14 miles outside NYC. Of course, making sure to take their elephant guns. No good Chinese fgood in US urban centers? By US urban centers the Manhattan.

                              Went from the NY Times to the WSJ? Whether he was bounced or left by choice, neihter is a good recommendation.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: mpalmer6c

                                He didn't write that there's no good Chinese food to be had. He wondered why there aren't places like David Chang's ultra-trendy spots in NYC or Nobu that serve more authentic Chinese food or serious fusion drawing on Chinese traditions and techniques.

                              2. I think chinese restos are a heck of lot "hipper" when they are not oriented (pardon the pun) to "non-ethnic" eaters, in much the same way I don't like french, italian, spanish, mexican, polish or german restos that are aimed at "non-ethnic" eaters. A recent nytimes piece about the chinese restos in Flushing seemed the hippest thing in the world to me. I really don't get Sokolov's point and I am a long time reader and fan.

                                1. Some of his observations are spot on.

                                  The more authetic places have become more rare as diners seek out the familiar.

                                  The more creative places have become less authentic to appear explorative. They are covering all bases.

                                  I'm not sure what to think of this.

                                  In some respects, our favorite, authentic ethnic joints were never launched to appeal to the masses. In many cases, they were launched to serve the local ethnic communities. And historically (see Little Italy in NYC), those enclaves move/spread out or simply assimilate in the larger community.

                                  In some respects, there is no Chinese food. It's a monster of a country and to assign them one cuisine is like coming on CH and asking who has the best BBQ. Meanwhile I've had the fortune to travel all over China and never once looked for an "American" eatery. There's McD's and KFCs all over. But no Sizzlers or Taco Bell (well there might be, but not omnipresent).

                                  In some respects, we like Chinese foods but don't know it. To me, the Chinese (and some others) have a thousand + years of cooking based on survival, not just taste. They eat strange things because that was the choice. They eat the whole fish or chicken, not just the skinned breast. They learned to make dishes around parts that many don't want to know about. Feet? Grilled skin as a meal?

                                  And in some respects it might turn out O.K. At some point, people will ask for better Chinese. Hipper Chinese. Not everyone. Tonight a million people will order pizza from Doms/Hut, but these have helped spawn a bunch of new places selling better pies (and the folks who will pay for them).

                                  So my hope is that Chinese eateries keep spreading and a few will challenge us to be different.

                                  1. Who cares about all this upscale crap. You can't realize the true chinese dining experience with out the front of the house man/woman screaming in dialect when they go in and out of the kitchen!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. Some editor probably came up with the misleading headline.

                                      The author's actual topic is perfectly reasonable: why should he have to travel from Manhattan to Flushing to get great ma po tofu?

                                      He's savvy enough to mention Wu Liang Ye as an exception. I wonder if he's ever tried their ma po tofu?

                                      1. I've eaten enough Chinese food. I'm jaded and sick of it. The only Chinese food that would interest me would be lamb/mutton dishes from Western China

                                        I'm sick of dealing with the grease in all the sauces and Chinese cuisine is built on sauces. Numerous times I've asked for less oil (grease) in the sautéed vegetables such as gai lan. My request is never honored so to heck with it all

                                        I admit that my age shows. For young pups Chinese food might be exciting
                                        Definitely sushi is more "in" than Chinese food
                                        I'd rather have a huge steaming bowl of pho with the raw beef that cooks in the broth, than a seven course meal of gourmet level Chinese

                                        7 Replies
                                        1. re: gafferx

                                          [raises eyebrow with obligatory funny look on face ...]

                                          1. re: gafferx

                                            You've been eating at the wrong places. My mom and I never use a lot of oil (grease) which is expensive and unncessary, and the Chinese restaurants we love the best are very judicious about its use.

                                            Other posters have already said it: most Chinese food that is known and eaten in the US is not the food as Chinese people know it.

                                            1. re: Claudette

                                              What can I say except that where I live most them are "the wrong places"

                                            2. re: gafferx

                                              Clearly you haven't eaten enough Chinese food if you think it's all greasy sauces.

                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                Yeah Florida Chinese restaurants aren't so good. But even if they were and even if the grease factor was minimized I am not interested in it. Eaten enough of it in my life.

                                                And with the bad economy here it can only get worse

                                                1. re: gafferx

                                                  Holy cow, gafferx. Speaking as a guy who spent 3+ months traveling through China and Taiwan, and having now lived in LA for 11 years (and just returned from a trip to Flushing, Queens), I can speak with full authority that the Chinese food you're eating is not at all representative of the real deal.

                                                  Want me to prove it?
                                                  - Charcoal grilled lamb kebabs dusted with cumin and cayenne found all over Beijing (and in a few places in LA's San Gabriel Valley and at street vendors in Flushing)
                                                  - Whisper-thin dumpling skins filled with a mouthful of hot, flavorful soup and pork (found at Din Tai Fung in Arcadia and all over China/Taiwan/Japan)
                                                  - Noodles made fresh to order, served in flavorful (and non-oily!) soup filled with incredibly fall-apart tender stewed beef (beef noodle soup, found all over China, Taiwan, San Gabriel Valley and Flushing)

                                                  I could go on....... suffice it to say that perhaps you should write off Americanized Chinese food, but keep an open mind for the real deal. When you visit China, Taiwan, Flushing or San Gabriel, come to Chowhound and we will guide you.

                                                  Mr Taster

                                              2. re: gafferx

                                                Where have you had the misfortune to have these terrible experiences?

                                              3. The high end Chinese restaurants serve food that most Americans would never eat, so how do you suppose it stays in business unless there are large Chinese population nearby? It's not surprisingly then to find good authentic restaurants in the suburbs where the Chinese live.

                                                Also, most "Chinese" restaurants in the U.S. aren't authentically Chinese, but rather Chinese-American fusions. You can't sell $18 sweet and sour pork when there's a take-out shop down the street that sells it for $8.

                                                10 Replies
                                                1. re: Ericandblueboy

                                                  E&BB, the chinese resto's on the gulf side of Florida are either take-outs in strip centers (some are pretty good, and I hope the hard-working families succeed by word of mouth): or all you can eat buffets. I went to one buffet for dinner, and I was shocked. I thought I was at a convention for the hyper-obese. When a steamer tray of snow crab came out, it looked like a NASCAR/ demolition derby of 6-tired wheelchairs sprang into action. On my way out, I noticed a bumber sticker that said "Fat people are harder to kidnap".
                                                  I'll stick with the take-out.

                                                  1. re: Veggo

                                                    My theory on the lack of good Chinese food in many parts of Florida is that the US never had proper military bases there. When I think of good Asian restaurants in my area, the common story seems to be man in uniform meets nice local Asian girl while he's stationed overseas, they get married, move around for a while, then when he retires, they end up in a place with palm trees and convenient access to VA services. She arranges to bring a couple more people from her family over to the new homestead, and somewhere along the way, the Thai/Korean/Japanese/Vietnamese restaurant or market just kind of happened.

                                                    1. re: beachmouse

                                                      That's a pretty wild theory. I'm sure what you mention happens but personally I think it's that few Chinese or Chinese American settle in Florida...just like few settle in Iowa, Alabama and other states.

                                                      It's not much different how Mexican food is some parts of the country isn't very good probably because Mexican or Mexican American haven't settled there. After all there's no military bases in Mexico and GI's marrying Mexican girls. Also, competition and a population that knows the food drives the food to be better.

                                                      1. re: ML8000

                                                        Yeah, weird theory, especially since this whole topic is about differentiating attitudes towards Chinese food from other Asian cuisines and the theory lumps together all "Asian" military wives. Are there many Chinese military wives? We've had troops in Vietnam, Japan, Korea and the Philippines, but China not so much. Actually, though, there does seem to be a connection between military bases, in particular naval bases, and clusters of Filipinos.

                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                          I think that's beachmouse's point. Because the US never had military bases in China, we don't have many Chinese "war brides" retiring to Florida with their ex-military husbands.

                                                          1. re: alanbarnes

                                                            Still not seeing the connection between war brides and restaurants.

                                                            1. re: ML8000

                                                              There are a lot of Taiwanese women who are married to ex-servicemen in the US. My family socialized with them a lot when I was growing up. I have also been to a few restaurants and groceries that follow the story line. I am not sure there is enough to warrant an anthropological conclusion, given the numbers we are talking about.

                                                              1. re: ML8000

                                                                It's not universal by any means, but there's a strong war brides who start (or whose families start) Thai restaurants connection in my area, and the number of them is impressive in an otherwise very caucasian place. They seem to do well because the war brides have a reputation for cooking from scratch and the Chinese places all seem to buy their egg rolls and sweet and sour chicken from the same Asian supply wholesaler some place in New Jersey.

                                                                I'd guess about 80% of what would be considered to be more authentic Mexican restaurants in my area can be traced to the sudden arrival of large numbers of Hispanic construction workers to help rebuild the area after Hurricane Ivan. The construction workers have moved on to work in New Orleans or Mississippi, but some of those restuarants have remained and prospered.

                                                            2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                              As a restaurant, or lack of restaurant theory, it's still a bit odd. If there are restaurants started by ex-military and war brides...it's a small, small number and doesn't explain why other ethnic cuisines where there aren't bases (like Mexican) still aren't represented well in some parts of the country.

                                                              1. re: ML8000

                                                                In any event, the gulf side of Florida has a miniscule asian population. Dim Sum is available in Tampa and Sarasota, but not even close to the range of choices in Denver, for example.

                                                    2. I know of a couple upscale Chinese place in Chicago (called Koi, granted they have sushi too). So, I wouldn't say this is true all across the board. I suppose I do see the connection that upscale Japanese and American cuisine is much more common in metropolitan areas.

                                                      1. That's a headline to sell newspapers. Flushing has great Chinese food and no tourists. He orders Peking Duck at a Sichuan restaurant in Manhattan and is disappointed? No wonder. Chinese food feeds one quarter of the world's population. At least 10,000 different dishes according to writer/nutritionist Jacqueline Newman. Eight distinct cuisines and at least 19 more regional culinary influences. With the breadth and variety available maybe that's why the fusion he seeks is missing.

                                                        5 Replies
                                                        1. re: scoopG

                                                          To defend the author of the article: he ponders, just as you assert, that "Maybe the reason is that Chinese cuisine is just too massive an edifice for a superchef to assault."

                                                          He also doesn't appear to be looking, particularly, for fusion; rather, noting the absence of Chinese cooking as a part of the fusion cooking and food that is taking place in the US at least. That is, why are excellent chefs consistently turning to other Asian cuisines for inspiration or ingredients while they're not looking to Chinese cuisine?

                                                          1. re: ccbweb

                                                            Well, Wolfgang Puck did begin his culinary fame by going to Chinatown (LA) and purchasing the roast ducks, and then reselling it on pizza.

                                                            1. re: slacker

                                                              Puck's fame started with Ma Maison. The pizzas came later, at Spago, where the duck was in housemade sausages. Most of the credit for Spago's creative pizzas should go to Puck's pizza chef, Ed LaDou (though it was Puck's idea to hire him away from Prego in San Francisco).

                                                              Puck later opened a Chinese fusion restaurant, Chinois on Main (where they roast their ducks in house), but that was 25 years ago.

                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                I had to take clients to Chinois shortly after it opened, and it was the worst Chinese food I'd ever had. Their philosophy was to put lots of soy sauce and sugar on everything, but my clients couldn't get enough of it.

                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                  I'm fully aware that Puck did not begin his culinary life at his own restaurant. Ma Maison was THE place to go in its day. When I say "culinary fame" I meant that by which the masses began to know him. And they really knew him for those "unusual" pizzas, especially that duck.

                                                                  I personally never liked and still don't like Chinois.

                                                          2. Both Toronto and Vancouver have a number of upscale Chinese restaurants with formal service and good china and a few places that do the western/Chinese fusion thing, though these (meaning the first kind) typically cater to a Chinese clientele and as such lack the markings of a 'hip' restaurant of any other genre (no bars with eligible bachelors sipping martinis at Lai Wah Heen, for example).

                                                            But personally I think it is just a matter of preconceptions and stigma that's causing all regional Chinese cuisines to be taking a back seat to other more 'hip' ones... when you think China most people still think great wall, rice paddy farmers and monolithic things (not that there isn't a growing artistic movement in China that's as interesting and modern as any other).

                                                            1. I don't blame it on Sokolov...he has been around the food realm a long time and deserves our respect. He knows his stuff. I do blame the media coverage during the Beijing Olympics, especially the Today Show for focusing on bugs and scorpions...and I also believe the Chinese officials themselves should have been able to put forward a better view of Chinese cuisine. A land of so many people, after all...
                                                              After an exciting spurt in the 70s and 80s about Chinese culinary regions like Cantonese (the most familiar at the time), Sizchuan, Hunan etc. the action stopped abruptly when the level of Chinese cooks and operators in this country just began to homogenize the whole genre. ( I found better Chinese restaurants during this period than I do today)...this has not improved to this day, imo.
                                                              We all want to believe there is a fine Chinese cuisine out there with all its diversity...but where is it?

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: gutreactions

                                                                There's plenty of great and diverse Chinese food in the US if you look in the right places, such as Flushing, San Gabriel, or Milpitas.

                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                  Or in Monterey Park, Burlingame or Manhattan. Manhattan now features a sizeable Fujian population - some 300,000 have emigrated to the US in the past 20 years and and we now have some 8-10 Fuzhou style spots not found anywhere else outside of Fujian.

                                                              2. Sokolov can keep his fine china, and his western-style waiters, and especially his hipster clientele. I like it when my table has the only 鬼佬 in a place.

                                                                1. I don't know about the author's definition of hip, as it seems to be defined either by use of chinese ingredients/techniques in fushion food, and upscale chinese dining.

                                                                  I think there's a fair amount of fusion in some ways in cantonese foods by melting in foreign ingredients that's not really native to China, like the use of pineapple, mayo and the like. Sea Habour in LA has a 'foie gras' wontons, Elite has 'diced veal in grapefruit sauce', scallops w/ mango. Is it not hip just because the people applying the fusion happens to be chinese chefs and not celebrity TV chefs?

                                                                  On the other criteria about upscale chinese dining - I think maybe there just isn't a market here in the US. In other words, people aren't willing to pay that kind of money for slighter better chinese food served in a fancier setting and better service. In some ways the chowhound expectation is that when you walk into a chinese restaurant the service will not be there, the decor may be bad, but as long as the food is good all is forgiven. That's certainly a demand for good service and upscale surroundings in Hong Kong, where we went to a superbly fancy chinese restaurant Yan Toh Heen with 4 star service.

                                                                  1. Funny how he hasn't even explored what would be an obvious starting point-- upscale Cantonese banquet halls like Mission 261 in San Gabriel. In fact he does just the opposite by dismissing Cantonese food, instead absurdly focusing on Szechuan province... one of the poorest regions of China, and whose cuisine therefore has little likelihood of using expensive, "trendy" ingredients in its cooking.

                                                                    Mr Taster

                                                                    11 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                      But that's not really what he's talking about. He's not talking about upscale purely Chinese restaurants catering to Chinese. He's talking about upscale in a Western context, including decor, service, wine list, etc. His point isn't even that there *should* be restaurants like this, only that restaurants and menus like this based on other Asian cuisines are very "hip" and it's interesting that there doesn't seem to be a Chinese equivalent (or that attempts at a Chinese equivalent haven't been completely successful). In San Francisco, for example, there are more than one Vietnamese/Vietnamese fusion restaurant that would fall into this category, and at least one Japanese fusion restaurant that would fall into this category.

                                                                      In addition, he's talking about the fact that non-Chinese chefs don't seem to be interested in incorporating or playing with elements of Chinese cuisine: when I read the tasting menus of any of the upscale places in town it seems like all of them have some Japanese influence (I would even attribute the recent trend toward "crudo" on Italian menus as being a response to the popularity of sushi), and I often see elements of Southeast Asian cuisine. But I can't say the same for Chinese cuisine.

                                                                      I'll tell you, actually, why Chinese restaurants aren't "hip" -- high-end Chinese cuisine is geared to being served to groups (families, banquets, etc.). People who are trendsetters and tastemakers are generally young professionals who tend to dine in couples or casually in small groups, and who dine out frequently. They don't want a multi-course family-style meal. They want one or two dishes that include a lot of elements and flavors, or a collection of small tastes and small bites that they can share over drinks.

                                                                      Sushi fit that model perfectly, and thus Japanese food became hip. Up-scale Chinese restaurants could undoubtedly tweak their menus to serve food this way (think high-end dim sum, for dinner), but they don't have a lot of reason to do so when they can be successful catering to a Chinese clientele.

                                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                        While I agree with you that most Cantonese banquet halls don't fit the hipness bill, I do believe that Mission 261 fits most of those categories (wine list, upscale, western decor with Chinese elements, somewhat creative small plates (dim sum), etc., though I doubt it's served at dinner.

                                                                        Mr Taster

                                                                        1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                          I don't think Mission 261 comes close to the service you get at a truly upscaled chinese restaurant you'll find in Hong Kong. Come to think of it - Michelin doesn't cover China/Hong Kong, but is there even any restaurants that have a Michelin star that's at least chinese-fusion?

                                                                          1. re: notmartha

                                                                            In London there's a place called Hakkasan (opened buy the same guy who is behind Wagamama. He also has a tea-house/dim sum restaurant called Yauatcha. They are, I believe, the only Chinese restaurants to currently hold a Michelin star (they have one each).

                                                                            1. re: notmartha

                                                                              I think I read somewhere that Michelin will be doing HK.

                                                                          2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                            And yet the communal table and family style restaurants are becoming trendy - not the Buca di Beppos so much, but there are a few communal/family style places in Seattle that are doing their best to be 'in' spots - The Corson Building and an Italian place I'm blanking on.

                                                                            Could you make high-end Chinese food into a la carte or small plates? Dim sum is pretty popular, no reason why someone couldn't carry the concept over to dinner. But nobody wants to. Hmm.

                                                                            1. re: babette feasts

                                                                              Small plates (xiao3 chi1) is exceedingly popular in traditional Shanghainese cooking, as well as a number of other cuisines.

                                                                              1. re: limster

                                                                                I think focusing on communal tables and family style dining may be a bit too simplistic.

                                                                                After all, when you are talking about high-end Chinese cuisine (and, really, that's what we are talking about b/c that's the articles focal point), the food while presented in "family style" is plated for you on an individual basis.

                                                                                So at the end of the day, high-end Chinese cuisine, esp. banquet style, is less family style than it is often made out to be.

                                                                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                  And I'm always impressed as to how well the plating is done at the table. The skill involved is commendable.

                                                                                  As to the article, I don't even sense the author really knows what he is looking for. But if the crux of what he is trying to address is why haven't the more supposedly innovative chefs known in the West (I guess he means folks like Cimarusti, Travi, etc) embraced/fused techniques and ingredients of various Chinese cuisines, I'd say the numbers and vastness of the cuisine are too big - they probably don't have great knowledge of it, many of the techniques are not easily learned, it's very labor intensive, many of the ingredients don't fuse well (stinky tofu) or are off the radar (duck tongues), and equipment like a proper wok/burner are a major investment and probably very intimidating to most in the West.

                                                                                  I think the author might need to go to great food centers in Asia, eg, Hong Kong, Singapore, to find great examples of how innovative chefs over there have fused their cuisine with the West.

                                                                                  1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                                    I had duck tongues with something delicious like eel foam at Winterland, a decidedly non-Asian restaurant in San Francisco a few years ago. Granted, that restaurant has since closed.

                                                                                    I agree that the vastness of the cuisine is probably relevant. Maybe Chinese master chefs don't want to share their knowledge with white people who only plan on messing it up?

                                                                        2. This may be a little off topic but on the East Coast at least I'm surprised that after many generations of Chinese and Chinese restaurants that there still seems to be a severe lack of assimilation of Chinese people. I work everyday for a large corporation and am active socially in a variety of areas (i.e. professional sports events, bars & restaurants, live music venues, etc) and rarely do I see particularly any Asian men out socially or where I work. On the East Coast other than college campus and Chinatown Asians seem to be few and far between. Why?

                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                          1. re: Chinon00

                                                                            My impression is that as a general rule, the Chinese hold very strong to their traditions - reverence to parents and family is unquestionable. This alone creates a strong undercurrent in the mindset of most Chinese to embrace many other aspects of their culture.

                                                                            I've found this to be true with Koreans as well. They not only have a strong familial bond, they also have very strong nationalistic pride.

                                                                            1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                              I find that interesting. What you say I think can discourage say a young Chinese chef from truly going independent. And instead we get nice but predictable and formulaic Chinese restaurants much of the time.
                                                                              And to revisit and expand on my earlier question, why is it that in mainstream culture (i.e. supermarket, bars & restaurants, gym, the mall, etc) it seems to be that the only visible Asians are under 40 year old Asian women and what does that mean? Why does it appear that they alone are breaking the mold in terms of assimilation?

                                                                              1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                                There's a television show called Chinese Reataurant that airs on Link in the US where the narrator uses Chinese restaurants around the world as a starting point on examining the bigger picture of the spread of Chinese culture and small Chinese communities around the world. He claims the only place he's been where he felt like the Chinese community truly got assimilated was Cuba. Everywhere else in the world, the Chinese families will intermarry with the majority population at times, but they make sure to pass the Chinese culture down in those interracial marriages.

                                                                              2. re: Chinon00

                                                                                Interesting. Here in the SF Bay Area I can't seem to go two steps without tripping over my a pack of my fellow youngish Asian professionals, not to mention all my fellow Asian/Caucasian mixed race couples.

                                                                              3. The author is asking "why hasn't Chinese food made it as an elite expensive fancy cuisine in America?" He tries to answer the question, but the attempt is shallow. He doesn't discuss anything about great Chinese chefs coming from the mainland to America. A good answer would examine Chinese cuisine in Japan.

                                                                                1. Where are all of the sushi-eating hipsters on this subject? Why isn't Chinese food hip (although it does seem at least in LA that dim sum and XLB is at least marginally hip).]

                                                                                  I'm old enough to remember the brief fling with Szechuan and Hunan cuisines, among the foodie crowd.

                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: mlgb

                                                                                    You've gotta read the article. The author's point and question was why hasn't Chinese food gained traction in mainstream cuisine the way that others have. He points out that overall it's a cuisine that hasn't been imbraced by chefs in terms of experimentation or "fusion" as much as others have. So by "hip" I think he means that the food itself isn't "current" and has nothing to do with who (i.e. hipster) is eating it.

                                                                                    Thanks

                                                                                    1. re: Chinon00

                                                                                      As I read the article, he also wondered why it wasn't available in an upscale Manhattan setting ,and why it hadn't been "mainstreamed," why it hadn't broken into the "foodie world". And he did point out some recent attempts that failed.

                                                                                      So come on foodies, why not? Why always asking where the good sushi is?

                                                                                      (I exclude of course all of the San Gabriel Valley afficiionados here).

                                                                                      1. re: mlgb

                                                                                        I already mentioned it...it's economics. Given the price of real estate in Manhattan, the start-up costs for a large, upscale place, the risk involved in a restaurant (let alone a fusion place), the expectation of pricing...few in their right mind would try. Add in the "away from the built in audience" factor and why would any attempt such a venture in a very costly place like Manhattan?

                                                                                  2. My thoughts, FWIW: since "hip" and "foodie" are a contradiction in terms, then the author is setting himself up for a quest to find a unicorn. We all know here that the truly "hip" are the ones who trailblaze into ethnic neighborhoods to report back on their findings. It really isn't that difficult (for me anyway) to find Chinese influences in "mainstream" and "hip" restaurants here....and I doubt I will have a tough time finding it in NYC.

                                                                                    13 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: fmed

                                                                                      Would you care to share with us your favorite modern Chinese restaurant along with what you would consider its most inventive dish?

                                                                                      Thanks

                                                                                      1. re: Chinon00

                                                                                        My favourites in North America are probably Lai Wah Heen (for innovative dim sum) and Susur (for his reverse degustation) - both in Toronto.

                                                                                        1. re: fmed

                                                                                          Thanks. I checked out both menus online and agree on Lai Wah Heen. Looks interesting. As for Susur I have two questions:

                                                                                          1) Is the "Sweet Dim Sum" a dessert?

                                                                                          2) What on the reverse tasting menu struck you as inventive Chinese the most?

                                                                                          Last questions I promise.

                                                                                          Thanks again

                                                                                          1. re: Chinon00

                                                                                            No problem.

                                                                                            1 I'm assuming it is some sort of seasonal Chinese-inspired dessert. (It's been about 3-4 years since I have been there - I don't recall what I had specifically)

                                                                                            2. Susur only does reverse degustation (which is controversial, but decidedly innovative in of itself.) All his dishes IMO are quite individually innovative - so it's hard to pick just one. The most memorable ones for me are his foie gras creations (being a fan of foie myself)...and one particular lobster thing.

                                                                                            Last I heard, Susur Lee was moving to NYC to open a restaurant....Maybe the Torontonians reading this thread can provide updates on this. Once Susur opens his restaurant, R Sokolov should have no problems finding "hip" Chinese cuisine in his town....if this is the type of food is indeed what he is looking for.

                                                                                            1. re: fmed

                                                                                              Thanks for the response. Reading Susur's tasting menu nothing struck me as particularly Chinese or Chinese inspired or as Chinese "fusion" which is what I was expecting. I'm sure that it's good though.

                                                                                              Thanks

                                                                                              1. re: Chinon00

                                                                                                The descriptions in the menu does not emphasize this aspect of his food well enough, IMO.

                                                                                                You'll have to take my word for it that the food tastes Chinese -- sometimes vaguely so, but it the familiar notes are there....often it's pan-Asian - Thai, Singapore, Indonesian, etc. I've heard it (pretentiously) described as "Nouvelle Chinoise."

                                                                                                1. re: fmed

                                                                                                  I hear you but from the article:

                                                                                                  "Or, if you eat at one of the three hip Manhattan spots of Korean-American chef David Chang, ask yourself why his splashy fusion dishes can feature Korean kimchee and the Thai hot sauce sriracha without more than a nod to the master food culture [i.e. Chinese] that underlies Mr. Chang's melting wok?"

                                                                                                  So I think that the author acknowledges "pan-asian" (i.e. Thai, Singapore, Indonesian) that you've described above.

                                                                                                  Thanks

                                                                                                  1. re: Chinon00

                                                                                                    Ah OK. So the author is seeking a fusion of pure Chinese (perhaps one of the regional cuisines) with some Western (French perhaps?). Susur does have a few dishes that fit that description...but I grant that the entire menu is not like that. The author's criteria are a bit muddled and restrictive at the same time. I guess the closest thing I have come to what he may be seeking is Hakkasan in London, Hakkasan here (Vancouver), and Zen Fine Chinese here (Vancouver).

                                                                                                    1. re: fmed

                                                                                                      Those suggestions are spot on as to what the author is looking for I think from what I've read on their website. Thanks.
                                                                                                      Unfortunately (and not surprisingly) none are in the U.S.

                                                                                                      1. re: Chinon00

                                                                                                        You might be interested to read what chowhounds have posted about Red Pearl Kitchen which is pretty much the hip trendoid fusion attempt (by non Chinese cooks) that is one interpretation of what the author was talking about. I think part of the problem is that in the LA area we have "the real thing", and the other part is that if the food is so-so, people are feeling "ripped". I've just posted a few of the threads, there are many.

                                                                                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/341512

                                                                                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/423138

                                                                                      2. re: fmed

                                                                                        It is my opinion, as well as the opinion of the Chowhound founder's manifesto, that foodies are defined as hip trendoids who follow the Zagat guide, not trailblazers as you define:

                                                                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/532567

                                                                                        The Foodie vs Chowhound discussion has been talked to death here:

                                                                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/527407

                                                                                        Mr Taster

                                                                                        1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                          It's semantics and trend talk mumbo-jumbo but no one hip would follow Zagat's although they might consider themselves a foodie. Anyone that uses Zagat's beyond general reference I wouldn't consider that much into food but does like a good meal.

                                                                                          See, round and round it goes...where it stops, nobody knows. :0

                                                                                          1. re: Mr Taster

                                                                                            We are in agreement here...I believe that is what I was saying in my previous post.

                                                                                        2. Actually, what I find really weird about the article, and why I can't seem to get my mind around it, is how he starts and ends with a rather homey Sichuan ma po tofu dish and instead of saying something like, "why haven't more Americans discovered authentic Chinese regional cuisine in places freqently mainly by Chinese people?" he goes off on a tangent about upscale fusion. It would have made a lot more sense to me if he'd started with a visit to a Cantonese seafood banquet house then talked about morphing this type of experience into something even more refined.

                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                          1. Ipse, Thks for posting the link, but I didn't the article :) So I'm just commenting from your post's title.
                                                                                            Chinese food in general is pretty cheap. So considering how Wall Street is doing, Chinese food is getting hipper by the day for many WSJ readers.

                                                                                            Sorry to make light of the effect the economy is having on many peoples lives. But sometimes if you didn't laugh, you'd cry.

                                                                                            1. Ummm... ...very narrow minded and insular.

                                                                                              The author should travel out of the US more.

                                                                                              He should go for instance to Shanghai or Beijing to see how many expats are there now working together with the Chinese to create really interesting creations based on Chinese food.

                                                                                              Hell, even Tim Raue in Germany - http://www.ma-restaurants.de/ is not making the normal "fusion" combinations. This is original, very creative stuff and sumptuous to eat - he's the only guy I've ever seen who had the guts to use duck's tongue in his recipes, and have people rave about it!

                                                                                              Of course, I doubt the author would be inclined to. He can stick to his spicy noodles in Flushing.

                                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: girobike

                                                                                                They exist in places like Hong Kong but not here in the states. there's an obvious reason: the US doesn't have the wealthy chinese clientele to support these high end establishments.
                                                                                                But we do have some magnificent chinese restaurants here. Most of them are in the San Gabriel Valley in east Los Angeles and even that area doesn't have the high end places you see in Hong Kong. I hope this changes with the economic rise of China.

                                                                                                1. re: david t.

                                                                                                  Why do you need wealthy Chinese clientele to make it happen? This certainly hasn't held true for French food for example.

                                                                                                  1. re: david t.

                                                                                                    Hi David,

                                                                                                    That fellow I referred to - Tim Raue, was voted "Chef of the Year 2007" in Germany. Here's a video:

                                                                                                    http://www.tvbvideo.de/video/iLyROoaf...

                                                                                                    I don't think you'll see any Chinese people there...

                                                                                                    So much for "Old Europe". They are much more open culinary-wise than our US brethren.

                                                                                                2. The OC used to have an attempt at upscale chinese with Stix. This was an American (ie non chinese) run corporate restaurant. The original incarnation did have Chinese chefs working in a glass enclosed kitchen with servers accommodating the well healed Newport and OC crowd. The other (which I might be crucified for) is PF Chang. Its corporate, its attempt at upscale with a wine list and bar and expensive chinese food in small portions.
                                                                                                  Having eaten in these places in the mid 80s and early 90's, I can't help but think that I could have gotten better and cheaper , a half hours drive north.

                                                                                                  1. great comments all; I don't have the mind right now to put a proper response except that Sokolov really makes no sense in his article; no sense at all. his main point at the end of the third paragraph is simply . . . his own personal wish? who exactly is demanding that young chefs must use chinese cuisine as a basis for new restaurants? huh? funny thoughts from this guy; a very weird one. and who is searching for chinese-i-fied fine dining? or rather, fine-dining-i-fied chinese food? it is what it is, heterogeneous to the point where it is impossible to reduce to a set of experiences and then on top of that, to make it fancy? funny.