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A-Wah - The best bo zai fan (claypot rice) in ctown

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I'm way behind on reviews, I've got a ton of reviews to write, but I had such a good meal at A-Wah tonight that I decided to write about it right now.

A-Wah is where the now defunct Roasted Delights was at 5 Catherine Street (bet bowery and e broadway). From the outside it looks like a typical cantonese bbq shop with meats hanging in the window. When you walk in they actually did a reasonably nice renovating the place and its decently nice with some dark wood panels and this green coloring on the walls. They also have a TV going playing chinese music. Makes the place much more bright and friendly feeling than most chinese restaurants.

The staff is actually very friendly and seemed to have alot of regular customers now as they were chatting up with some of them. The clientele was 100% chinese and mainly cantonese with a few mandarin speakers mixed in. They told me how much soy sauce I should put on the rice and asked me how my food was, which by ctown standards is exceptional service. I spoke to them in chinese, but I'm pretty sure they can speak english b/c one of the waitresses came up and originally started talking in english to me (even though I'm chinese, the way i dress, look etc is a dead give away that I'm ABC), so I don't language is an issue. Fyi, the dish I'm talking about usually takes about 20 mins to cook, so don't expect super fast service.

I originally came in thinking it was just another bbq place and my plan was to try a few different types of bbq meats and see how it was. I quickly nixed that plan when I looked at the menu and it said in chinese that its a bo zai fan (claypot rice) restaurant and I looked around and every person had bo zai fan in front of them.

For those of you who don't know, bo zai fan is a hong kong claypot rice where they steam the rice in a clay pot and then put various types of meats that you can choose over them and then you pour soy sauce on it. If you watched Anthony Bourdain's episode where he goes to HK, I think it's like the first thing he gets. It's one of my all time favorite hong kong comfort dishes. Not sure why it doesn't get talked about much on chowhound, but it's probably b/c people don't know what it is.

Here's what I got:
- soup: they gave me a free soup that was very good. Simple light broth (not salty at all) with tender pieces of chicken and greens which I couldn't identify (they were very dark and almost looked like collard greens), but were very tasty.
- peking duck buns (bei jing ya): I noticed this as it was listed as an appetizer. I only ordered it b/c I was thinking maybe they took a page out of Corner 28's playbook, so it could be interesting. You get 3 very small buns in a bamboo steamer. They were decent but not great, the ratio of mantou (steamed bun) to duck was too much (i.e. too much bun not enough duck). The duck itself was fine, but a bit too fatty (this is coming from someone who really likes fatty meats) and there wasn't enough skin. Overall, not bad, but not amazing
- pork and chinese sausage claypot rice (bo zai fan): this is the very first one listed in their claypot section. It's 3 types of meats over the rice, a minced pork patty, chinese sausage (la chang) and a sort of thick cut bacon. You pour a very dark and thick soy sauce over everything and mix it up (you'll see the difference in the soy sauce b/c its not the regular soy sauce you normally see...there are different grades of soy sauce). This was really good in fact its the best version I've had outside HK and its even better than Yummy Noodle who does a very respectable version. The minced pork patty was delicious and tender, the chinese sausage was great (hard to mess up) and the bacon pieces were delicious and tender. It's weird with bo zai fan I find that no matter how much soy sauce I put in it never seems to be too much, the lady even said I put alot in although I told her I like it that way (normally I'm very adverse to oversalting food). It all goes so well together and I love the crispy pieces of rice at the bottom of the claypot. This was so good, I was very pleasantly surprised.
- sesame filled rice dough balls (tang yuan): this is one of my all time favorite chinese desserts (another dessert my gf claims is an old people dessert and hence I like it). It's very tender rice dough balls filled with a sweet black sesame paste served in hot water. They are sort of hard to mess up and these were great. I almost always get this anywhere that serves it.

Anyhow, this place is probably one of the most exciting places to open up in chinatown in a long time. I highly recommend coming here and trying this dish b/c their version would be considered decent in HK that's how good I thought it was.

I forgot to take pictures, but I might go back on weds and if I do I'll take pictures then.

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Roasted Delights
5 Catherine St, New York, NY 10038

Yummy Noodles
48 Bowery, New York, NY 10013

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  1. and the connection with Yummy Noodles is...?

    10 Replies
    1. re: scoopG

      in the review i mentioned that it was better than yummy noodle which was previously the only place in chinatown that really specializes in bo zai fan and actually has a very good version as well

      chowhound now automatically puts links up when you mention a restaurants name in a review

      1. re: Lau

        I am finding that out now - irritating at times!

        1. re: scoopG

          you always have the option of removing a place link that was automatically added, as soon as you hit SUBMIT or REPLY; it's that 5-minute window or so when you can still do an edit.

          1. re: bigjeff

            yah i just figured that out too

        2. re: Lau

          Lau - I went to Yummy Noodles for the first time today, and tried their bo zai fan. Was not impressed at all. Ordered the house version (Chinese sausage+meat pattie), but found it to be very rudimentary. Bo zai fan is supposed to be 香/fragrant, but theirs have no depth whatsoever. I know they're nowhere near A Wah as you mentioned, but I wanted to give them a shot anyway. Do you go to Yummy Noodles anymore, if so, what do you get there? I wasn't too impressed with their cha siu (roast pork) either. Their 牛腩撈麵 (Chinese style lo mein with beef brisket) was ok, but you really can't go too wrong with that dish. Are there any particular dishes that you make a special trip to Yummy Noodles for? If not, what do you think are their best dishes? Based on my experience today, I probably won't give them a second visit unless you (or another poster) offers some redeeming dishes I should go back to try. I don't think their food is worth the $ for the most part.

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          Yummy Noodles
          48 Bowery, New York, NY 10013

          1. re: Noodle fanatic

            the only thing i used to get there was bo zai fan and their si yao gai, which they do decently. i found most of their other bbq to be just ok.

            there is no reason for me to go to yummy noodle anymore b/c a wah is definitely better; i actually haven't been since a wah opened and its possible it went downhill b/c the guy who opened up a wah is from yummy noodle, so there is the possibility of the typical chinatown thing where the chef leaves and the food goes downhill

            1. re: Lau

              Thanks Lau. Good to know. Their bo zai fan today was basically a 肉餅 (meat patty) over rice that happened to be served in a bo zai (casserole); if they'd taken the contents out of the bo zai you wouldn't have been able to tell that it was a bo zai fan. Looking forward to trying A Wah soon.

              Going back to my post about where to find a Hong Kong style diner/cafe (茶餐廳), I stumbled upon a place called Coluck Restaurant (第一中西餐廳) at 16 Elizabeth St today with the entrance down that corridor from where Yummy Noodles is. I didn't try the food, but saw on their menu breakfast items like ham and egg sandwiches and macaroni in soup. The reviews on Yelp makes me think they're probably below average. Have you heard anything about them or tried their food?

              I popped into Mei Li Wah Bakery briefly and saw lots of elderly couples enjoying tea. Have you tried anything else there besides the buns, and what are their specialties? I saw a lot of cheung fun on the menu.

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              Coluck
              16 Elizabeth St, New York, NY 10013

              Yummy Noodles
              48 Bowery, New York, NY 10013

              1. re: Noodle fanatic

                coluck was the place i was talking about, i forgot it has an english name b/c the chinese name as you have written is di yi zhong xi can ting, so #1 chinese western cafe. i've eaten there once a really long time ago, i dont remember it being particularly good, but it was so long ago i don't want to opine and its been there a long time and seems to have a decent following (i never see non-chinese in there), so its possible its good

                there is one other place i forgot that might have what you're looking for, its ming's caffe (i haven't been though): http://www.yelp.com/biz/mings-caffe-n...

                i've had the congee and cheung fan at MLW, i was underwhelmed by both. congee was a bit watery, NY noodletown's is way better and the cheung fan was overcooked, its was mushy and stuck together. i stick with the buns

                1. re: Lau

                  No one goes to MLW for Congee. It's a quick fix dim sum app place + bakery + over 100 year old piece of nostalgia.

                  1. re: scoopG

                    someone on the board wrote about their congee being good its was like dried scallop and ginseng or something like that. the quality of the congee itself wasn't good when i tried it recently, i regretted not just going to ny noodletown

      2. thanks for the report i will have to try the bo zai fan. i wonder how the roast meats compare to where i eat them, ny noodletown

        1 Reply
        1. re: FrankieLymon

          i wanted to try some roast meats, they looked good, but i couldn't eat anymore as bo zai fan is pretty filling....NY Noodletown is my general go to place too although A-Wah is definitely worth it for their bo zai fan alone

        2. Have you had the bo zai fan at Cantoon Garden (or whatever the new name of that place is)? I'm curious as to how it compares to this version. I dislike the version at CG because they do a poor job of transferring the flavors of the meat into the rice.

          1 Reply
          1. re: SomeRandomIdiot

            the version at CG is passable, but Yummy Noodle and A-Wah are definitely much better....I never really expected it to be good at CG as its sort of far out what they are good at, but they do have a reasonable sized section on the menu for it.

          2. Is it safe to say Cantoon Garden is the best place in Manhattan for Sauteed lobsters with XO sauce. I think it is offered at many restaurants in chinatown

            1 Reply
            1. re: FrankieLymon

              i'm not sure what CG and sauteed lobsters with XO sauce have to do with this post?

              Anyhow, I like them at CG, but to be fair I haven't gone around to every cantonese seafood place in ctown to try them so its possible somewhere else does a better job, but generally I find CG to be the best across the board cantonese seafood / family style type place in ctown

            2. This sounds wonderful!! Thanks for sharing.

              Ignorant question: Can you get bo zai fan in a vegetarian or seafood version (either at A-Wah or elsewhere)? I don't eat meat, but would love to try this place if possible.

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              A-Wah
              5 Catherine St, New York, NY 10038

              3 Replies
              1. re: piegirl74

                unfortunately bo zai fan is very much about the combo of meat, rice and soy sauce. When you get it, you pour soy sauce over it and then mix it all up and scrap crusty rice off the sides (which is really good) and let it sit for a minute so the soy sauce and meat permeate the rice (the rice tastes really good), so getting it without meat sorta defeats the purpose. I've never eaten a vegetarian bo zai fan.

                However, A-Wah does have a 3 types of mushrooms bo zai fan which appears to be vegetarian, so you could try that.

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                A-Wah
                5 Catherine St, New York, NY 10038

                1. re: Lau

                  Thanks for the tip. I eat at Hangawi (a vegetarian Korean place) a lot and get their stone bowl rice which sounds similar (crispy rice bits - YUM). I refer to it as Korean paella (in that the rice next to the bowl gets crispy and when you mix it, you have lovely crispy bits mixed with other fluffy rice).

                  It's not the most authentic version, but a decent approximation when you don't eat meat. I will consider giving the mushroom version a try - thanks much!

                  1. re: piegirl74

                    the basic preparation is almost exactly the same as dol sot preparation (the korean stone pot), so will be similar to that although toppings are obviously different