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Jun 16, 2010 10:09 PM

what happened to Chinatown in NYC

I was in NYC's chinatown looking for eel in black bean sauce and could not find it. Most of the places I frequented are out of business. Can anyone explain this? I would also appreciate if anyone can tell me where I can get steamed black eel in BB sauce; fresh frog an chives; crabs cantonese and other delectables.
Thank you in advance for any info.

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  1. <Most of the places I frequented are out of business.>

    This is not peculiar to Chinatown. There's a high turnover of restaurants all over Manhattan. And there's a recession going on - businesses of all kinds are struggling. Restaurants in Chinatown often change names, too, so you may think your favorites have disappeared when they haven't.

    I'm sure there are many others, but Congee Village serves eel in black bean sauce and frog with chives and probably crabs cantonese as well (although I bet it's called something else).

    30 Replies
    1. re: small h

      Latest casualty: Chatham Restaurant, the dinerish Cantonese/dim sum place f.k.a. Hop Shing (not to be confused with the more formal Chatham Square Restaurant a couple doors away). Last day in business was Sunday. Sign on the door says it lost its lease. Word in the nabe is that the lease was up and the landlord wanted to double the rent.

      Chatham Restaurant
      9 Chatham Sq, New York, NY 10038

      1. re: squid kun

        Oh darn....i didn't know it was so quick and didn't get my last baked roast pork bun or the fried shrimp fritters! :(((((
        That was the last of the really good old school joints I knew of.

        1. re: squid kun

          I saw that! Just rode past on the bus and wondered what was up. Ah, well.

          1. re: small h

            I agree with you. If anyone reading this knows if they moved to a different location, please, please, post the new address. Their phone number was 212 267 0220. I called, it is still ringing, but no-one answers.
            I will keep trying.
            Thanks, a sad regular at Hop Shing (Chatham) Restaurant.

          2. re: squid kun

            Might have been the best bbq pork bun in Chinatown, particular after the closing of the old Mei Lai Wah. Where do we go now?

            1. re: Chandavkl

              Sun Sai Gai would be my go-to place at this point.

              Sun Say Gai
              220 Canal St, New York, NY 10013

              1. re: squid kun

                Did anything change when they tweaked the name from Sun Sai Kai to Sun Sai Gai last year?

                1. re: Chandavkl

                  Nope, nothing has changed. The coconut buns are also still awesome.

                  1. re: D...DF

                    I agree that the coconut buns are fantastic. What else is good at Sun Sai Gai? I haven't really branched out much from the coconut buns.

                    1. re: Ike

                      It's been a longtime favorite for baked pork bao ...

                      I've tried it since the name change and haven't noticed any slippage.

                      1. re: Ike

                        Their pineapple buns are awesome. The bread is rich and dense and the coconut topping is ultra crunchy like an almond cookie if you get lucky. I stick with the red bean or custard filled ones. I never found coconut buns like this in Hong Kong.

                2. re: Chandavkl

                  You do know that Mei Lai Wah reopened soon after under new management. But after my last visit 2 weeks ago it might as well have stayed closed and left me with only fond memories.

                  1. re: Duppie

                    Yes, the regime change when Mei Lai Wah became Mei Li Wah is what I had in mind when wondering about Sun Sai Kai becoming Sun Sai Gai.

                    1. re: Chandavkl

                      MLW has since improved just a little. Their buns are now tolerable, as opposed to intolerable when they first reopened. Their servers still don't have a clue though. Funny how the 60 year old men could work more efficiently than the 20 year olds they have now.
                      I beg to differ on SSK. Recently stopped by during work while in the area. Thought the baked bun was horrible.
                      I think I'll just sit home and sulk now.

                3. re: squid kun

                  oh nooooo....i'm so sad..I grew up with that restaurant. Is there any word of a new location or is this the end?

                  1. re: squid kun

                    Missed this post so I didn't find out it was closed until I went to get some takeout. I'm going to miss those fried taro/shrimp discs covered in shredded taro, the fried dumplings and the roast pork buns. Not sure why the idiotic landlord thought he would get the increase in rent to 20k + per month and the 750k to renovate the basement from a place that sells dimsum for under 2.00 a dish.

                    1. re: squid kun

                      Arriving at the Chatham Restaurant and seeing the "Lost our lease" notice, I felt like a much loved relation had passed away. There are two notices: one on the door and one on the window which is in Chinese. The one on the door says "Lost our lease" in English. The one on the window says in Chinese something like "Temporarily closed for renovation", a faint glimmer of hope, However, I asked a Chinese man who was seated at the OTB information booth (which is next door to the Chatham) and he also said that it was closed due losing the lease.
                      One of their roast pork buns and a cup of java (with cream) was a passport to paradise. And the hugest coffee urns and convivial atmosphere with so many local residents enjoying a coffee break. It was a "neighborhood place" where people gathered to talk and relax and read a newspaper.
                      What a price we pay for "development".

                      1. re: iraperelson

                        iraperelson, the "closed for renovation" is a euphemism. It's a superstition thing. It's unlucky to say anything negative about a commercial vacancy like "lost our lease" in Chinese.

                      2. re: squid kun

                        My girlfriend and I have been meeting there for years and she remembers going there with her family when she was 7 - this is a catastrophe. And, where will the sweet People who worked there be going to make a living?
                        As usual - the landlords who live in Boca Raton just keep making more dough and we loose.

                        1. re: purpleblack

                          I am very sorry that Chatham closed as I have been going there for over a decade, but "sweet" people? They were vicious, especially the older woman by cash register. She yells at customers all the time. Their food was so good and cheap that people tolerated it.
                          As for the reasons for so many Chinatown businesses going under:
                          Chinatown is now a "hot" place to live and one of the few areas that has not been fully developed yet, in Manhattan. Landlords are being greedy and the City leaders are not helping.
                          Also, since 9-11, Chinatown has continued to suffer enormously and the city leaders have not addressed this. There is one street in Manhattan that remains closed to traffic since 9-11- right by Chinatown-- Park Row. Why is that? For safety reasons? One can drive by City Hall, drive by Gracie Mansion, drive by the U.N., the Mayor's house, etc etc, but not through Park Row???? Are those other places not terror targets too?
                          Also,they took away the municipal parking lot right by Chinatown, for the police. This lot supplied parking to lots of Chinese Americans , and tourists, to come visit Chinatown and the businesses suffered. The list goes on and on. Chinatown never was a priority and we cannot be surprised that so many old-time restaurants are closing. Yes, restaurants close everywhere but these restaurants closing are institutions.

                          City Hall
                          131 Duane St., New York, NY 10013

                          1. re: dec111

                            First I sorely missed the little place above Hop Kee, then Chatham was my only source for a quick in-and-out-with-dumplings counter, but I must say Chatham was always an unpleasant experience because the ladies behind the counter never failed to treat me with disgust and disdain because I'm not Chinese (I assume, but perhaps no one likes my face ...) and to serve everyone around and behind me before they begrudgingly took my order and accepted my money. I've done my best to learn enough to at least holler out my order from behind a throng like everyone else does. At least at the place above Hop Kee, they got used to me and my face after years and let me buy their dumplings and get out their way. Unlike San Francisco (Commerce Street), there are so few diner type dim sum places where one can grab the dumplings to go. Anyone know of anyplace else before I resign myself to a 25 minute wait to order something from the big, busy banquet halls? The only other I know of is way up on the busiest part of Canal near Broadway. Man, I long for that quiet place to even sit at a counter for a few minutes with a coffee and a smile on my face...

                            Hop Kee
                            21 Mott St, New York, NY 10013

                            1. re: outtakontrolla

                              That place that used to be called Oriental something (pearl?) next to the noodle shop at 101 mott (across from Grand Harmony) has a takeout counter that's pretty quick. It's to your left as you walk in. The lady manning the counter basically grabs the items you order from a cart that is stationed next to her and anything she doesn't have she orders for you.

                      3. re: small h

                        Actually, turnover is endemic to Chinese restaurants everywhere. One location on Allen St. has had four different Chinese restaurants in 4 years. In L.A., one storefront has had 13 different Chinese restaurants in 15 years.

                        1. re: Chandavkl

                          And not just Chinese restaurants. All kinds of restaurants. But since the OP asked specifically about Manhattan's Chinatown, I thought I'd keep things local-ish.

                          1. re: small h

                            My uncorroborated sense is that it happens more with Chinese restaurants, both mere name changes as well as real changes. We had New Pearl River change to Cantoon Garden to South China Garden in less than 5 years without a real change of operation. Same with New Wing Wong to Wing Huang to Wing Wong over on Lafayette. Also, I know there are Chinese restauranteurs whose business model is to start up a new restaurant with the intent of reselling it in a short period of time.

                            South China Garden
                            22 Elizabeth St, New York, NY 10013

                            Shu Jiao Fu Zhou Cuisine
                            118 Eldridge St, New York, NY 10002

                            New Pearl River Restaurant
                            22 Elizabeth St, New York, NY 10013

                            1. re: Chandavkl

                              Yeah, that feels true, although I don't have any hard evidence either. Chinese restaurants get passed from hand to hand a lot, whereas non-Chinese places often change concept without changing ownership. (I can't think of any examples at the moment that don't involve Jeffrey Chodorow, but I know I've learned about a few recently.)

                              1. re: Chandavkl

                                Re Cantoon and name changes: name in Chinese remains the same throughout. I have no idea why they change the translation, it's the same people as far as I can see. (A swell restaurant - they renovated a while back and made it even noisier in there than it used to be. Hot and noisy is the way to fly.)

                                1. re: buttertart

                                  ex-Cantoon, or whatever it's known by now, is still excellent, I think...(last went there about a year ago)
                                  There have been at least a few threads mentioning this place.

                                  1. re: nooyawka

                                    Yes, go there about once a month, love it. May try it for Father's Day, I think that's where we ended up last year.

                                    1. re: nooyawka

                                      Yes, nothing has changed through the English name shuffle at 22 Elizabeth. For legal purposes, it's the English name that is controlling, and there are legal reasons why a restaurant may change its name without changing its operations. Some reasons are fully legitimate, others are not.

                          2. Last I looked, Hop Kee is still in business. Corner Mott and Mosco, in basement. Opposite the church and Peking Duck House.

                            Peking Duck House
                            28 Mott St, New York, NY 10013

                            Hop Kee
                            21 Mott St, New York, NY 10013