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Aug 1, 2010 08:23 AM

Dissenting Opinion: A-Wah Restaurant

Well, Siestema at the Village Voice has weighed in, the NY Times has weighed in, and our own Lau here at Chowhound has weighed in - even Eddie Huang, owner of Baohaus has weighed in - they're all excited about the Bo Zai Fan (Clay Pot Rice) at A-Wah.

Color me underwhelmed.

I eat in Chinatown a lot - at least a couple nights a week. I love me some little holes-in-walls (Ah Ping!) and unexpected flavors and ingredients. The only thing unexpected about A-Wah was how bland everything was.

I dined there last night and it was, to be frank, one of the worst meals I've had in Chinatown in at least two years.

The clay pot rice everyone's going nuts over - really? Really? Let's start with the rice itself, since it makes up about 90% of the dish: not very good. The flavor and texture was noting to write home about, and it didn't so much crisp against the sides of the bowl as get dried out and chewy. This is no Dol Sut Bi Bim Bap.

The meats (of which there were very little) it was topped with were nothing worth going back for, either. The Chinese Sausage was what it was - perfectly fine. But the other meats we had were more bone than anything edible. I don't mind bones in my food (you can find me knawing down on one in a bowl of hand-pull noodles at Lam Zhou on East Broadway pretty frequently) but this was ridiculous. And the way it was cut up was so haphazard it may have been dangerous - while some pieces were obviously mostly bones with little bits of meat to pull off, others were cut so randomly that what looked like a whole piece of meat would have tiny, sharp shards that you only found once you bit into it.

As to the flavor of the meats, they were fine, though in that case of the Bo Zai Fan - Sausage and Preserved Duck - store bought. A second dish of lamb and bean curd skin over rice was worse. The lamb was even bonier than the preserved duck from the casserole, and what bits of meat one could find were completely flavorless. It takes some skill to render lamb flavorless. It seemed it had been boiled in water for hours upon hours with no seasoning, until all the flavor had been drained out. The sauce appeared to be nothing but the unseasoned boiling liquid thickened with a hefty dollop of corn starch. The rice, oddly, was s different kind than was in the BZF - a shorter grain - and completely overcooked.

A dish of sauteed vegetables ("Buddhist Style") was ruined by drowning them in yet more flavorless corn starch gloop. Really, I began to wonder if there were any spices (or soy sauce or salt or even MSG for that matter) in the kitchen, or if all they did was boil everything and add corn starch to the resulting mess.

The only things with any taste at the table were the bottled condiments - the much-vaunted thick soy "syrup", which was okay if nothing amazing. There was the usual chili oil, and some kind of red vinegar. The chili oil was seriously lacking in any heat. One had to add these to every dish, and the result was - because the dishes had no flavor of their own - that every dish wound up tasting the same. And since the two main dishes were primarily rice, that's pretty much all we ate. Sweetend soy sauce over rice with bland chili oil.

It's cheap, sure, but frankly you'd get a better meal paying even half that at any "three meats over rice" joint.

Well, that's my opinion. One vote against.

137 Rivington St, New York, NY 10002

5 Catherine St, New York, NY 10038

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  1. Is Ah Ping still good? Haven't heard much about it since an apparent change in the kitchen last year ...

    Ah Ping Snack Bar
    2 E Broadway, New York, NY 10038

    1. I went to A-Wah after reading a few reviews and was underwhelmed as well. First, I had read about a complimentary bowl of soup given to customers but had forgotten until the end of the meal when I was looking around at other tables and saw it being served to all the Asian customers. The only other non-asian table also didn't have the soup. OK, I was full anyway and really didn't care about getting it but it was the principle. The pork dumplings were terrible, they had no flavor. The Peking Duck Buns were very good. The squid with salt and pepper while seasoned perfectly, not too salty, were rubbery. The clay pot rice was good I thought but I have nothing to compare it to, but it's not a dish I would order again. There were 3 of us and we none of us were wowed.

      5 Catherine St, New York, NY 10038

      1. sgordon - sorry you didn't like far as what you ordered bo zai fan is the thing to order and you did order that, so sounds like you're tastes are different than mine (i think this is way better than dol sot bi bim bap). as far as the lamb and buddhist style dishes, neither of those are dishes that i would order. cantonese food rarely uses lamb and its something that i would not expect them to do well and the buddhist style vegetable dish you ordered, if its what i'm thinking it is, its something alot of chinese restaurants put on their menu to cater to vegetarians...its usually bland and underwhelming

        momosz - ditto what i said to sgordon. i thought the peking duck buns were just ok, nothing to write home about by any means. Also pork dumplings i would expect to be bad at this place; i almost never order dumplings unless the place is a specialist.

        if you haven't noticed, chinese restaurants in america generally suffer from making their menus way to expansive and while a-wah's menu isn't the worst offender in this category, it's still too expansive. It's unfortunate b/c it leads to alot of mis-ordering in otherwise good restaurants

        9 Replies
        1. re: Lau

          My gf ordered the lamb - not what I'd normally order in a Cantonese place, no. But that said, had the dish been made with a more Cantonese protein instead of lamb it still would have been terrible, since there was no seasoning whatsoever, it was terribly (perhaps even dangerously, as some pieces were sharp) bone-ridden, and the rice it was piled on was mushy and overcooked.

          It is true that many Chinese restaurants - of any style - have WAY too expansive menus, trying to cater to everyone. But a simple dish like sauteed veggies - regardless if it's something just there for vegetarians or not - should be a piece of cake. It's not terribly hard to sautee some veggies and put them on a plate. My problem here was that they were positively swimming in a completely flavorless corn starch goo. Maybe that's what they assume Westerners want, I dunno.

          As to our tastes - they're actually fairly similar (as far as Chinatown eats go) from what I've read of your posts. But we'll have to agree to disagree on A-Wah...

          5 Catherine St, New York, NY 10038

          1. re: sgordon

            Say, what's been good recently at Ah Ping?

            1. re: squid kun

              I actually really enjoyed the greens I had there, definitely not the one with corn starch that you had. I also dug the claypot rice. However, the roast pork was really terrible and the complimentary soup was nothing special. Oh well, different strokes...

              1. re: ChiefHDB

                I didn't get a complimentary soup - we did get a little bowl of warm taro & tapioca, though. Soup-y. Tasted like sugar and not much else. Probably the best thing we ate, though.

              2. re: squid kun

                i also would love to know about ah ping, always wanted to try the place. doesnt seem to be any english in there. this thread probly isnt the place to discuss it though

                  1. re: small h

                    they must've done that somewhat recently before they only had a chinese menu

                    1. re: Lau

                      I stopped in there probably 4 or 5 months ago to look at the menu (and not eat, 'cause I was going to Food Sing 88 or whatever it's called). There was an English menu taped to the window. I can't say for sure whether that was a temporary thing.

                      1. re: small h

                        well i havent been there in quite a while, so its possible its been up for a while

          2. I have to admit that I never really "got" claypot rice. I also would prefer to eat a nice bowl of dol sot bi bim bap. But dol sot bi bim bap is a totally different animal than claypot rice -- I think it's hard to compare the two.

            I have a feeling that it was a good version of claypot rice as Lau's recs are pretty spot-on. Claypot rice is just probably not your thing. I've never been to A-Wah because of that reason. But as DH loves the dish, I'll definitely keep the place in mind if he's having a craving.

            I'd probably describe claypot rice similar to the Korean dish of sul long tang -- I like it but DH doesn't get it. Some dishes just aren't as "universally" loved.

            5 Catherine St, New York, NY 10038

            2 Replies
            1. re: Miss Needle

              >I'd probably describe claypot rice similar to the Korean dish of sul long tang -- I like it but DH doesn't get it. Some dishes just aren't as "universally" loved.

              There's one Korean dish that my Korean-food loving, non-Korean husband simply does NOT get and that's sul-lung-tang too. I love it, of course. I wonder what's up with that?

              I still need to get myself to A-Wah. Hope it hasn't really gone downhill.

            2. i hope people dont judge the bo zai fan on how it has become at a-wah. the way it was a few months ago was truly a thing of beauty. please see my related post for more info

              2 Replies
              1. re: FrankieLymon

                interesting, i just read your other post about basically going downhill...i haven't been there in 2 months (been in asia and CA most of the time), but i will go back asap to see if it's gotten worse than my original visits (i was going there alot for a while)

                1. re: Lau

                  Just went there with a group of friends. Not very impressed.

                  Decor is nice and comfy inside, and the roast meats look appetizing through the window.

                  We ordered some appetizers (pickles and thousand year old egg) which were quite decent. The ginger with the thousand year old egg looks like sushi ginger (which, ahem, it was), but it oddly enough complemented the eggs well.

                  Chicken with ginger and scallion over rice was probably the best dish of the evening. Sautéed kong xin cai (water spinach) with garlic was also surprisingly good.

                  But the bao zai fan was not. We ordered two kinds --- with three mushrooms and with squab. The rice itself was okay, but not special. There were few mushrooms, and even less squab. I'm very happy to eat around bones, but this was really ridiculous. What little meat there was very dry too. Thick soy sauce was excellent. Chili oil was totally unflavored. Rice ended up burnt around the edges, dry in the middle. All in all, lackluster.

                  Odd service too. He spoke Mandarin, but couldn't understand it. Not just from me, but from my Beijing and Sichuan friends. Or English. My friends got chopsticks, but I (who ordered in Mandarin!) was given a fork --- the first time that's happened in a Chinese restaurant for a long time.

                  The tea, however, was excellent.

                  Now I will admit that Cantonese food is my least favorite type of Chinese food. I generally find it under flavored and too simple for my taste. So don't let my generally poor opinion of this place stop you if you love Cantonese food. But if you are like me, but thought that you'd try a new Cantonese place that might be a little different . . . well, just be warned!