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Cafe China?

LeahBaila Sep 22, 2011 01:04 PM

Going tonight - has anyone been to Cafe China? If so, do you have any recommendations? Thanks in advance.

Cafe China
13 E 37th St, New York, NY 10016

  1. scoopG Sep 22, 2011 01:45 PM


    7 Replies
    1. re: scoopG
      carcrash Sep 22, 2011 02:27 PM

      But please report back. I haven't read a really in-depth report of the place anywhere; I'm really curious.

      1. re: carcrash
        LeahBaila Sep 23, 2011 05:36 AM

        Thanks guys. OK, so here's the low down:
        Went with a group of 10 for dinner last night - the first two of us to arrive were seated immediately, which I always appreciate - no liquor license as of yet, so we ran out and grabbed a bottle of vodka, in addition to the Baijiu that one of my friends brought - the space is lovely, but not overdone to the point where you worry that the emphasis may be more on the decor and not the food (think 1930's Shanghai) - service was very friendly, but a bit slow (granted, we were a table of 10) ----

        *Bang Bang Chicken: strips and shreds of chicken served cold, in a spicy sesame sauce - personally, I found the chicken to taste overwhelmingly game-y. Full disclosure: I tend to dislike most chicken dishes.
        *Husband and Wife Special: ox tongue + tripe in a delicious roasted chili peanut sauce, liberally laced with scallions
        *Baby Cucumber: simple and clean - bite-sized chunks of baby cucumber were enveloped in a flavorful garlic dressing. I ordered this dish at almost every meal while I was in Hong Kong, and I was thrilled to see it on this particular menu.
        *Dan Dan Noodles: great flavors and the pork atop was perfect, though I found the noodles to be a bit gummy/overcooked.
        *Scallion Pancakes: run-of-the-mill
        *Pork Pot Stickers: clean, simple, meat-to-skin ratio was spot on
        *Veg Pot Stickers: veggie filling was boring, but the filling-to-skin ratio was precise
        *Pork Dumplings in Chili Oil: best version I've had to date. YOU MUST TRY THESE NOW. Cafe China's "chili oil" is drinkable. No joke.
        *Spicy Chengdu Wonton: similar to the above
        *Chungking Spicy Chicken: spicy, crispy, peppy, though a tad over-seasoned for my taste (and, coming from me, that's a big statement, as I am the queen of over-seasoning my food).
        *Spicy Cumin Lamb: fantastic. The lamb was tender, gristle-free, and chock-full of fragrant cumin flavor. Nice spice, to boot.
        *Braised Pork Szechuan Style: I didn't eat much of this, as it wasn't what I was expecting: slices of pork belly were not flecked with as much meat as I would have hoped for, however, the sauce was phenomenal - I spooned it over my rice.
        *Ma Po Tofu: I was only able to grab a tiny chunk of the tofu, but the sauce was on the thicker side - spicy and delicious.
        *Auntie Song's Fish Chowder: a large bowl arrived, filled with sliced fish, green peppers, and a gorgeous, rich red broth.
        *Spinach w/ Garlic: run of the mill, though a nice accompaniment
        *Lightly Sauteed Lotus Root: delicious! Crunchy, garlicky - will definitely order this again.

        I really enjoyed my meal at Cafe China and look forward to returning with a smaller party. There are so many items that I'm dying to try. Check it out!

        Cafe China
        13 E 37th St, New York, NY 10016

        1. re: LeahBaila
          Cheeryvisage Sep 23, 2011 05:39 AM

          Thank you for the review. Looks like this is a solid Sichuan restaurant! Maybe I should visit next week....

          1. re: Cheeryvisage
            LeahBaila Sep 23, 2011 06:46 AM

            My pleasure. Ya, give it a shot!

          2. re: LeahBaila
            kathryn Sep 23, 2011 10:05 PM

            Thanks for the report!

            1. re: LeahBaila
              Lau Sep 30, 2011 12:52 PM

              sounds great will have to try

              1. re: Lau
                LeahBaila Oct 3, 2011 05:38 AM

                Do it and report back! :)

        2. buttertart Sep 25, 2011 09:35 AM

          We went for lunch yesterday and loved it. Can't wait to go back.

          Got there about 2 pm and snagged the nice round table in the window. The old Shanghai-ish decoration is charming and fun - the table was set with a covered dish that you could imagine on a lady's shikumen house dressing table. Service was excellent as well.

          Had the wontons in Sichuan peppercorn vinaigrette (another sauce so good you could drink it, with sesame paste in it). Delicious.

          Sichuan pickled vegetables were good but came dressed with hot oil - I far prefer them just plain.

          The fish stew with pickles was exquisite (photo attached) - the pickle was mustard green. The broth was subtle and very spicy in a way quite unlike most (white pepper, I think).

          The sautéed lotus root was beautifully crisp and savory and its lovely pinkish color was set off with sections of scallion.

          And the mapo doufu...oh the mapo doufu...just perfect. The best we've ever had in North America. It was perfectly ma la (it came dusted with a lot of very fresh and bright-tasting ground Sichuan peppercorn). It was perfectly absolutely everything you could possibly wish for in this dish. (In our house Chinese food brought home is my husband's bailiwick - he likes it for breakfast - but I just have to have some more of this.)

          We brought beer and had a beautiful pot of flower green tea that was served with period-appropriate handled china teacups.

          (They have some unusually nice lunch specials, including zha jiang mian and fried rice with tea-smoked duck.)

          The chef's strong point is definitely his sauces, each was packed with flavor, with none of the sameyness that sometimes marks dishes elsewhere.

          This is Sichuan food of a less rustic sort than served in most of the others in the city, distinctive and very exciting. Go there. Please.

          Cafe China
          13 E 37th St, New York, NY 10016

          17 Replies
          1. re: buttertart
            LeahBaila Sep 26, 2011 05:21 AM

            Great report! Thanks buttertart.

            1. re: buttertart
              uwsister Sep 28, 2011 12:51 AM

              Wow! Thanks for the review. Mapo doufu is one Chinese dish that I absolutely love - and so rarely get a good version of it - that your testimony on their mapo doufu alone has convinced me to go ASAP. I'm looking forward to it!

              1. re: uwsister
                buttertart Sep 28, 2011 04:49 PM

                It's even good warmed up. Really perfect.

              2. re: buttertart
                kosmose7 Sep 28, 2011 04:55 PM

                Your description of their mapo doufu having proper ma la has just made me want so badly to go there. I am making reservations right now!

                1. re: buttertart
                  Lau Sep 30, 2011 01:49 PM

                  sounds great, will be trying soon

                  1. re: Lau
                    buttertart Sep 30, 2011 02:00 PM

                    Going back this weekend, it was so good. Almost never go to the same place two weeks in a row, there are just too many good ones out there.

                    1. re: buttertart
                      LeahBaila Oct 3, 2011 05:37 AM

                      Haha, that's awesome. Let us know how the second visit was. I hope to go back soon, too.

                      1. re: LeahBaila
                        buttertart Oct 3, 2011 04:58 PM

                        Plans changed and we went to the 56th St Szechuan Gourmet instead. Good but not as good as CC!

                        Szechuan Gourmet
                        244 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019

                        1. re: buttertart
                          Cheeryvisage Oct 3, 2011 05:22 PM


                          I order delivery / eat at the 56th SG at least once a week. Cafe China's better?! I need to get myself there asap!

                          BTW, any specific dishes that CC's better at?

                          Cafe China
                          13 E 37th St, New York, NY 10016

                          1. re: Cheeryvisage
                            buttertart Oct 4, 2011 06:24 PM

                            Mapo doufu. Seriously better. Must have the potstickers at CC, the ones at SG are my favorites in the city (Taiwan-style, so good).

                            1. re: buttertart
                              Cheeryvisage Oct 4, 2011 06:37 PM

                              Yay, I love SG's potstickers too, even better that CC's are superior. Okay, Mapo Tofu and Potstickers the next time I visit CC.

                              1. re: Cheeryvisage
                                buttertart Oct 4, 2011 07:10 PM

                                Sorry I wasn't clear, I haven't had the CC ones - yet!

                                1. re: buttertart
                                  Cheeryvisage Oct 4, 2011 07:27 PM

                                  Haha, okay. I'll give them a try regardless. Let's see how well they compare to SG's, whoever gets to them first. :)

                                  1. re: Cheeryvisage
                                    buttertart Oct 4, 2011 07:43 PM

                                    The SG ones...oh Taipei...

                                    1. re: buttertart
                                      Cheeryvisage Oct 6, 2011 05:47 PM

                                      I finally paid a visit.

                                      Buttertart, you can skip the pot stickers. The Pork Pot Stickers at Cafe China were no good the night I had them. The wrappers were thick and doughy, ratio of filling to dough was off. I had to literally drown them in soy sauce to get some flavor on them. Very bleh. SG blows them out of this galaxy on the pot sticker front.

                                      On the (extremely) positive side, the Mapo Tofu was indeed amazing. Very assertive "ma" alongside "la", unlike a lot of places where "ma" is secondary to "la". Seriously good dish. Definitely the best I've had too.

                                      I also ordered Sweet Rice Balls in fermented rice wine soup. They're pretty good, but you only get two larger sesame-stuffed rice balls, and a whole bunch of smaller non-stuffed ones. I still like SG's better, because you get six sesame-stuffed rice balls.

                                      The place was slammed during weekday dinner. The staff couldn't keep up. I think they had maybe three people doing the serving, with two trainees doing water refill and picking up used plates. I cringed a little when I saw two customers come in, only a trainee was in the front area at the time because the host was away seating people. The trainee took a look at them, then turned away with no greeting, no acknowledgement. Needless to say, those customers walked out.

                                      I'm happy for the restaurant that it's doing good business, but the trainees really need to be brought up to speed. Soon. It was painful to watch customers waiting forever for their orders to be taken / dishes to arrive, while the two trainees just stood around, doing not much most of the time. It would have made a big difference, had they pitched in to help out too.

                                      It looks like this is a solid place if you concentrate on the Sichuan specialty dishes. Once they fix the service issue during prime dining time and start firing on all cylinders, this is going to be a phenomenal restaurant.

                                      I'll upload some pictures later.

                                      Cafe China
                                      13 E 37th St, New York, NY 10016

                                      1. re: Cheeryvisage
                                        Cheeryvisage Oct 6, 2011 07:29 PM

                                        Here are pictures of my meal. You can tell from the place setting, the serving vessels, and of course the decor that Cafe China is aiming to provide a more refined dining experience. There was a bit of whimsy thrown in, as well. The check came in a small porcelain cup along with a stick of gum. And the to-go bag was decorated with a card featuring image of a classic 1930's Shanghainese lady.

                                        Cafe China
                                        13 E 37th St, New York, NY 10016

                                        1. re: Cheeryvisage
                                          buttertart Oct 7, 2011 10:14 AM

                                          Thanks re the potstickers info. The wonton in "vinaigrette" are super.

                  2. buttertart Sep 25, 2011 09:38 AM

                    The fish stew...

                    Cafe China
                    13 E 37th St, New York, NY 10016

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: buttertart
                      Simon Sep 26, 2011 07:53 AM

                      Looks great. I will try it soon.

                      1. re: Simon
                        buttertart Sep 26, 2011 10:20 AM

                        I'm sure you'll be pleased.

                    2. s
                      SomeRandomIdiot Sep 27, 2011 09:02 AM

                      I had 4 orders (takeout) for lunch:
                      Ma Po Tofu: Tasty, like Buttertart said, a very nice combo of ma la.
                      Husband and Wife Special: Sliced tongue and chunks of tripe with chopped up peanuts in a pool of chili oil. The slices of tongue would have been better if they were slightly larger but this dish overall was very good too. The tripe had a nice texture.
                      Spiced Cumin Lamb: Weirdly sized bits/slices of lamb that reminded me more of mystery meat than lamb. Bland and uninteresting compared to the other dishes. Definitely not trying again for $19.
                      Kung pao chicken: A great rendition. Very similar to the SG version but unsauced and not sitting in a pool of chili oil.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: SomeRandomIdiot
                        SomeRandomIdiot Oct 3, 2011 01:41 PM

                        Had another 4 takeout orders for lunch:
                        Shredded pork w/ Garlic sauce. I ordered it extra spicy but SG's version is definitely hotter. The CC version seems to have a better flavor.

                        Had the kung pao chicken again. Still excellent and comparable to SG's version, just less greasy (I like the SG practice of covering almost everything in a layer chili oil). I actually can't decide which version I like best.

                        Fragrant fish filet. I think they were tilapia filets cooked in soy with ginger, garlic, scallions and sliced jalapenos. Very tasty especially if you like eating rice with soy sauce that was used to cook fish.

                        Sauteed intestines. A typical stir fried intestines dish with bell peppers. Crispy on the outside soft and chewy on the inside. They give a lot more intestine than SG. At SG you're basically paying $17 for a pile of string beans.

                        1. re: SomeRandomIdiot
                          AubWah Oct 3, 2011 05:13 PM

                          they have a sauteed intestines lunch special?

                          1. re: AubWah
                            SomeRandomIdiot Oct 3, 2011 05:55 PM

                            It's not a lunch special. If I remember correctly, its $16. I think it's actually better to not order the lunch specials. I ordered the kung pao chicken/mapo tofu as a lunch special the first time but they gave me and charged me for the regular sized order. The regular sized order costs about 2 bucks more, comes with rice also and about 30 % more food. It comes in a much larger plastic container. All you're missing out on is the small mediocre spring roll.

                      2. s
                        Simon Oct 3, 2011 04:49 PM

                        Question: is there a bar there that you can eat at?

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Simon
                          LeahBaila Oct 4, 2011 05:22 AM

                          There is a 'bar' (not serving alcohol as of yet), but I don't recall seeing stools. Can someone confirm?

                          1. re: LeahBaila
                            Cheeryvisage Oct 6, 2011 05:48 PM

                            Confirming what LeahBaila said. There is a bar, but no stools. They're not serving alcohol yet.

                            1. re: Cheeryvisage
                              buttertart Oct 7, 2011 10:15 AM

                              You can bring it in, however.

                        2. Cheeryvisage Oct 10, 2011 07:55 AM

                          NY Mag gives Cafe China one star.


                          Cafe China
                          13 E 37th St, New York, NY 10016

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Cheeryvisage
                            buttertart Oct 10, 2011 08:16 AM

                            Presumably "salivating frog" is 口水田鸡 ko shui tian ji, "mouthwatering frog". And I bet it is.

                          2. s
                            Simon Oct 10, 2011 01:45 PM

                            Ordered delivery from there last night...woman on the phone was incredibly nice -- and even though i was outside their usual delivery zone (i live about 20 blocks away) she said they'd do it, although they can't promise to every time...(i was happy because i called them thinking the odds of them delivering that far were low but that i'd give it a shot)...


                            -- cold bitter melon starter was my favorite dish -- the menu lists it as w/ ginger sauce, but it's not in a sauce as much it seems to have been marinated in ginger and maybe a little sesame oil...delicious...

                            -- cold baby cucumber w/ garlic sauce: cucumber was fresh and wonderful, but i found the sauce much too salty...

                            -- kung pao chicken...kinda average...i wouldn't order it again...and, again, way too salty (and i like salt, am not averse to salty dishes, etc)

                            -- mapo tofu...very good, maybe best version i've had in Manhattan...but again, really really would have benefited from less salt...

                            I'm looking forward to going there and trying the fish dishes mentioned above (i ordered as i did this first time because i figured those dishes would travel better for delivery than a fish would, and because i figured i'd ordering the kungpao chicken/mapotofu/cold-cuc trio was a nice easy pitch down the middle of the plate to see how they did on Sichuan standards...will report back as i try more things...

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Simon
                              LeahBaila Oct 11, 2011 06:54 AM

                              Great report, Simon. Thanks.

                            2. Cheeryvisage Oct 18, 2011 08:08 PM

                              Just had another dinner at Cafe China. This time, no service issues because it was a slow night due to today being a Tuesday.

                              There are now two prix fixe menus as well, both at $68 for two people. Each includes 2 appetizers, 2 main courses, and 2 desserts. The difference between the two are the combination of dishes featured.

                              My friend and I ordered a la carte and got the following 3 dishes:

                              1. Mouth Watering Chicken - These were great slices of bone-in poached chicken leg meat. The slices are large and meaty. The sauce wasn't as spicy as Szechuan Gourmet's. I'd request for the spiciness level to be increased the next time I order this dish.

                              2. Snow Pea Shoots with Garlic - The pea shoots were beautifully stir-fried. They had a really nice wok hay too. Textbook perfect.

                              3. Chungking Braised Fish - We ordered this with a non-spicy white broth. Aside from the fish filet slices, the dish also contained tofu, bean sprouts, and napa cabbage. Delicious. The portion was huge. It could have easily been shared among 3-4 people.

                              It was a really lovely and comforting meal all around. Both my friend and I left happy and satisfied.

                              Cafe China's definitely going on my permanent restaurant rotation from now on.

                              Cafe China
                              13 E 37th St, New York, NY 10016

                              12 Replies
                              1. re: Cheeryvisage
                                LeahBaila Oct 19, 2011 07:55 AM

                                Great report - I love the fish dish. Did you prefer the white broth to the spicy broth? Thanks again.

                                1. re: LeahBaila
                                  Cheeryvisage Oct 19, 2011 08:03 AM

                                  We personally preferred the white broth. It was still spicy (should have changed that in my original post, too late now), but the broth had a clean taste and you can actually drink the liquid (as opposed to everything swimming in a thick layer of chili oil and red chili peppers covering the entire surface of the pot). Between the two of us, we finished 2/3 of the pot and still had enough left over that we split the rest to go. This morning, I wiped my share of the leftover clean and it was still great.

                                  1. re: Cheeryvisage
                                    LeahBaila Oct 19, 2011 09:40 AM

                                    Good to know - perhaps I'll ask for that version the next time I'm there. Thanks again!

                                    1. re: LeahBaila
                                      buttertart Oct 19, 2011 09:44 AM

                                      My husband ate the leftover pickle and fish stew on the Monday following and said it was still excellent too.

                                      1. re: buttertart
                                        Cheeryvisage Oct 19, 2011 12:10 PM

                                        By the way, buttertart, from the pictures, the Pickle and Fish Stew and the Chungking Braised Fish in white broth look awfully similar. Other than the mustard green, I wonder what the difference between the two is.

                                        1. re: Cheeryvisage
                                          buttertart Oct 19, 2011 02:24 PM

                                          I was thinking the same thing. The mustard green was the pickle part. I was expecting cabbage Sichuan pao cai. (The first Grand Sichuan on Canal used to do a ravishing dish of shrimp with pao cai...)

                                          1. re: buttertart
                                            Cheeryvisage Oct 19, 2011 02:39 PM

                                            As far as I remember, the Chungking Braised Fish in white broth contained:

                                            1. thick shreds of napa cabbage
                                            2. bean sprouts
                                            3. firm tofu
                                            4. scallion cut to 3-4 inches
                                            5. fish filet (of course)

                                            And then cilantro, dried red chilli peppers, and minced ginger for garnish.

                                            Other than the pickle/mustard green, was the Pickle and Fish Stew different in terms of ingredients?

                                            1. re: Cheeryvisage
                                              buttertart Oct 19, 2011 02:47 PM

                                              No, not much if at all.

                                              1. re: buttertart
                                                Cheeryvisage Oct 19, 2011 02:53 PM


                                                In that case... it's probably a better deal to get the Pickle and Fish Stew since it's $1 cheaper and you get the nice mustard green deliciousness to boot.

                                                Thanks for confirming, buttertart.

                                                1. re: Cheeryvisage
                                                  buttertart Oct 19, 2011 03:00 PM

                                                  My pleasure.

                                                  1. re: buttertart
                                                    Cheeryvisage Oct 30, 2011 09:03 AM

                                                    Okay, just had the Pickle and Fish Stew last night. With memory of the stew fresh on my mind, thought I should set the record straight.

                                                    The Pickle and Fish Stew was a far spicier dish compared to the ChungKing Braised Fish in white broth. There was a good amount of chopped fresh green and red chili peppers and these lent an assertive heat to the dish. Another big difference was that the fish stew used a whole fish. There was a decent bit of fins and bones attached to many pieces of the broken down fish.

                                                    Essentially, the components of the fish stew were:
                                                    1. whole fish broken down into large chunks (bone-in)
                                                    2. mustard green
                                                    3. scallion stem
                                                    4. fresh chopped green and red chili peppers

                                                    The flavor profile of the dish was spicy, sour, and savory, in that order. The broth itself was still drinkable, but definitely more scorching than the white broth of the Chungking Braised Fish.

                                                    1. re: Cheeryvisage
                                                      buttertart Oct 30, 2011 04:30 PM

                                                      It's a hell of a dish.

                              2. s
                                Simon Oct 28, 2011 10:39 AM

                                Ate there last weekend with out of town visitor...really great meal...much better than the (very good) takeout meal i described above...we had:

                                -- three of the cold veggie starters: Bitter Melon (excellent, as before), Cucumber w/ Garlic (superb, and not at all too-salty like it was the takeout time), and Dried Tofu w/ Celery (very good)...

                                -- Fish and Pepper Stew...delicious, and i agree that the broth is superb...my only cautionary note on this one is that the many small fish bones made it quite tricky to eat...

                                -- Kung Pao Chicken...wasn't planning on ordering this, as my takeout order of it had been just ok, but this was amazingly good...

                                Definitely my new go-to place for Sichuan, and favorite Manhattan Chinese overall right now...

                                Cafe China
                                13 E 37th St, New York, NY 10016

                                1. s
                                  Simon Oct 28, 2011 10:42 AM

                                  p.s. nice service too...my only qualm: while some of the seats are comfy, i wish they'd get rid of those small metal chairs which comprise about the half the seating...

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