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Cafe China?

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

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

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    1. re: scoopG

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

      1. re: carcrash

        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) ----

        Food:
        *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!

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

        1. re: LeahBaila

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

        2. 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.

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

          17 Replies
            1. re: buttertart

              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

                It's even good warmed up. Really perfect.

              2. re: buttertart

                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

                  sounds great, will be trying soon

                  1. re: Lau

                    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

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

                      1. re: LeahBaila

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

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

                        1. re: buttertart

                          !!!!

                          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?

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

                          1. re: Cheeryvisage

                            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

                              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

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

                                1. re: buttertart

                                  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: buttertart

                                      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.

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

                                      1. re: Cheeryvisage

                                        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.

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

                                         
                                         
                                         
                                         
                                         
                                         
                                         
                                         
                                        1. re: Cheeryvisage

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

                  2. The fish stew...

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

                     
                    2 Replies
                    1. re: buttertart

                      Looks great. I will try it soon.

                    2. 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

                        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

                          they have a sauteed intestines lunch special?

                          1. re: AubWah

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

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Simon

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

                          1. re: LeahBaila

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