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Jul 1, 2012 08:48 AM

The Sky's The Limit at Mottzar Kitchen on Mott St.

Mottzar Kitchen has opened at the space previously occupied by Hon Cafe and I believe before that, Sweet n' Tart. And while it may look like just another Chinese cafe, this is definitely a horse of a different color. the color being money, with the sky being the limit as what you can pay for your meal here, at least by Chinatown standards. The only question is whether it's worth it, and unfortunately I had already eaten my last meal in Manhattan on my way out of town when I went by here. It's not just innovative dishes that are expensive, such as dim sum items like smoked salmon in eggplant tempura ($9.95) or black bass avocado crackers ($6.95), but har gow at $4.50 or turnip cakes at $4.25. A modest size slice of key lime pie was $5.95. There are a lot of interesting main dishes such as crab meat and fish maw (not in soup-$28.95), egg white crab meat ($17.95), sea cucumber with ginger sauce ($28.95), goose web sea cucumber ($32.95) and teriyaki lamb chops ($23.95). Yelper indicates they also have lobster with truffles. You can get a $8.95 lunch special though. Mottzar Kitchen is at 70 Mott St., and I hope local hounds can provide reports as this could be a breakthrough entry in the New York Chinese dining scene..

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  1. I'd think you'd have been to enough restaurants to know that price and potential quality are rarely related. There's nothing reading "breakthrough" about this place to my eyes.

    That said, it's not CRAZY expensive. I mean, looking over the menu, nothing's over $30 (except usual outliers like Shark Fin & Sea Cuke) - can't say the same for Oriental Garden, where a number of dishes break the $30 barrier quite handily. I didn't see any lobster with truffles dish, nor would I trust them not to be cheap Chinese truffles, which are often infused with a chemical "truffle" aroma that tastes about as much like truffles as grape soda tastes like actual grapes.

    It is nice to see a place open whose menu looks a little different, though. It's not a typical pick-a-protein / pick-a-sauce joint. They are suffering from the bad translation bug, though - a number of menu items are vague (i.e. "Special sauteed with Hawaii nuts" - special what? Fish? Pork? Couldn't tell you...) or simply transliterated and not translated - i.e. "Hung Chat Kung" - no idea what that is. Maybe it's the lobster with truffles, but at $18.95 I doubt it.

    I'm also wary of Chinese restaurants that have oddball fusion items that just seem like Pan-Asian mish-moshes to the point there's nothing Chinese about them. Like a smoked salmon mango summer roll with yuzu-lemon sauce - it kind of stands out on the menu as an item that doesn't belong, more than a bit gimmicky. I'm all for Chinese chefs getting more creative and stretching out a bit, but that sounds like something a wedding caterer in the Hamptons would offer.

    I'll probably stop in and check them out soon, though. I usually "test" a new place by their XO sauce, but unfortunately it's only available on two dishes at Mottzar - with Sea Cuke (which I hate) and with fried rice, which I generally don't eat (nor can you really judge the sauce once it's mixed into rice...) - so I suppose I'll have to go a different route.

    11 Replies
    1. re: sgordon

      There's a fine line between fusion (which I presume you detest like I do) and advanced Chinese cuisine. For example, a lot of the items in your Canadian dim sum parlors (e.g., Waygu beef puffs at Lai Wah Heen in Toronto, lamb roll with cucumber and avocado in teriyaki sauce from Casa Victoria in Markham) may sounds fusiony, but I certainly wouldn't categorize them as such. As long as the dish is prepared by Chinese chefs for a predominantly Chinese customer base, I think it avoids the fusion tag.

      1. re: Chandavkl

        No, I don't detest fusion. There's nothing inherently wrong with taking ideas from two different places and putting them together, if you can make them work. Heck, some rather famous dishes are fusions: Pho and Banh Mi are both fusions. Spaghetti & Meatballs is a fusion. The gang at Mission are putting out a number of fusion dishes, and they're by and large great. Some entire cuisines are fusions: New American. Hong Kong. Qingdao cuisine, with its German influences. Heck, the cuisines of every single country involved in the spice trade are technically fusions. There's nothing wrong with fusion at all.

        I don't think the fact that the chef and customers happen to have the same ethnicity has anything to do with whether or not something is a fusion. I can't see how that relates to anything. Does that mean that Morimoto's restaurant in NYC is fusion, but his restaurant in Tokyo, which serves primarily a Japanese clientele, isn't, even with the same items on the menu?

        Anyway, it's irrelevant, as I have nothing against fusing things. I do have something against menu items which seem to have been forced in and don't fit the style of the rest of the menu. The smoked salmon summer roll, in this case, stands out as having nothing to do, cuisine-wise, with the rest of what the restaurant is serving. It fits about as well as Xiao Long Bao would on the menu of a Hungarian restaurant. Gimmicky items like that on menus I see as warning signs that the kitchen is unfocused, that the chef learned a dish (probably working at a catering company) and just decided, what the hell, throw it on the menu. If anything it appears to be an item designed to appeal to gweilo, not any Chinese customer base...

        But it all comes down to if the food tastes good. Don't know yet, obviously, and though I'm a bit wary I'll give them a shot at some point this month...

        1. re: sgordon

          Looking forward to your report! When I refer to fusion, I'm thinking of stuff like the Kung Pao Pastrami you get at Mission Chinese Food. I used to be terribly wary of mixed cuisines at Chinese restaurants. The obvious example would be a mixture of Chinese and Japanese food, and there's the old saying about never ordering non-Cantonese food at a Cantonese restaurant and vice versa. But in the past five years out here in California, there have been a lot of authentic Chinese restaurants that mix things up and do it right. Pure speculation on my part, but I think it's attributable to blurring of cuisines in the major cities of China, and the ability of Chinese chefs to excel at more than their "native" regional cuisine.

          1. re: Chandavkl

            Sadly, there's a lot of fluff on Chinese menus here. I mean, there's the typical "American-friendly Chinese" at every restaurant - regardless if they're Cantonese, Szechuan, whatever, they all seem to have General Tso's Chicken on the menu, stuff like that for the tourists. But you also see a lot of that in Asian restaurants in general - as if New Yorkers think of "Asian" as one cuisine where everything's interchangeable. My warning sign is when any non-Japanese restaurant has a sushi menu, especially a Chinese place. I suppose it's just a case of restaurants trying to appeal to a broad base, though.

            We don't have too many Chinese chefs here, unfortunately, who do the kind of blurring you're talking about well. Ping Hui is probably the only notable one who makes a real effort to, and some of his "cheffy" flights of fancy where he strays from tradition work better than others. There's also Chen Ge, a Vietnamese-American kid who was (still is?) running the kitchen at Amazing 66. Again, a mostly straight-up Cantonese menu but with a couple fun little twists - I'm not a fried rice guy, as I said above, but his pastrami fried rice was kind of great. That said, he was more likely to take a Chinese dish and maybe change one element of it (as in the PFR) rather than throw something with no Chinese elements at all (like the smoked salmon spring roll) on the menu. I wish there was more creative, high-end chef-driven Chinese here, be it rooted in Cantonese or any other style - Shang was a bust, and Hakkasan I'll be taking a pass on I think, given the reviews I've read have been less-than-exciting. Mission I'm enjoying, but it'd be interesting to see someone doing that kind of thing in more of a "Haute Chinese" style.

      2. re: sgordon

        I can't seem to find a menu online and I was wondering if the characters corresponding to the " hung chat kung" that you mentioned is this: 洪七公. I'd love to try a dish named after a fictional character in Jin Yong's wuxia novels.

        1. re: SomeRandomIdiot

          Yeah - those are the characters, and there's a fourth at the end as well. The menu is on their facebook page:!/med...

            1. re: sgordon

              Thanks! Now I really want to know what a "hung chat kung's casserole" is.

              1. re: SomeRandomIdiot

                I posted the question on their FB photo... maybe we'll get an answer. If not I'll just ask them when I pop in. What is the character like? Maybe that'll give a clue...

                1. re: sgordon

                  He's a (fake) beggar that likes to eat good food. Here's the wiki,

                  1. re: SomeRandomIdiot

                    Hmm. I'd say maybe a "beggar's purse" filled with something fancy, but that wouldn't really be a casserole...