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Dec 25, 2012 01:22 PM

Mission Chinese top NYT restaurant in '12 [moved from SF]

How can this be? Either Mission Chinese is boatloads better in its NYC iteration than in SF or Pete Wells has lost his way.

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  1. I've not eaten at the NYC place and only once from SF (and that was takeout) but I thought it was simply terrific. And I agree with his description. Different strokes, I'm sure. Wouldn't it be boring if we all liked the same things?!? And imagine the lines :)

    1. He explains his reasons clearly, I think.

      In the original review, he mentioned a couple of dishes that didn't work, but said "such stumbles are rare. So maybe it's more consistently good than the SF branch. Plus, free beer.

      Or maybe New Yorkers are more easily impressed because we're used to a higher level of Chinese cooking. I think Mark Bittman was more impressed by the SF original than any local I've talked with or read.

      1. Well, Mr Wells thinks Cumin Lamb is a Sichuan dish. It is really more of a Beijing eclectic Muslim item based on Uyghur grilling recipes. He is another example of a major city newspaper critic (we have one here, too) who is clueless about Chinese cuisine yet purports to select such destinations for his readers.

        For me, and many others on this forum, MCF attempts presentations of spicier Chinese cooking like Sichuan or Hunan, aimed at more advanced Western tastes yet quite unfaithful to the originals. Some dishes are interesting enough to be worth returning for, when in the neighborhood and when the lines are short enough. But this is no advanced and creative kitchen.

        It is a shame that there aren't creative and modern takes on Chinese food in NYC or SF as there are in Taipei and I presume in HK and the mainland cities. (I am not up on the latter, but I am sure they are there.) For Wells, I think MCF stood out from the sameness on the rest of his top 10 list much like Bauer threw in a few token, overpriced or over buzzed, places in his 100 list.

        I don't think it helps to misidentify something as great just because one wishes something great in that category existed.

        9 Replies
        1. re: Thomas Nash

          What Bowien's doing is less a riff on any Chinese tradition than an improvisational mashup of everything he likes to eat, done in the balls-to-the-wall, flavor-maximizing style that SF chefs have applied to various cuisines but rarely Asian.

          Pete Wells's top 12 seems extremely diverse to me. I'll take him over Michael Bauer any day.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              What is the deal with the lack of more restaurants doing creative, modern Asian food in more or less the Mission Chinese vein, anyway? (Most of the high-end places do French-Japanese fusion, since that's how you get Michelin stars.)

              In the Bay Area we also have 903, Namu Gaji, Fusebox, and soon Ramen Shop. Is there anything else? Bowl'd has a few original touches but the menu's really pretty traditional.

              Do any of the trucks or pop-ups make the grade?

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                That question was addressed to the SF board.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Namu Gaji is probably the best example of what we are looking for. It is a creative (to me at least) and modern take on Korean/Japanese. As for food trucks, Chairman Bao's and its deserved success is certainly an example also.

                  (Talking about San Francisco, of course.)

                  1. re: Thomas Nash

                    Chairman Bao's pork belly gua bao was tasty but didn't strike me as particularly creative or exciting. I was considerably more impressed by the mantou / mantao at Province Chinese Canteen.

              2. re: Thomas Nash

                The other problem is that most restaurants are also guilty of mainstreaming dishes like Chongqing spicy chicken wings, cumin lamb, xiao long bao, which crosses over to many regional Chinese cuisines, and/or that restaurants are forced to offer them in order to get customers through the door, whether Chinese (some who are not as knowledgeable about even their own food but like to follow trends like the average foodie) or non Chinese.

                Danny Bowien obviously knows his target demographic. We've seen what he can really do when he was a guest chef in Shenzhen that attracted a small following of Hong Kong based bloggers who actually gave his food high marks, but those dishes he will never offer in SF or NY, because he knows what works in the USA and will keep doing that.

                The reason why Taipei and Hong Kong have such impeccable quality of all sorts of Chinese and regional Chinese restaurants, traditional to modern takes to fusion (as well as bad ones) is pretty simple beyond the obvious...cut throat extremely fierce competition, very high and picky food standards, and locals (particularly the wealthy) with big spending power who know how to order and must demand the best with nothing less, plus success to restaurants. Of particular note are many restaurants adjusting the food to local tastebuds, but that is done in a way that is vastly different than doing it for Western tastebuds.

                You can have some real high end Chinese restaurant like Koi Palace in Daly City that even if it were just a fraction of the quality compared to a run of the mill seafood restaurant chain in Hong Kong, but it won't garner as much national media attention or have as much wow factor, because of a totally different demographic in the USA that prefers this more hip take on Chinese food, whether its identify is true to its roots or not. And honestly that is the only way for a Chinese restaurant to survive and thrive in the USA in general...either you're really good and cater mostly to expats (in hopes some will come back for dinner and order the expensive stuff and four digit bottles of sour grape), or you go the way of the fusion approach and global recognition by also appealing to tourists(e.g. M.Y. China and Hakkasan, or those Slanted Door type spinoff projects).

                1. re: K K

                  Despite the name, it's not a Chinese restaurant, it's pan-Asian fusion. Bowien calls what he's doing "Americanized oriental food."

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Despite the name they are not a "mission " either , but they are sure on a Mission to make some money. Personally I agree with the post that said Wells thought it was something different. It was different enough for me to try it once ( they NYC branch). And once was enough. It wasn't bad, but nothing good enough to draw me back.. It is kind of Americanized, making a dish with pastrami in it.

              3. He makes it pretty clear these are his personal choices. Once a critic uses the word "favorite" I take it to mean it's stuff that he really liked, not necessary what works for most people, etc.

                1. Hmm, I'm assuming this was moved from the SF board? There's no indication and I find the conversation a little confusing otherwise.

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