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Mission Chinese Food: An Underrated Overrated Restaurant?

f
fooder Jun 18, 2013 09:58 AM

As usual, full review with photos on the blog:
http://ramblingsandgamblings.blogspot...

When I first ate the food at Mission Chinese Food, I felt the food was very overrated. Not that it was bad per se, but just underwhelming given all the hype. As someone who grew up with both the more subtle flavors of Cantonese cuisine and the concentrated flavors of Shanghainese cooking, I found the flavor profiles too muddled in some of the items from Mission Chinese. Dishes seemed confused in their composition, unable to decide between the more traditional Chinese form of one dish among many to go with rice, and the Western style of each entree being specifically balanced to stand on its own. In addition to being somewhat muddled, in some dishes the actually pretty good underlying flavors and ingredients were just hidden by too much numbing spiciness. I do understand that authentic Sichuan food is often like that. But being authentic does not make it good. Food around the world is often made a specific way out of necessity, whether it be due to ingredient availability or for adapting to the climate, and not necessarily to maximize taste in a vacuum.

So yea, overrated. Although I have to admit, I only tried a handful of their more well-known items. Like many Chinese restaurants (although they refer to themselves as serving Americanized Oriental food), there are a lot of choices on the menu. But what separates them from many other places is that they continue to add new items to the menu. It is this continued innovation that I think is underrated. Even if your initial reaction was similar to mine, I think there's enough potential there that Mission Chinese Food has become a bit underrated in their ability to broaden their repertoire.

KUNG PAO PASTRAMI
For some reason the pastrami had a really strong smoke flavor. Even when I've actually eaten at Katz's the smoke flavor was not as overpowering as the pastrami was here. This was a decent rendition of kung pao, but I just didn't see how the kung pao elevated the pastrami or vice versa.

BROCCOLI BEEF BRISKET WITH SMOKED OYSTER SAUCE
The broccoli here is Chinese broccoli, which is one of my favorite vegetables. But there's nothing special about this dish. No real smokiness came through in the oyster sauce, and the brisket was a pretty fatty slab that wasn't as tender as I would have liked.

STIR FRIED PORK JOWL AND RADISHES
The pork jowls were tasty, but this was another dish where I thought things were muddled and had no real identity. The fermented black beans were strewn here and there, but did not feel like a main component of the sauce. The radish provided some crispness to the texture, but was not assertive or bright enough to balance out the pork jowl.

THRICE COOKED BACON
The flavors here were decent, but I would have preferred a meatier cut of pork belly than the bacon. The rice cakes were ok, but once again I was confused as to their purpose. There wasn't enough in the dish where it asserted itself as a main starch component, and as an accompaniment I thought something with a crispier, crunchier texture would have worked much better.

MAPO TOFU
The tofu was decent and the pork shoulder was flavorful and worked better than the usual ground pork. There was just too much sichuan pepper for my taste. Which is ok, except that on a subsequent visit when I asked for the dish to be made with less of the sichuan pepper, they told me they could not accommodate that request. Nevertheless, the numbing spice level has varied every time I've ordered it, and this is a delicious dish when they're not as heavy-handed with it.

SALT COD FRIED RICE
While the ingredients were not particularly special in my view, the fried rice had pretty good wok hei.

Newer items
COUNTRY FRIED HAMACHI COLLAR
This was excellent. It was well fried, sealing in the moisture of the (way more than expected) meat of the fish. It held up superbly for takeout. The hot pepper jelly was great, with the sweetness helping to balance out the spiciness, which was fragrant and not the numbing kind.

SHAVED PORK BELLY
I assume this was their version of 蒜泥白肉, and it was a great rendition. The soy caramel really enhanced the umami in the dish, and the thinly shaved pork belly had an excellent textural mix of fat and meat. The menu says that this had sichuan pepper as well, but I didn't taste any, which was probably a good thing.

COMBINATION FRIED RICE
A tasty version of Thai pineapple fried rice. The bbq pork jowl worked better than I would have thought, and the pineapple pickle was nicely sweet, which went well with the curry. I was disappointed, though, that I could barely detect any dungeness crab. At $16 for fried rice, it was bad enough that I couldn't see any crab, let alone not taste any.

CHICKEN! FRIED RICE
This was another tasty fried rice, and the good wok hei was not covered up by the schmaltz, which was one of my initial worries. However, given the richness of the liver and schmaltz, I would have preferred something brighter than radishes for contrast. I also would have preferred a lot more chicken heart pieces, which were excellent texturally with the fried rice.

CATFISH A LA SICHUAN
Not all of the newer dishes were successes. This dish, which was actually more like a soup, failed on multiple levels. It was kind of like a tom yum soup, but the brine leaned more sweet than sour and the balance was off. The sichuan pepper once again did more to stifle the flavors than to bring them out. There was very little fish, and the bacon had an overpowering smokiness to it. It seemed like a bunch of interesting things that were thrown together, but didn't gel to become a coherent composed dish.

Service and Decor:
Honestly, I've never eaten at the restaurant. The decor is just so not my style. But I still experienced good service while getting takeout. On a recent visit, they only realized that one of the items that I'd ordered ran out by the time the rest of my order was ready. Not only did they allow me to replace it with anything else on the menu that I wanted, they even threw in an extra dish. There are a lot of nice restaurants that wouldn't do this, and I'd certainly never imagine it happening at any Chinese restaurant. I found that to be pretty impressive.

Overall:
I do believe that Mission Chinese has been overrated and overhyped. (James Beard award? Really?) But that doesn't mean that there isn't a lot of underrated potential still there. It's also kind of hard to root against them given their business practices, such as free beer for people waiting in line and a donation of 75 cents to the Food Bank of NYC from each entree sold.

  1. m
    mary shaposhnik Jun 26, 2013 01:45 PM

    Under/over, I don't know. First time the other day, and had a very lovely cold rice noodle dish with sausage (noodle texture was off, but the flavor balance was great), and what was unquestionably the worst mapo tofu I've ever had. Absolutely flavorless, without any depth, with just a bunch of Sichuan peppercorns thrown in.

    1. l
      Lau Jun 23, 2013 08:48 AM

      nice review!

      i agree its probably overrated, but on an absolute basis i like the place, i think the food is pretty good...meaning like if you just asked me if i liked the food without knowing anything anyone has said about the place i'd definitely say yes. not everything is good as you pointed out, but they def have some good dishes. although i will say you need to like salty food (which i do)

      1. a
        avial Jun 20, 2013 06:20 AM

        To echo some of the other comments here about portioning - I had the combo fried rice last Saturday and it was crab heavy but light on the pork jowl, which I didn't mind at all. The crab was lump crab and quite sweet.

        I also had the fried soft shells that night since I had not had a chance yet this season - probably the meatiest SSCs that I've had in recent memory. Hoping to get some at Cafe Hong Kong this weekend as well if they still have fresh ones...

        After my meal on Saturday, I found myself very happy to have eaten there, almost missed it in a way since I hadn't been there in about 3 months. Some of their food is just outright delicious, some items are meh.

        Last point, I have never found myself to leave there with a low bill - usually 60-80 for two, with leftovers. On Saturday, it was 3 of us, and the check came to 150 w/tip+tax and a small snack of leftovers (2 half-pints). Perhaps this is affordable relative to other options but certainly not other Chinese options.

        59 Replies
        1. re: avial
          s
          sugartoof Jun 20, 2013 09:45 AM

          The trend of naming it as a bargain spot isn't doing the place any favors.

          1. re: avial
            Bob Martinez Jun 20, 2013 10:28 AM

            $150 for dinner for 3? How much food did you have?

            When I went for lunch with my GF and I had -

            Chili Pickled Long Beans - 4.00
            Beer Brined Sichuan Pickles - 4.00
            Stir fried Pork jowl w. radishes - 11.00
            Thrice Cooked Bacon - 12.50

            The food total was $31.50. Total with drinks, tax and tip was $54.82, about $27 a person.

            To bump that up to $50 a person we could have ordered 4 or 5 mains instead of 2 and a few more rounds of drinks but that would have been a *lot* of food.

            No wonder you had leftovers.

            I really don't see MC being expensive, or even average in cost.

            Here's their menu. No wonder Menupages shows it as only "$$."

            http://www.menupages.com/restaurants/...

            1. re: Bob Martinez
              s
              sugartoof Jun 20, 2013 03:18 PM

              Your sample pricing is slightly off.
              Their online menu is here:
              http://missionchinesefood.com/ny/

              With $12-18.50 per entree, $12-13 for noodles, appetizers hitting the $12 mark it's cheaper than say, Shun Lee, but it's still in line, or on the higher side for Chinese. It's not expensive, but listing it as bargain cheap eats is a stretch.

              1. re: sugartoof
                Bob Martinez Jun 21, 2013 06:56 AM

                The prices were from Menupages. The Mission Chinese website was down when I was checking the prices.

                The cost of the meal - $54.82 - is actual. I paid by credit card and looked at the bank statement.

                1. re: Bob Martinez
                  s
                  sugartoof Jun 21, 2013 09:57 AM

                  You only had 2 entrees.

                  Why don't you think that's average?

                  1. re: sugartoof
                    Bob Martinez Jun 21, 2013 10:09 AM

                    Here are the prices of their entrees. (They've just updated their website.)

                    12
                    16
                    12.5
                    12
                    13
                    18.5
                    12.5
                    14

                    The average cost is $13.81.

                    I think that's cheap for New York.

                    1. re: Bob Martinez
                      s
                      sugartoof Jun 21, 2013 07:40 PM

                      If $13.81 is "cheap", what's an average Chinese entree in NY?

                      1. re: sugartoof
                        scoopG Jun 22, 2013 05:59 AM

                        But Mission Chinese is not serving Chinese food - Danny Bowien readily admits that. Mission Chinese serves good value portions for what they are charging.

                        1. re: scoopG
                          a
                          avial Jun 22, 2013 07:19 AM

                          I concur that MCF is a good value, it's just not cheap. Cheap for two people would be $10/pp or $5/pp, going to a steam table join in Chinatown is cheap, and in some ways, is also a good value.

                          Eating Cantonese in NYC is typically a good value given the price, quantity and quality of the food.

                          Perhaps there's a better value in that than MCF.

                          On a separate note, the one dish that I wish they would put on the menu or put back on the menu would be orange glazed wings. I was on my way out one Friday night when Bowien carried a plate of these through for the people waiting in the hallway and entrance.

                          Reminded me of a tasty orange fish dish that I had in a HK student canteen a long time ago - made and served with real oranges segments, fish lightly battered, sauce was almost watery rather than sticky as we would imagine any American Chinese orange sauce to be, and with a awesome balance between sweet and acid.

                          The wings on that plate looked like they would do the trick...

                          1. re: scoopG
                            s
                            sugartoof Jun 22, 2013 09:57 AM

                            They're serving Chinese food.

                            1. re: sugartoof
                              ipsedixit Jun 22, 2013 10:34 AM

                              MCF is serving Chinese food the same way that California Pizza Kitchen is serving Italian.

                              1. re: ipsedixit
                                s
                                sugartoof Jun 22, 2013 11:05 AM

                                Sure. Even Panda Express is serving a version of Chinese Food. Nobody said it has to be good to qualify.

                                MCF isn't as fusion, or experimental as the hype or concept would suggest. I'm not willing to use the made up term "Americanized-Oriental", which sounds like the Chef's attempt to skirt criticism. Aside from the Tiki influenced pork belly, what dish is so out there, out of the boundaries of Chinese cuisine that it validates a statement like "MCF is not serving Chinese food"?

                                1. re: sugartoof
                                  ipsedixit Jun 22, 2013 11:35 AM

                                  Several of their apps I would not consider "Chinese" incl clams on half shell and the scallop sashimi with beef heart.

                                  Also, the nomenclature of the menu with "appetizer" and "entree" is not really how Chinese restaurant t menus traditionally partition their dishes.

                                  1. re: sugartoof
                                    a
                                    avial Jun 22, 2013 12:19 PM

                                    griddled lamb meatballs
                                    hamachi collar
                                    buckwheat noodles
                                    steamed eggplant - I have never seen a steamed eggplant dish in chinese cuisine, maybe just a lack of exposure but it seems like the chinese approach to eggplant dictates high heat provided by a wok

                                    1. re: avial
                                      s
                                      sugartoof Jun 22, 2013 01:30 PM

                                      Buckwheat noodles, steamed eggplant, meatballs, Clams on half shell (usually different prep) are all within the Chinese food banner.

                                      And anyway, these don't mean Mission CHINESE Food isn't serving Chinese food.

                                      1. re: sugartoof
                                        ipsedixit Jun 22, 2013 07:04 PM

                                        And anyway, these don't mean Mission CHINESE Food isn't serving Chinese food.
                                        __________________________

                                        By that nomenclaturistic logic, that would mean OLIVE GARDEN is serving both olives and, uh, a garden?

                                      2. re: avial
                                        scoopG Jun 22, 2013 07:22 PM

                                        Whole Steamed Chinese Eggplant with Salted Egg Yolk is a featured dish at Traditional Hunan Restaurant in Flushing.

                                      3. re: sugartoof
                                        scoopG Jun 22, 2013 07:25 PM

                                        As Bob Martinez has pointed out, Mission Chinese is serving up a mash of American Chinese cuisine.

                                        It is Bowien's homage to his late night after hours visiting Chinese and American Chinese restaurants in San Francisco.

                                    2. re: sugartoof
                                      scoopG Jun 22, 2013 07:10 PM

                                      How so? How is Mission Chinese serving Chinese food? I guess when the Chef/Owner says they are not that is not good enough for you.

                                      1. re: scoopG
                                        s
                                        sugartoof Jun 22, 2013 09:18 PM

                                        SF doesn't have after hours Chinese and American Chinese options. Yuet Lee? I don't know what he borrowed from them.

                                        Mission Chinese Food was originally Mission Street Food with a Vietnamese slant, and a pan Asian approach.

                                        The named was purposely changed to Mission CHINESE Food, at first as a pop up. He then took his visit to China, specifically to research food for a full time Chinese restaurant.

                                        What does the Chef/Owner say?

                                        Bowien says "We take inspiration from Chinese dishes, but we’re not shooting for authenticity."...and "I’m going to stay here and cook Chinese food." http://www.timeout.com/newyork/food-drink/danny-bowien-the-tony-interview

                                        On their new restaurant, he differentiates the concept by saying " "It'll be Asian. It's not going to be Chinese — I don't think. I don't think I can convince Jesse to cook any more Chinese food""
                                        http://insidescoopsf.sfgate.com/blog/2013/05/07/danny-bowien-on-his-james-beard-win-air-jordans-and-his-next-san-francisco-project/

                                        ""Brandon is the reason I make Chinese food. "
                                        http://www.refinery29.com/danny-bowien-interview

                                        "I'm Korean and I'm cooking Chinese food....I never made Chinese food until last year, so it's pretty crazy..."
                                        from this http://www.vice.com/munchies/munchies...

                                        1. re: sugartoof
                                          l
                                          Lau Jun 23, 2013 09:12 AM

                                          its definitely fusion, but whats wrong with that if its good? i think its great he's actually creating good fusion food

                                          1. re: Lau
                                            c oliver Jun 23, 2013 09:27 AM

                                            I agree and don't understand the negativity at all. The food, IMneverHO :), is good and fun. I don't need more than that.

                                          2. re: sugartoof
                                            scoopG Jun 24, 2013 06:22 AM

                                            Bowien would sometimes hang out in the Chinese kitchens after hours and eat and drink beer with the staff. Bowien is to Chinese food as David Chang is to Korean food.

                          2. re: Bob Martinez
                            a
                            avial Jun 20, 2013 05:07 PM

                            Here we go, hold on to your seats:

                            $5 sichuan pickles (meh, stick with pickles or peanuts)
                            $10 shaved pork belly (I could eat just this and some rice for a dinner, reminds me of the Japanese beef bowl dish, whatever it's called)
                            $12 pok pok pig tails (interesting, not great)
                            $10 little fried fish (meh)
                            $9 pork, eel, and celery dumplings
                            $16 2xsoft shell crab
                            $13 spicy scallop xo noodles (so so, was hoping for actual scallops but it was just the cooked down sauce, which was still pretty good)
                            $16 combo fried rice (as noted above, ours had more crab, less jowl)
                            $12 mongolian long beans (need your veggies, my DCs didn't care for the greens that day, bok choy)
                            $10 1xOne-Eyed Jack cocktail
                            $12 2xSix Point Crisp beer

                            And a correction, we had pints of long beans and rice leftover. We were stuffed, did not quite roll out but it was nap time.

                            portion sizes for appetizers are not massive by any means. If i had ordered dishes of a similar cost at a Cantonese restaurant, we would have covered an 8-top with dishes, as it was, we sat at a 4-top and covered 2/3rds of the table.

                            1. re: avial
                              scoopG Jun 21, 2013 09:43 AM

                              A little light on the tip, no?

                              Also, how many calories do you (and your two friends) eat everyday? That seems to be an enormous quantity of dishes.

                              1. re: scoopG
                                a
                                avial Jun 21, 2013 08:32 PM

                                I left either $20 or $25 in cash, if I missed the mark once or twice, I'm already going to hell for a litany of other transgressions surely, most importantly, not believing in god.

                                I threw down a $30 tip at PDT on Wednesday night for 2 drinks, karma works itself out in the end somehow right?

                                1. re: avial
                                  c oliver Jun 23, 2013 09:06 AM

                                  Only if you had the same server at both places :) And that does seem like a huge amount of food. We had MCF with our daughter and SIL last week before leaving the country. We had the peanuts and three dishes and had a lot of leftovers.

                            2. re: Bob Martinez
                              loratliff Jun 22, 2013 08:22 PM

                              Bob, I agree with you, FWIW. I think my most recent bill there for two was $67 after tax and tip, with alcohol and for a lot more food than you had—we had leftovers.

                              It's not cheap compared to "average" Chinese restaurants, but is anyone really comparing it to that? I feel like I typically spend $100-150 on an average meal for two here, so yes, I agree that it's cheap.

                              1. re: loratliff
                                Bob Martinez Jun 22, 2013 08:35 PM

                                Exactly. That's' the point I was trying to make.

                                1. re: loratliff
                                  a
                                  avial Jun 23, 2013 04:36 PM

                                  When did the bar for cheap change to include $50-75/pp? I missed the memo on that one...

                                  Not that I mind spending that much pp for a good value, it's just not cheap.

                                  1. re: avial
                                    Bob Martinez Jun 23, 2013 05:04 PM

                                    My meal for 2, which included 2 starters, 2 entrees, drinks, tax and tip, cost $27 per person.

                                    That's cheap.

                                    1. re: Bob Martinez
                                      s
                                      sugartoof Jun 23, 2013 06:40 PM

                                      Cheaper than what?

                                      1. re: sugartoof
                                        loratliff Jun 23, 2013 07:10 PM

                                        Cheaper than most non-hole in the wall, trendy (I hate that word, but you get what I mean) restaurants that receive the same level of press that MCT has—good luck getting out of, say, Chez Sardine for less than $100 for two.

                                        No one is saying that it is cheap eats or that it is "cheap" for Chinese food. It is simply cheap for a restaurant in its class.

                                        1. re: loratliff
                                          Bob Martinez Jun 23, 2013 07:14 PM

                                          Perfectly said.

                                          1. re: Bob Martinez
                                            s
                                            sugartoof Jun 23, 2013 08:29 PM

                                            "That's cheap."

                                            Asking again...cheaper than what?

                                            1. re: sugartoof
                                              Bob Martinez Jun 24, 2013 05:44 AM

                                              "Asking again...cheaper than what?"

                                              Cheaper, far cheaper, than the average NY Times 2 star place, which is the rating MC got.

                                              Cheaper than Lafayette.

                                              Cheaper that Kajitsu.

                                              Cheaper that Montmartre.

                                              Cheaper than Pearl & Ash.

                                              Cheaper than Aska.

                                              Cheaper that Pig and Khao.

                                              Cheaper than Maysville.

                                              Cheaper than Arlington.

                                              Cheaper than Blanca.

                                              Cheaper than Governor.

                                              Cheaper than Nougatine.

                                              Cheaper than La Vara.

                                              You know what it's even cheaper than? Mighty Quinn's BBQ, which also got 2 stars.

                                              I'm tired of typing. The point has been made.

                                              1. re: Bob Martinez
                                                s
                                                sugartoof Jun 24, 2013 10:34 AM

                                                Yet earlier you called the NY Times review "wildly overrated" and linked to a post where you said "If I were the NY Times critic I’d give Mission Chinese an enthusiastic one star."

                                                Why use those stars to argue value?

                                                NY Times accurately places MCF in the $$ category, which is average, somewhere between ($ places) Spicy & Tasty, Great NY Noodle Town, and ($$$ places) Oriental Garden, Red Farm, Shun Lee Palace, and Wong. http://www.nytimes.com/restaurants/se...

                                                As an aside, it sounds like you need to revisit Mighty Quinn's single serving pricing.

                                                1. re: sugartoof
                                                  Bob Martinez Jun 24, 2013 01:04 PM

                                                  "Yet earlier you called the NY Times review "wildly overrated" and linked to a post where you said "If I were the NY Times critic I’d give Mission Chinese an enthusiastic one star." "

                                                  All of which has no bearing on whether MC is cheap or not.

                                                  Sure, you can find cheaper places in NY but I never said MC was the cheapest restaurant in New York City.

                                                  Lets do a few more comparisons of restaurants in it's genre.

                                                  It's cheaper than Ayada.

                                                  It's cheaper than Chinese Mirch.

                                                  It's cheaper than Famous Sichuan.

                                                  It's cheaper than Grand Sichuan International.

                                                  It's cheaper than Hot Kitchen.

                                                  It's cheaper than Legend.

                                                  It's cheaper than Lan Sheng.

                                                  1. re: Bob Martinez
                                                    s
                                                    sugartoof Jun 24, 2013 01:37 PM

                                                    Why bring up NY Times 2 star places, listing them if you agree it has no bearing, or don't even think MCF deserves 2 stars?

                                                    Most of your latest list prove MCF is average in price within a couple bucks higher or lower.

                                                    $12-18.50 per entree
                                                    $12-13 for noodles
                                                    appetizers hitting the $12
                                                    = average in NY.

                                                    1. re: sugartoof
                                                      Bob Martinez Jun 24, 2013 01:59 PM

                                                      No.

                                                      I keep my receipts. The prices I used for all those restaurants included 2 starters, 2 entrees, drinks and a tip. And they were *higher* than what I paid for a similar meal at MC.

                                                      But keep 'em coming. I'm enjoying this.

                                                      1. re: Bob Martinez
                                                        s
                                                        sugartoof Jun 24, 2013 07:06 PM

                                                        I'd suggest you need more than 2 entrees at MCF, for, firstly.
                                                        The Thrice Cooked Bacon is a bigger portion though, so that helps pad a meal.

                                                        We don't need your receipt collection to look at a menu.

                                                      2. re: sugartoof
                                                        loratliff Jun 24, 2013 05:16 PM

                                                        Sugartoof, what exactly is your point? If Bob thinks MCT is inexpensive for its class (as do I), why are you so hellbent on disproving this opinion? Does it matter?

                                                        Condé Nast Traveler just included it on their list of best new restaurants in New York (chosen by Alan Sytsma), alongside Aska, Atera, Chez Sardine, NoMad, Pok Pok Ny, the Marrow, and La Vara. Surely you cannot argue that a dinner at MCT costs as much as one at any of the above!

                                                        1. re: loratliff
                                                          s
                                                          sugartoof Jun 24, 2013 07:16 PM

                                                          Well, you said you "typically spend $100-150 on an average meal for two" at MCF and you're still arguing it's cheap, so.... To each their own!

                                                          The OP is right, if you look past hyperbole the food is good, and average priced....but it's not fine dining, it's not in league with the NoMad, and it's not by any means "cheap" as some have falsely stated. To over inflate it's value does the place a disservice.

                                                          1. re: sugartoof
                                                            loratliff Jun 25, 2013 09:00 AM

                                                            Whoa, I never said I typically spend $100-150 on an average meal for two at MCF. What?! That would not be cheap.

                                                            I did, however, say "I think my most recent bill there for two was $67 after tax and tip, with alcohol and for a lot more food than you had—we had leftovers," and then "I feel like I typically spend $100-150 on an average meal for two here, so yes, I agree that it's cheap," with 'here' referring to New York City as a whole—not MCF.

                                                            1. re: loratliff
                                                              s
                                                              sugartoof Jun 25, 2013 10:39 AM

                                                              Good you clarified that.

                                                              $67 for two isn't going to be everyone's idea of a cheap Chinese meal, either.

                                                              1. re: sugartoof
                                                                s
                                                                Sneakeater Jun 25, 2013 11:41 AM

                                                                The issue is whether it's "Chinese".

                                                                The people who are denying that it's cheap are comparing it to most Chinese restaurants.

                                                                The people who are calling it cheap are comparing it to chef-driven mainstream restaurants.

                                                                It's interesting that this is ambiguous.

                                                                1. re: Sneakeater
                                                                  s
                                                                  Sneakeater Jun 25, 2013 11:45 AM

                                                                  And in case anyone responds: "Look at the name of the restaurant!"

                                                                  I'll remind you that Momofuku Ssam Bar calls itself a "Ssam Bar".

                                                                  1. re: Sneakeater
                                                                    s
                                                                    sugartoof Jun 25, 2013 12:21 PM

                                                                    The idea that it's not Chinese food is absurd. The chef labels it Chinese food, the name references Chinese food, and the majority of the menu is in fact, fairly accurate variations and playful representations of regional Chinese dishes. Denying that is about as silly as denying there are also fusion, experimental elements on the menu. I still don't think it fits into the Pan-Asian category and it's not a reinvented cuisine to the point where one would say "You can't even judge it as Chinese food, it's a whole other thing". Likewise, the place isn't WD-50, and there's no tableside magician. Ma Po Tofu is...Ma Po Tofu. The cumin lamb? Served with dates, and served on the bone from a different cut than I'm used to seeing served, otherwise, it stays recognizable and gives what the chef calls an "authentic experience".

                                                                    As for value - there seems to be an inability to commit to the idea that the accolades and hype around this chef equate value since we're in a thread that seems to be saying the place is more enjoyable if you block out the hype and awards which it really doesn't deserve. It's also problematic to equate value with reviews/awards.

                                                                    They're not saying "It's cheap for a James Beard awardee" or "Cheap for a celebrity chef driven place" or a like minded qualifier, they're just saying "it's cheap". I think it's misleading, since the break down of pricing is average for the top rated Asian places in the city.

                                                                    1. re: sugartoof
                                                                      Bob Martinez Jun 25, 2013 12:25 PM

                                                                      I've already compared it with a number of straight up Sichuan places (and other ethnic restaurants as well) and it's *still* cheaper.

                                                                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9060...

                                                                      1. re: Bob Martinez
                                                                        MVNYC Jun 25, 2013 12:28 PM

                                                                        Thats an accurate description Bob. Even if it is characterized as a Chinese restaurant I would still rack it up as affordable. I have definitely spent a lot more in plenty of non Sichuan places as well. I don't know if it is cheap per se but these terms are fluid and different depending on the person.

                                                                        1. re: Bob Martinez
                                                                          s
                                                                          sugartoof Jun 25, 2013 12:36 PM

                                                                          "and it's *still* cheaper."

                                                                          We disagree. I think you're incorrect, and people can check the menus and see for themselves.

                                                                        2. re: sugartoof
                                                                          s
                                                                          Sneakeater Jun 25, 2013 12:28 PM

                                                                          I think you yourself are saying it's not really a "Chinese" restaurant.

                                                                          If there are playful riffs on Chinese food, then it's a "chef" restaurant (cuz the chef is the one doing the riffing), not an "ethnic" Chinese restaurant. And "chef" restaurants are always more expensive than "ethnic" restaurants, because name chefs (and Danny Bowien is nothing if not a name chef) demand to be paid good money, rather than the pittances that most employees at most "ethnic" restaurants are forced to accept (which is one of the reasons they're so much cheaper than "mainstream" restaurants).

                                                                          1. re: Sneakeater
                                                                            s
                                                                            sugartoof Jun 25, 2013 12:41 PM

                                                                            It's a Chinese themed restaurant serving Chinese food.

                                                                            Your premise that Chinese is ethnic food, and excludes chef driven places, or high end dining, and that we're supposed to take into account the employee wage is not valid.

                                                                            MCF is closer to emulating an ethnic dive than it is Shun Lee. Talking about it like it's Vong isn't helpful either.

                                                                            1. re: sugartoof
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                                                                              Sneakeater Jun 25, 2013 12:51 PM

                                                                              This is probably straying off-topic -- but interestingly.

                                                                              I'd say "Chinese food" includes chef-driven food if the chefs are working inside the tradition. Like Joe Ng when he was at World Tong.

                                                                              Danny Bowien is working outside the tradition. It's more like he's commenting on Chinese food than cooking it.

                                                                              1. re: Sneakeater
                                                                                s
                                                                                sugartoof Jun 25, 2013 01:02 PM

                                                                                So you think MCF is like Vong?

                                                                                I don't think it's fair to say Bowien is commenting outside a tradition, while Ng is working within it when they're both sticking pastrami in a dish, doing the same thing. The Kun Pao is closer to tradition than the Pastrami egg roll. I think they're both commenting, but you can do that and cook it too. I do think MCF is like a semiotics project, but his theme is Chinese food. He is attempting to make Chinese food. If his fans in NY can only embrace it by rejecting that notion, well.....

                                                                                1. re: sugartoof
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                                                                                  Sneakeater Jun 25, 2013 01:09 PM

                                                                                  No, I don't think MC is like Vong.

                                                                                  I also don't think "in the tradition" and "Vong" are the only two possibilities.

                                                                                  As for Ng, I said Ng at World Tong. I think Red Farm is very clearly outside the tradition (which is how it gets away with charging much more).

                                                                                  1. re: Sneakeater
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                                                                                    sugartoof Jun 25, 2013 01:43 PM

                                                                                    "I also don't think "in the tradition" and "Vong" are the only two possibilities."

                                                                                    Nor do I.

                                                                                    I think MCF captures the spirit of dishes, and the results are usually tradition....as opposed to deconstructed, watered down, or unrecognizable. To say "That's not even Chinese" is insulting. It means he's failed. There's a restaurant down the block from the original MCF in SF that's serving a Goulash as a Pho, and if you were craving a goulash, you would be at the wrong place - that's not happening with the majority of dishes at MCF.

                                                                              2. re: sugartoof
                                                                                The Chowhound Team Jun 25, 2013 12:56 PM

                                                                                Folks, at this point, we're going to ask you all to let this debate go.

                                                                                Different people have different ideas of what constitutes cheap and what constitutes expensive, and the kind of nitpicky debate that's happening here isn't going to change anyone's mind. The prices at MCF are available on the web, so people who are worried about affordability can check them out and make their own decisions about whether it fits their budget.

                                                    2. re: loratliff
                                                      s
                                                      sugartoof Jun 23, 2013 08:29 PM

                                                      So the perceived value is based on reviews, and hype?

                                                      It's not four star dining. It's not trying to be.

                                                      Yes, people are indeed saying it's cheap.

                                        2. s
                                          sugartoof Jun 19, 2013 11:21 PM

                                          I've had the Thrice Cooked Bacon with the opposite problem you described, where it was served with so many rice cakes they clumped together, and still didn't make sense in combination with the unevenly undercooked bacon. Thrice cooked and still undercooked? I guess that is innovative.

                                          Every time I order the portioning of the dishes has been drastically different. In an order of 5 entrees, at least two of them will be garnish heavy, and skimping on the featured protein.

                                          The real downfall of MCF is it's like eating at a semiotics project in the form of a restaurant, and the results aren't consistent.

                                          That said - it's never outright bad. Some of the dishes are really good tasting....and eating there is safe.

                                          1. scoopG Jun 19, 2013 10:33 AM

                                            You are able to detect wok hei through the plastic take-out containers? How soon after you picked up your food was it on your table at home?

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: scoopG
                                              f
                                              fooder Jun 20, 2013 05:57 AM

                                              I can't quite describe it, but wok hei is more than the remaining radiant heat when the dish is served. It was a while before I got to it, but the flavors and textures seemed to me to reflect good wok hei.

                                              1. re: fooder
                                                l
                                                Lau Jun 23, 2013 09:03 AM

                                                well wok hei is actually the flavor you get from essentially smoking the food in a very hot wok. you can't get it at home b/c you don't have a hot enough fire (the fire they have in restaurants is way way hotter than what you have at home). like if you actually watch someone who knows how to work a wok, you'll see that it literally creates smoke which is imparted in the flavor of the food. although scoopG is right in that you kinda gotta eat it fairly quickly

                                            2. ipsedixit Jun 19, 2013 08:02 AM

                                              MCF is a bit like the Tesla Model S.

                                              Great car, but the accolades and hype it receives is due in large part more from the novelty and uniqueness of its drivetrain than from a pure automotive performance perspective.

                                              Same with MCF. Yes, it's good. But is it great? No. But people consider it great because it is *so* different and unique given the current culinary landscape in/around NYC.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: ipsedixit
                                                Peter Cuce Jun 19, 2013 08:07 AM

                                                I don't know what you mean by the culinary landscape. Do you mean what is available? Or what people think is available? As Bob said, there's some beautiful Sichuan food to be found in NYC, but these people don't know about it.

                                                1. re: Peter Cuce
                                                  ipsedixit Jun 19, 2013 09:07 AM

                                                  MCF is not Sichuan food, at least not in the traditional sense; it's sort of fusion Sichuan. Which is fine, and well, and that's part of the reason it's so unique, and hyped.

                                                  Just like Ko. It's good, no doubt. Maybe even very good. But great? Michelin star(s) worthy? Probably not in the absolute sense, but since it's doing Korean on a level not seen before, people view it as great.

                                                  1. re: ipsedixit
                                                    Bob Martinez Jun 19, 2013 09:51 AM

                                                    Sorry, I misread your post. Now I understand what you're saying.

                                              2. Bob Martinez Jun 19, 2013 06:59 AM

                                                That's an interesting take. I agree with your conclusion but not how you got there.

                                                MC isn't trying to be a traditional Chinese restaurant - it's a kind of mash up. If you reject that concept outright then MC isn't going to work for you. Bowien is having fun doing riffs on traditional dishes and techniques - he's not trying to do anything complex. If you look for something more you're going to be disappointed.

                                                I accepted the place on it's own terms and I liked it.

                                                That said, I really do agree with you that it's been wildly overrated. NY Times "Best Opening of 2012?" Please. And Pete Wells' review was disgracefully over the top - a professional food critic really ought to know better.

                                                I think MC really impresses a lot of people who don't get out to the 20 or 30 really great Sichuan restaurants around the city. The flavors are new to them and they are disproportionately impressed.

                                                That doesn't mean that MC isn't good - it's just not standing at the top of some foodie pyramid.

                                                More here, including some choice words about Pete Wells.

                                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8502...

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: Bob Martinez
                                                  Peter Cuce Jun 19, 2013 07:58 AM

                                                  Very well put.

                                                  1. re: Bob Martinez
                                                    f
                                                    fooder Jun 20, 2013 06:02 AM

                                                    I completely agree that "MC really impresses a lot of people who don't get out to the 20 or 30 really great Sichuan restaurants around the city. The flavors are new to them and they are disproportionately impressed."

                                                    But if that's the main reason someone would consider MC overrated and not go back, I wanted to point out that the non-Sichuan broadening of their menu (country fried hamachi collar, pineapple fried rice, etc.) is underrated on that same point.

                                                    1. re: Bob Martinez
                                                      l
                                                      Lau Jun 23, 2013 08:59 AM

                                                      thats a good way to put it scoopG, i agree with you

                                                    2. u
                                                      UES Mayor Jun 19, 2013 04:30 AM

                                                      I felt the same way when I ate there for the first time a month ago-I thought it was overrated-HOWEVER I find myself longing to go back as in retrospect it was a delicious and fun meal-very quircky atmosphere in a good way. I felt I was on a movie set in Vietnam during the 70's (altho I never been). Colorful and fun atmoshere-extremely laid back and definitely will go back to try more dishes. The casualness of the place and friendly staff only make for a more elevated dining experience overall. For those of you fearing hot spicy foods-it wasn't all that spicy for my taste buds.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: UES Mayor
                                                        v
                                                        VaPaula Jun 19, 2013 06:35 AM

                                                        +1 on all of that, plus I really liked their playlist! I know that doesn't equate to a Chow-worthy experience, but I do think about the Kung Pao pastrami still. We went there on our last NYC trip after the hype and the anti-hype and really enjoyed it. I just wished we were there with a group so we could try more dishes. After reading the OP's post, now I really want to go back.

                                                      2. coasts Jun 19, 2013 04:21 AM

                                                        when you strip away the fame, the hype, the lines, and the awards, you're left with an exciting menu, interesting dishes and a relatively small bill. they achieve what they set out to and the detractions are a result of that.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: coasts
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                                                          sam1 Jun 20, 2013 05:04 PM

                                                          agree with you completely.

                                                          i will say consistency is an issue as they get bigger though. and take away orders are smaller and not nearly as good as in the restaurant.

                                                          1. re: coasts
                                                            c oliver Jun 22, 2013 11:53 AM

                                                            Agree. We've had their food three times in about the last year and enjoyed it very much.

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