Sorry, but no. Often, all you need to know from someone when it comes to a restaurant is: would you go back? And in the case of Mission Chinese – Danny Bowien’s relocated and reopened Manhattan sibling to his overtly star-spangle Americanised Sichuan San Fran restaurant – it’s definitely no. And that has nothing to do with the previous incarnation of Mission Chinese being shut down on more than one occasion for health violations.
People – you are dicks. I’m sorry, but you are
The only reason I went in the first place is that New York was deathly quiet from the nonevent of storm Juno, and I happened to be hungry on the Lower East Side at 5.30pm when Mission Chinese opens. It is (did you guess yet?) “no reservations”, and on most evenings two- and three-hour waits are as common as they are ludicrous. I understand that these queues frequently start forming an hour before the restaurant opens. People – you are dicks. I’m sorry, but you are. So, unless there’s another state of emergency declared in New York, and I’m on the market for an Early Bird Special, I won’t be back.
Which is a shame. Many naysaying New Yorkers diss Bowien’s food as nothing special. But it is a little bit special – unusual at least, sometimes weird (and if you don’t fancy the peanut noodles, why not have cheese pizza? It’s on the menu, fresh from the wood fired oven). He had me with the complimentary scrambled egg, cilantro and tapioca gyoza. It is a thing of wonder. So much so that I tried to reorder in lieu of any kind of pudding, but my waitress (a very John Waters lass with tats and amusing spectacles) said it was impossible. “They’re our little treat, and not on the menu,” she explained. I wanted to remonstrate when she came to deliver the bill, since the table next to me had meantime magically scored second helpings, but the bill was dropped on my table with all the elegance and urgency of a drive-by shooting, so interrogation seemed out of the question.
Spin your flavor thesaurus, and the two go well. In reality, not so much
A kale dish, served in bone marrow broth, was a good idea on paper. Spin your flavor thesaurus, and the two go well. In reality, not so much. There’s something a little ghoulish about matching the butcher’s funk of bone marrow with the main ingredient of supper for someone a slave to size zero. The thrice-cooked bacon with rice cakes and bitter melon, and a plate of Kung Pao pastrami with chilli, celery and peanuts, were knock out. The latter comes with home fries, giving the spices a neat but unsubtle diner twist.
But then there’s nothing subtle about the food here. It’s salty. It’s spicy. And in the case of an otherwise gorgeous green tea noodle dish, it’s sweet. Oh, and it’s loaded with MSG. Hey ho. But it’s also clever. Those silky gyoza that kicked things off were beyond gorgeous. And smarts and innovation are evident on the cocktail list too: The “Phil Kahllins” (I know, you never have your gun when you need it) comes in a small, Chinese supermarket stock bowl (don’t dip your gyoza in it by mistake). It’s a mix of Spring 44 gin, Old Tom gin, coconut, kaffir lime, chilli, lemongrass and cold pressed sesame. For me, it also came with the Proustian hit of my favourite Thai holidays. It’s sunshine and beaches, and it’s a thing of great joy.
Mission Chinese is, on most nights I’m sure, packed with people all thrilled to have waited for hours to be in The Place. It crackles with the sound of riotous hip hop and a lot of stuff that sounds like whatever the bloke from Hot Chip did next. The staff is made up of kooks, the handsome, the beautiful, and a mix of all three. There are big red banquettes, a buzzing bar to dine at in the front, and at the back, downstairs, beneath a silvered Warhol Factory ceiling, there’s a another bar, with an ironically prosaic illustrated Chinese restaurant backlit menu board. The whole thing is so 2015 that it’s hideous. But it’s enormous fun. And the food’s pretty good. If a little weird. I’d love to go back. But I never will. C
Mission Chinese Food, 171 East Broadway, New York NY 10002