When I asked my friend where she wanted to eat during our New York trip, she seemed to lean towards Asian choices, immediately agreeing with my Thai restaurant choice and also adding, "maybe we can try a Chinese place . . ."
After some research, I decided to go a bit unconventional and make a reservation at Mission Chinese Food. Mission Chinese Food is unconventional in a lot of ways. It started out as a pop-up inside Lung Shan, an Americanized-Chinese restaurant in San Francisco. Chef Danny Bowein, born in South Korea and raised by adoptive parents in Oklahoma, had gotten tired of cooking high-end French food and decided to teach himself how to cook Sichuan food. At Mission Chinese Food, he used this knowledge and began experimenting with all sorts of interesting fusion dishes. The restaurant became a huge hit, and instantly won tons of recognition and fame.
In 2012, he opened a new location of Mission Chinese Food in New York City. It was crowded, super casual, and immensely popular. Unfortunately, it was soon shut down (twice!) for major health violations by the New York health department. After much work in trying to fix the problem, Chef Bowein realized that the space they were renting for the restaurant had too many problems. They closed the old location indefinitely.
In 2014, they opened a brand new space at 171 East Broadway. At this new location, the restaurant has the luxury of a much bigger kitchen, including a pizza oven. The added equipment and kitchen space allows Chef Bowein to create many more dishes, thus expanding the menu to become much bigger than it had ever been before.
This new revamped version was the one we visited this past trip.
The menu is indeed huge, and there are all different types of dishes influenced by cuisines from all around Asia. I was intrigued by the Green Papaya And Banana Blossom Salad ($13), a colorful salad that included thinly julienned papaya and banana blossoms, shredded chicken, green tomatoes, pickled tea leaves, peanuts, sprouts, and lots of cilantro.
The dish reminded me of a cross between a Thai papaya salad (som tam) and Burmese fermented tea leaf salad. It was presented similarly to a Burmese tea leaf salad, where all the components are laid out separately, and then you have to mix it yourself.
I absolutely loved the dish. All the components came together beautiful: perfect flavors, very good texture, and all around an excellent dish.
The Mapo Tofu ($13) made with heritage pork, aged beef fat, and doubanjiang (fermented bean paste) had a nice blend of Sichuan peppercorn and that classic fermented bean paste flavor. All in all, the flavors were excellent, though I found the dish to be too salty.
Mongolian Long Beans ($13) or made with a pretty narrow long being, unlike the long fake ones we see in Chinese markets. They were crispy, tasted like they were quite young. The dish was pretty spicy, but had very good flavors overall.
I have a weakness for fried chicken, and thus I was extremely curious about the Chongoing Chicken Wings, Mission Chinese Food's version made with "crispy beef tripe, explosive chili, and Xinjiang spices." I was intrigued, but wasn't sure whether we could finish an entire order, which comes with six large chicken wings.
Thankfully the nice folks sitting next to us (with whom we had been chatting) offered to let us each try one of their wings. The wings were good. They had a nice kick and were salted perfectly. It wasn't crazy spicy either.
Surprisingly, my favorite dish of the evening was one of the specials of the day, Blue crab Fried Rice. It looks simple, but the flavors were phenomenal. I love the rich blue crab flavor that permeated the entire dish. I couldn't stop eating it, and when we couldn't finish it, we decided it was worth taking back to the hotel with us so we could finish it later. It was that good.
All in all, the food was quite enjoyable. Some dishes stood out more than others, but nothing was an obvious miss. At most, I would say some dishes are a bit heavily salted. I highly recommend the Green Papaya Banana Blossom Salad and (if it's available), the Blue Crab Fried Rice.
This is really just the tip of the iceberg, though. The menu is huge and we only tasted a few dishes. There is an extensive raw bar section (that even includes uni!), all sorts of salads, and an extensive variety of food from all over - everything from "hot cheese pizza" (from that pizza oven!) and caviar service to "Kung Pao Pastrami" and "Thrice Cooked Bacon." There are several multi-course tasting menus that you can order, as well as some specialty dishes meant for a large crowd, like Beggar's Chicken ($100), Josephina's House Special Chicken ($75), or the House Special Prime Rib ($150).
My meal was but an appetizer for all of the incredible sounding dishes on the menu. I would come back again. I liked the food I had, and I'm sure it would be really interesting to come with a larger group to try a larger number of dishes.
Mission Chinese Food
171 East Broadly
New York, New York