The Entire Dim Sum Menu at RedFarm UWS
Jan 6th, 2014 by donuts4dinner

There are no reservations at the Upper West Side outpost of RedFarm, so my group of five showed up at 6:30 on a Thursday night hoping to beat the usual 8 p.m. dinner crowd. Even though it’s apparently twice the size of the original West Village location, the place was packed, and even having called earlier in the afternoon to put ourselves on a waitlist wasn’t helping. But the staff was zealous in finding a spot for us, and soon enough, we were seated at the end of a communal table in the middle of the checkered-table-cloth and blond wood dining room, about to eat every single item on the dim sum menu.

RedFarm UWS NYC Dim Sum

You can sell white people anything with a little woodgrain and some bold graphic design.

RedFarm UWS NYC Dim Sum RedFarm UWS NYC Dim Sum
cucumber thyme cooler and blackberry ginger-lime soda

RedFarm UWS NYC Dim Sum
three color vegetable dumplings

RedFarm UWS NYC Dim Sum
Katz’s pastrami egg roll, mustard sauce

So spicy and everything I wanted it to be. How can you make the famous pastrami from Katz’s Delicatessen even better? DEEP FRY IT.

RedFarm UWS NYC Dim Sum
crunchy vegetable & peanut dumplings

These were just what you expect–all earthy vegetables with just a hint of peanut–but something about them made them really memorable for me. Probably the fact that they were so simple and fresh amidst a mass of fried things.

RedFarm UWS NYC Dim Sum
shrimp & mango fried wontons


RedFarm UWS NYC Dim Sum
shrimp & snow pea leaf dumplings

The way these were shaped just like the shrimp inside did so much to highlight the seafood. This was all about the shrimp and its texture.

RedFarm UWS NYC Dim Sum
five flavor chicken dumplings

The best part about these was the curry sauce underneath, which everyone loved and wanted to spoon onto everything else.

RedFarm UWS NYC Dim Sum
lobster cheese sticks

I was the only person at our table who seemed so-so about these. The cheese tasted processed to me. And you know I usually love a processed cheese food, but I wanted to be wowed by what was accompanying my lobster.

RedFarm UWS NYC Dim Sum
‘Pac Man’ shrimp dumplings

I know this was supposed to be all novelty, but it was one of my favourite plates in terms of flavor, too. The Pac-Man was made of tempura sweet potato, and the dumplings were shrimp with a heavy dose of lemongrass.

RedFarm UWS NYC Dim Sum
crispy duck & crab dumplings

The little “tail” on these was the end of a crab claw. (Have you noticed yet that practically every dumpling has eyes?)

RedFarm UWS NYC Dim Sum
pan-fried pork buns, spicy sauce

I loved these mini pork buns because I love all pork buns ever, but everyone else complained that they were only big enough to tease us.

RedFarm UWS NYC Dim Sum
pork & crab soup dumplings in individual bamboo steamers

RedFarm UWS NYC Dim Sum
pork & crab soup dumplings

I know everyone has her own idea of the perfect soup dumpling, and these weren’t mine. I liked the very tender meatball inside that made the guts easy to eat, but the thin skin made it too easy for the dumpling to fall apart while I was sucking out the soup. I prefer the thicker, chewy skin of the Chinatown soup dumplings I’m used to.

RedFarm UWS NYC Dim Sum
pork & shrimp dumpling skewers

Very tropical. Again, I thought the texture of the shrimp was the stand-out.

RedFarm UWS NYC Dim Sum
pan-fried lamb dumpling shooters, tofu, miso seaweed broth

A meeting of the land and sea.

RedFarm UWS NYC Dim Sum
BBQ’d duck breast, grilled litchi (lychee), lotus chip

One of the most complete bites I had: crunchy lotus, sweet fresh fruit, seared smoky duck.

RedFarm UWS NYC Dim Sum
shrimp-stuffed jalapeño poppers

RedFarm UWS NYC Dim Sum
soft & crunchy vegetable fried rice

Our friend Tiffany, who had visited the original RedFarm downtown, insisted that we order this despite its $14 price tag, and I secretly could’ve eaten the entire vat myself. Partly because the dim sum wasn’t nearly enough to fill me up, and partly because I loved the crunchy bits of watercress.

RedFarm UWS NYC Dim Sum
chocolate pudding

Our server became ECSTATIC about this chocolate pudding when reciting the dessert menu to us. It was the kind of build-up that ensures you’ll be disappointed by whatever follows. But I wasn’t disappointed. It was simply some of the thickest, chocolatiest pudding around.

RedFarm UWS NYC Dim Sum
The bill. For dim sum.

This should scare you.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarBlank Star

RedFarm, most notably, is expensive. It seemed like nearly all of the comments I read on reviews before my visit were centered around how expensive it is, and rightfully so. We spent $80 per person, and then we talked about going to Shake Shack afterward to actually get full. It was strange to find a restaurant charging $14 for 4 dumplings you’d pay $1 for in Chinatown and then adding eyes to everything like it was meant to help children stomach shrimp for the first time. That said, I actually really liked the place. Some of the dumplings were unmemorable, but some of them were bursting with flavor and had me wishing I was getting more than one of each kind (Pac-Man, I’m coming back for you by myself). And that creativity was reflected in the price. So was the fact that this wasn’t some dim sum factory restaurant with food being served from carts but a friendly place for white people to bring their mothers who are afraid of cuisine that sounds foreign. This is the kind of casual, cute eatery I’d love to pop into on a whim whenever the craving for dim sum hits (which is about every other day for me), but the price point unfortunately makes it more of a destination than a whenever spot.

2170 Broadway
New York, NY 10024 (map)

Mission Chinese Food: Crazy Spicy, Crazy Delicious
May 21st, 2013 by donuts4dinner

The first reviews of San Franciso’s Mission Chinese Food outpost here in NYC were written by professional critics and were, by my estimation, universally adoring. The New York Times said James Beard Rising Star Chef award-winner Danny Bowien “does to Chinese food what Led Zeppelin did to the blues. His cooking both pays respectful homage to its inspiration and takes wild, flagrant liberties with it”. The blog reviews that came soon after were less excited. I read complaints about the prices, which range from $4 for the vinegar peanuts to $14.50 for the mapo la mian. I read complaints about how everything was overwhelmingly spicy. Then I read complaints about how everything was overwhelmingly bland. I didn’t know what to think, so I thought I’d just go find out for myself.

Since I’m a woman who loves making and having reservations, I was pleased to find that Mission Chinese Food takes a very, very limited number of reservations per night. The website begins accepting them at 10 a.m. each morning, and 5 seconds later, they’re all gone. I had a few mornings of absolutely no luck and one morning where I was offered a reservation but then double-checked my calendar and lost it before I actually got a spot for a Wednesday night.

Walking in the door, which itself was almost too tiny for a person to fit through, we were underwhelmed by the little room we found ourselves in. There was a counter, a cash register, a window into the kitchen, and this backlit menu with only slightly better photos than your generic Chinese take-out joint:

Mission Chinese Food NYC

After an uncomfortable five-minute wait, though, we were led through a hallway past the kitchen to the dining room, which was like a whole different world. I felt like a soldier in Vietnam in the 60s, off duty for the night and looking to forget my troubles with help from the cocktail-slinging bartender in the corner. I have no idea why I thought Vietnam, since there were Chinese lanterns everywhere and a huge dragon snaking through the beams of the ceiling, but I kept expecting the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” to start playing. The whole place glowed red, and the servers were in tank tops and frayed denim shorts, appropriate to the Lower East Side location. In a few words, it was really fuckin’ cool.

Mission Chinese Food NYC

My boyfriend knew he wanted the pig tails, and I knew I wanted the thrice-cooked bacon, but everything else was off-the-cuff. Here’s what we went with:

Mission Chinese Food NYC
pickles and peanuts

Beer brined sichuan pickles, with Chinese cabbage, carrot, chili oil, peanut, and sichuan pepper, and Beijing vinegar peanuts with smoked garlic, anise, and rock sugar. I expected the pickles to be spicy and hoped that the vinegar peanuts would provide some relief, but these were equally loaded with heat. Being more a fan of chili than vinegar, I preferred the bowl of pickles and probably wouldn’t have ordered both of these had we known that the pickles would also be peanut-heavy.

Mission Chinese Food NYC
thrice cooked bacon, shanghainese rice cakes, tofu skin, bitter melon, chili oil

Eeeeeasily the best thing I tasted here. And you just know it wouldn’t have been nearly as good had the bacon only been cooked twice. Like the rice roll at Congee Village, I could eat these rice cakes for every meal ever. They’re a little bit chewy, a little bit gelatinous, and a lot purely satisfying simple carbs. This dish was spicy in a way that I’ve never experienced spice. It wasn’t the eye-watering, nose-running spice of Thai food or Indian food. It was a red pepper spice that literally made my mouth go numb. In a good way. In an I-don’t-want-to-ever-stop-eating-this-why-did-we-also-order-the-whole-side-of-a-fish way. It’s hard for me to express how much I loved this plate without writing a full-on love letter in drool.

Mission Chinese Food NYC
country fried hamachi collar, chili vinegar, diner slaw, beef fat biscuit

If you’d told me I’d someday find myself holding onto a fin and yanking the meat off not to torture a fish but to eat it . . . but this was a) fried, b) boneless, c) fishy as all get-out but strangely delicious. The breading was thick and crunchy, like a shell. And the fact that it was coupled with those fatty, buttery biscuit halves didn’t hurt.

Mission Chinese Food NYC
taiwanese clams, soy caramel, basil, yukon gold potatoes, lotus root, fried garlic

I only ate one of these, because clams are weird. But: basil.

Mission Chinese Food NYC
BBQ pigtails, smoked cola BBQ sauce, potato salad

Everyone, including me, somehow assumed that pig tails would be curly and skinny. But these were big and thick and meaty. If I hadn’t known they were tails, I’d think they were ribs. Only the meat was a little tougher and almost gamier, like it was on its way to being venison jerky. The smoky sauce made it a spicy/sweet mess that evoked all sorts of backyard barbeques when we added the meat to the white bun and potato salad.

Mission Chinese Food NYC

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Mission Chinese Food NYC

My descriptions of these dishes are a joke next to the actual flavors. As someone who’s suuuuuper picky about traditional Chinese food, I didn’t expect to walk away from Mission Chinese Food exclaiming over how delicious and exciting everything was. Especially since it was SO spicy. But in addition to loving the food, I really, really loved the cool, transporting-you-to-a-different-world-ness of the place in general. I’ve still been talking about it so much that my friends all want to go and have been, like, name-dropping it on their OkCupid profiles without ever having eaten there. I’ll just remember to bring a big flask of milk with me the next time.

Mission Chinese Food
154 Orchard Street
New York, NY 10002 (map)

Congee Village: Craveable Chinese
Mar 19th, 2013 by donuts4dinner

I know it’s not couth to admit this, but I don’t care much for Chinese food. I love the ponzus and wasabis of Japan. I love the chilis and kaffir leaves of Thailand. I love the, well, everything of India. I love Vietnamese, Cambodian, Iranian, and Korean. But when I think of Chinese food, I think of brown sauce. To me, it’s bland and sugary and does nothing to make plain chicken any more exciting. If I’m eating Chinese, I’m going to avoid the brown sauce by ordering sweet and sour chicken–because breading automatically makes things 100% more delicious–but I know that sweet and sour chicken is the last thing Chinese people want representing their cuisine.

So when my boyfriend kept trying to push Congee Village onto me, I was understandably resistant. And then we went, and it was wonderful, and I liked it so much I’m actually the one trying to convince him that we need a whole garlic chicken for dinner every night. Here’s a compilation of most of the dishes we’ve tried so far.

Congee Village, NYC

The decor at Congee Village is, while a little cheesy (see wall mural above), so much nicer than most cheap Chinatown joints. The lack of fluorescent lighting is a lot of it, but the fact that all of the furniture is wood and wicker makes it automatically seem nicer. The upstairs is bright and open, while the lower level is darker and cozier. A girl wouldn’t be horrified if you took her on a date here. Just don’t order her the fish head in broth unless you know she’s that kind of girl.

The service is neutral-to-borderline-hostile, but the food makes up for it.

Congee Village, NYC
rice roll with XO sauce

This is easily my favourite dish here. XO is made of dried scallops, shrimp, and fish but mostly tastes like chilies and garlic. Since I had it first at Momofuku Ko a few years ago, I’m always excited to see it on a menu, and its natural deliciousness is only enhanced when its spread on something carby and comforting like these chewy fried rice rolls. The egg, chives, sprouts–it’s all complex and texture-ful.

Here’s a bad iPhone photo of it that gives you a better idea of what the rice rolls look like:

Congee Village, NYC

Congee Village, NYC
small juicy bun in Shanghai style

Otherwise known as soup dumplings or xiaolongbao. You bite the tops off of these, slurp the soup inside, and then eat the ball of pork inside. I’m sure any Chinese person would tell you that the skin of these is too thick and the soup isn’t plentiful enough, but at least you don’t have to deal with the long waits and gigantic communal tables of Chinatown soup dumpling favourite Joe’s Shanghai to get your fix. (And these are cheaper, too.)

Congee Village, NYC
minced pork bun

a.k.a. char siu bao. Mostly a cloud of squishy carbs but with a tiiiiiny dollop of hoisin-flavored pork in the center. Not for the diabetic. I probably could’ve eaten twenty of these but mostly just to finally get enough filling. They’re only $1.80 for two, though, so it’s not like I was expecting a pig feast.

Congee Village, NYC
pan fried minced pork and minced lotus root

Think sausage patties but with big cubes of lotus root in every bite. The minced pork with salted fish is actually the more oft-recommended dish, but the recommendation usually comes with a caveat like “it’s an acquired taste” or “you would most likely hate it”. This was a pretty familiar taste, but the texture was an entirely new thing with the addition of the crunchy/starchy lotus root.

Congee Village, NYC
assorted vegetable Buddhist style

My boyfriend is half-convinced that he should live like a Buddhist monk and avoid anything with too much flavor, so this dish was totally his doing and his responsibility to eat. I appreciated the sheer number of different vegetables and fungi in it, but it mostly just tasted like soy sauce.

Congee Village, NYC
rice baked with chicken and shitake mushroom

Brown sauce! This is a simple, belly-filling sticky rice with chicken, mushrooms, and vegetables. I wanted the salted chicken one, but our server told me it’s salty and recommended this one instead. I think he was worried about my blood pressure. Another time, we had the rice baked with two kinds of Chinese sausage, which I would more be likely to order again. Not only did it not have the dreaded brown sauce, but the sausages were very distinct and a little bit funky.

Congee Village, NYC
braised shark’s fin & crab meat soup

Apparently this is a luxury item served on special occasions in China, which explains why it was so expensive (and by that, I mean $15). We innocently ate this before learning that sharks’ rights groups are trying to get it banned because hunters will shear the fins off of sharks and throw them back into the water, where they’re unable to swim. In the U.S., though, shark fins can’t be imported without the rest of the shark attached, so . . . at least we force people to kill them completely? I guess we prooooobably wouldn’t order this again, knowing now what we do, but I’m not going to pretend it wasn’t an interesting bowl of soup. The flavor was mostly the crab, but the texture was gloopy and gelatinous and unique. I liked it, okay? I’m a bad person.

Congee Village, NYC
rice congee

I have no memory of the type of porridge I ordered (knowing me, the salted chicken or roast duck and meatball one), but it doesn’t really matter. I know there’s a variation of this dish in, like, every Asian culture, so there has to be something to it, but for us it was so flavorless we found ourselves mixing every condiment on the table into it. I guess that’s why it’s for sick people and babies. I can see how it’d make a decent side dish for the more flavorful main dishes (RICE ROLLS WITH XO SAUCE), but I probably don’t need to eat a whole bowl by myself again.

Congee Village, NYC
sea clams and sweet pea pod with XO sauce

I don’t even want to talk about this.

Congee Village, NYC
deep fried dough

Crispy outside. Doughy inside. $1. With icing-like condensed milk for dipping on the side. This and a bubble tea (ask to see their separate drink menu for the bubble teas and fruit drinks) is simple perfection in starch form.

Congee Village, NYC
house special chicken

This is a terrible iPhone photo of a really great dish. The most important dish, really. A whole or half chicken, crispy skin saltily glazed, big slivers of fried garlic, and juicy, flavorful insides. There were big pieces and small pieces, white pieces and dark pieces. The more we ate, the more there seemed to be on the plate. Any time we go here and don’t order this, I feel like we wasted the visit.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarBlank Star

Congee Village
100 Allen Street
New York, NY 10002 (map)

The Duckavore Dinner at Wong – Chinese – West Village
Dec 16th, 2011 by donuts4dinner

My foodie friend Lucy read about Wong‘s Duckavore Dinner on a Chowhound thread and sent the link to a couple of us. Tempted by the promise of the duckiest meal we’ve ever had (even the dessert!), our friend Tiffany made a reservation for four with the required 48 hours notice, and we converged in the West Village restaurant amid candles, school desks, and beakers for a wildly successful large-format meal that was more than just novelty.

Wong Duckavore
the menu

Wong Duckavore

Although quite confusing at first, the bread service perfectly set the tone for the meal. We still have no idea why one piece of bread was puffed and one wasn’t, and we couldn’t find any of the cheese the server mentioned, but the four of us were in agreement that whatever it was, it was delicious. The bread was soft and warm and was so good on its own we didn’t need the sweet and sour curry sauce on the side but appreciated it, especially when combined with a basil leaf.

Wong Duckavore
duck sung choy bao

The words “fish sauce” haven’t exactly inspired confidence in me in the past, but this could change my mind. Our server told us the chef recommends using the lettuce to form wraps around the pulled duck pieces, but our lettuce all seemed to be fused together and impossible to separate for wrap-making; most of us used forks and knives and treated it like a salad. And what a salad it was, with elements fresh and crispy, sweet and spicy, citrusy and crunchy.

Wong Duckavore
duck bun with Chinese celery and cucumber

Three words: deep-fried bun. I was definitely looking forward to this course most, and maybe that’s why I wasn’t wholly satisfied by it in the end, but the bread sure was interesting. It had the thinnest crispy layer covering its exterior and just oozed oil all over my hands. The duck just couldn’t stand up to it, though; it was underseasoned and therefore underflavored, and there wasn’t enough sauce on the bun to make up for it. I did like the near-pickled cucumber, though, and you can’t beat those soft Chinese buns no matter what.

Wong Duckavore
duck meatball with squash

It was so unfair that there were only two of these for the table, because I needed four for myself. The sauce was so deliciously chunky and left such an unexpected heat in my mouth. The squash had the texture of a cooked apple and added a little necessary sweetness to balance the dish. I’m not sure I understand why paneer was used over a more traditional cheese, but I loved the added flavor and texture.

Wong Duckavore
whole Long Island duck in lotus leaves

One of the chefs presented us with the whole duck before taking it back to the kitchen, carving it up, and bringing it back in pieces on a tray with sides of greens and rice.

Wong Duckavore
duck slices with greens

In a word, the duck was incredible; all four of us were murmuring and nodding through our entire portions. I’m a big fan of tasting menus because the initial punch of a dish usually wears off for me after a couple of bites, but the sauce on the duck was a gift that kept on giving. It was sweet and rich, like a barbeque sauce for a dark, stormy night. The duck was tender enough not to need a knife, and the skin, though not crispy, melted in my mouth like it had been roasting all day.

Wong Duckavore
8-treasure sticky rice

I loved the rice in theory but only liked it in practice. It was so chock full of fruit and nuts that it should have been bursting with flavor, but it seemed underseasoned to me. When the juices from the duck touched it, though, it took on the same deep, savory flavors, so when I go back for this dinner the second (and third and fourth) time, I’m going to pile my rice high with duck.

Wong Duckavore
duck broth

This was far too hot to drink when it was served to us, so we had to sit and wait for it to cool while the fat congealed on top. It was certainly the duckiest part of the meal, and the thick, oily broth stayed on our lips long after our cups were empty.

Wong Duckavore
duck a la plum: roast duck ice cream, star-anise-poached plums, crispy tuile

Almost everyone I’ve mentioned the duck ice cream to has been skeptical, so I’m not sure why I went into this thinking it was going to be the best dessert ever. (Was it Wylie Dufresne’s delicious everything bagel ice cream that convinced me?) Of course I was right, though; it was ice cream, all right, but instead of being flavored with chocolate or mint or caramel, it was flavored with duck, and it was excellent. Maybe it works because we’re so used to covering our meat with sweet sauces for savory courses, anyway, but everyone agreed that it did indeed work. The flavor was pretty intense, though, so the golf-ball-sized scoop was just the right amount. The super-crunchy caramelized tuile was another highlight, both in flavor and texture, and we all liked the floral notes of the plum.

Wong Duckavore
five-spice cookie

We almost seemed to like this simple cookie as much as the plated dessert, but how could we not love shortbread in duck fat?

Wong Duckavore
plum chaser

Lucy accurately described this as a sort of plum soda; it reminded my boyfriend and me of the homemade sodas at the Jean-Georges restaurants that are really the whole point of dining there. It was light and refreshing, perfectly topping off the heavy meal.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarBlank Star

It seems like the thing to do in Manhattan these days is to lure customers in with whole suckling pigs, whole lambs, and whatever this thing is (I still haven’t been able to convince anyone to go eat it with me). In my experience, those dinners are exciting novelties that don’t really hold up in the taste department. I have an inkling that Wong was attempting to gain some attention by attempting the same sort of idea, but I think they were much more successful. Not only was everything delicious, but we got to try so many iterations of the protein; it wasn’t just appetizer, main, dessert. This is also the first time in my experience that the meal had a theme that was carried out from start to finish, and now the idea of having an unrelated pie with my whole suckling pig seems like a cop-out. At $60 per person, with friendly service and a casual candlelit atmosphere, I can definitely imagine myself coming back for this dinner just to be able to watch three more friends get to enjoy it.

7 Cornelia Street
New York, NY 10014 (map)

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