Dear Food Diary:
A couple days ago, Underground Dining and I tried the new “chinese food” joint in town. Their SF restaurant has great reviews, so as you can imagine, it was all the buzz when they landed in NYC. I love the food of my peoples and I’m always open to unique and creative twists to classics, but somehow, Arsenio Hall (I’m dating myself, oh well…) took over me while walking out of dinner … “
things dishes that make you go hmmm“!?
Pass the typical chinese take-out like front, through a dark and narrow hall, you get a glimpse of their open kitchen. Watch your steps as you navigate your way through a back alley like atmosphere and enter the red dining area. Small and familiar in a weird way. I didn’t know what to make of it, but I hated the lighting for photos! Everything came out really red. Thank goodness for Photoshop.
The plate setting looked sorta familiar in a Pearl River kinda way… the prices however, not so much. But I came prepared with an open mind and cash in my wallet. My fresh soymilk with honeydew, pepper and very faint soju was interesting. How do I put it? hmmm well, it was just like the description, but the pepper really stood out, as you can see from the photo, they weren’t kidding about it, while light on the booze. Maybe I’m just not into peppery drinks, but I think I would of enjoyed it more without.
When we first saw the menu, we wanted to order everything, but being just the two of us, these were all we could handle…
Fresh Tofu Poached in Soymilk: Broad Bean Paste, Soy beans, Sesame Leaves
This was definitely more creative on paper. I was hoping for fresh, silky and soft tofu, but instead the tofu was firmer than usual from the “poaching” I assume. Firm is fine, but I didn’t really get the soymilk part, it wasn’t inviting like a soup. I was puzzled. The broad bean paste on the side is a staple in my kitchen, I like Ming Teh brand best (found in most chinese grocery stores). The chili, spices and saltiness really jazzes up anything from tofu, noodles and rice. They added some chili oil/sesame oil and sesame seeds. The dish was good, but this is quite simple and similar to what I make at home (when I’m too lazy to cook). I usually add edamame beans for some texture too, so it didn’t really excite my palate.
Tea Smoked Eel: Pulled pork trotter, Chinese Celery, Cheung Fun, Crisp Fish Skin
Think cold cheung fun and Vietnamese summer roll combined. It was quite light and good. I liked the soft chewy pull of the rice wrap. Though the pulled pork trotter and tea smoked eel seemed to be missing, maybe the pieces were too small?. And I don’t recall crisp fish skin at all, maybe because the chinese celery dominated.
Savory Egg Custard: Sea Urchin, Trout Roe, Apple, Citron
Hands down, the biggest disappointment of our meal. When a dish mentions sea urchin (uni), I’m really expecting that creamy sweetness, sadly, it was absent here. This definitely made me go Hmmm!? A savory custard with a fruity base, extra salty pops of roe, raw scallops and sweet basil seeds (that fuzzy and slimy black seed with a translucent exterior, usually in desserts or drinks)?! Everything just tasted odd and confusing together. I wasn’t sure if this wanted to be savory or sweet. And did I mention no uni!? At $13, this was the worst and most expensive dish of the night.
Kung Pao Pastrami: Peanuts, Celery, Potato, Explosive Chili
With the amount of Sichuan peppercorn and chillies in the dish, it tasted less than the regular kung pao and more like what I get at Spicy Wok in New World Mall (Flushing). When they said explosive, they really meant it, that “ma la” aka numbing level of spiciness is quite addictive, I love it, but not everyone can handle it. At this level of heat, it didn’t really matter what protein they used. The pastrami was fine, but with such strong flavors present, the peppercorn and coriander from the meat seemed redundant. I found myself picking the slightly crunchy potato and crunchy celery instead, maybe because they absorbed just the right amount of spicy and kept their natural flavors.
ChongQing Chicken Wings: Fragrant Chili and Crispy Beef Tripe
Was the surprise of the night, we almost didn’t order it, but our waitress highly recommended it and it turned out to be the best thing we had all night. As fiery as it looks, the extra crunchy and crispy beef tripe were fantastic, but then again, when you deep fry anything the odds are in favor of being delicious. The wings were really nicely fried, golden brown. Crisp on the outside, juicy within. The evenly coated exterior has that chinese five-spice powder mix of fennel, cloves, cinnamon, star anice and Sichuan peppercorns. There were also hints of nutmeg and a great sweet note here and there. This would pair so well with beer on a game night!
We skipped dessert, which is never a good sign. Dinner still came out to $40 each, which really didn’t justify. Would I go back? probably not. But I’ll might crave those wings and get them to go.
I do applaud them for doing good socially. Like its San Francisco location, they donate 75 cents from each main course to Food Bank for New York City.
154 Orchard St.