New York’s Lower East Side boasts a little bit of Bay Area flavor by way of chef and restaurateur Danny Bowien’s Mission Chinese Food. The restaurant re-opened in its current home not too long ago, and has been serving up Bowien’s “Americanized Oriental food” to The City’s masses with much acclaim. While they currently do not take reservations, the restaurant houses packed tables and a long wait list night after night.
This past weekend, a friend and I took a chance at waiting on an extremely busy Saturday night. It was freezing out, and at one point during our wait, I started to wonder if the hollow sound of my empty stomach would ever forgive me… if not KILL me. Thankfully, my friend is family friends with the restaurant’s executive chef, so the staff did an amazing job of locating a table for two, and we were not at all expecting the culinary trip that we were about to embark on.
With our drink order in, we settled on three dishes –which were served family style: salt cod fried rice, pork belly in black bean sauce, and squid ink pasta with peanut sauce. But first to come out was a “gift” from the kitchen: dumplings served in an egg “pancake” – a delectable starter that was extremely delicious. The dumplings paired extremely well with the salt cod fried rice, which was pleasantly light; the rice wasn’t prepared typically (ie, with soy sauce), but the salt cod & Chinese sausage chunks provided that perfect hint of brine. As we ate our way through the first two dishes, a (surprise!) order of broccoli beef brisket was delivered to the table. The crunch of the Chinese broccoli contrasted nicely with the tender brisket, and offered a sense of kitchen comfort that was perfect for the cold night.
At this point, my friend and I were both reeling from the cocktails that we were having with dinner; standard vodka martini for me, and the special drink of the night for her – Himalayan Buttered Rum… an extremely warm and comforting concoction teaming up roasted corn & barley tea and other ingredients with El Dorado 5 year. We almost forgot that we ordered the squid ink pasta and the pork belly, which came after a (surprise!) salad was delivered to our table. The salad almost served as a nice palate-cleanser for the pasta, which had an extremely savory kick. Just as flavorful, the pork belly reminded me of some classic Philippine pork dishes that my mom still makes at home. All so good. And just when we thought we were ready to be rolled out of there, the final surprise came through: a cheese pizza! Yes, we were served a cheese pizza at a Chinese restaurant, and it was fantastic.
The restaurant is located in a somewhat sleepy part of town where Canal and E. Broadway meet on the east side. But what goes on inside Mission Chinese Food is anything BUT sleepy. The bars, both at the entrance and downstairs, were packed with patrons who ordered their fill of drinks and food. The community and main dining room tables were also packed with guests; lively conversation filling up the space. And the music, mostly an ode to 90s pop, hip-hop and R&B, brought back so many memories. I mean who gets to eat amazing Asian fare while old skool Britney plays through?! Well, this guy did, and it was a great way to close out another successful dining experience in Manhattan.
The restaurant itself is great –brick walled, dimly lit, with an interesting foil-covered cathedral ceiling over the downstairs bar area – which was in clear eye-sight from almost every vantage point within. There are no frills by way of décor, but that’s simply because the food and the service are what shines here. Super friendly staff kept us going through the night, for sure.
Executive Chef Angela Dimayuga came to our table to greet us, and it was nice to see her and my friend reunite and catch-up. She barely looked like she even broke-out a sweat being back in the hot kitchen for the past few hours, and was all smiles as she caught us up on how things are going with the restaurant. Whatever she is doing, she is clearly doing it right. And under the tutelage of Chef Danny (himself a James Beard Foundation Rising Star), there is no doubt that this dream team is cultivating a gem downtown.
New York continues to discover the magic that’s happening at Mission Chinese Food, and hopefully the spell that’s been cast will last a very long time. But before you go, it’s best to note that this is not your traditional Chinese food joint… for you will find no kung pao chicken here. Kung pao pastrami, on the other hand, IS what’s up.
171 East Broadway
New York, NY 10002