In light of New York’s current, expansively multi-cultural dining scene, it’s hard to remember that for years, higher-end restaurants in the city were almost exclusively Italian or French. Stark sushi temples eventually added Japanese to the roster of acceptably posh cuisines, but it wasn’t until recently that Asian food of all sorts became ripe for culinary innovation and elevation, with accomplished chefs opening a steady slew of refined Korean, Filipino and Thai eateries.
What’s interesting, though, is how long it took Chinese cooking to make its way out of the fast-casual ethnic realm, considering New York’s longstanding love affair with dishes, like Moo Shu, Shrimp Lo Mein and Pork Fried Rice. Sure, RedFarm’s Ed Schoenfeld has been one of the cuisine’s greatest advocates for the last 40 years, helping open places like the four-starred Uncle Tais Hunan Yuan in the 1970’s, as well as Shun Lee Palace and Chinatown Brasserie. But he really changed the way New Yorkers look at Chinese food when he launched RedFarm in the West Village in 2011 (and on the Upper West Side earlier this year), serving “unabashedly inauthentic” Pac Man Dumplings and Katz’s Pastrami Egg Rolls, followed by Decoy, a sleek cocktail bar and decidedly modern Peking duck house.
Rapidly expanding from a single small stall in Flushing, Xi’an Famous Foods was the next business to make a strong case for beyond-Beef with Broccoli Chinese, on the strength of Silk Road-inspired dishes, such as Cold-Skin Noodles, Stewed Pork Burgers, and Spicy & Tingly Lamb’s Face Salad. And Danny Bowien’s pilgrimage from San Francisco to New York City in 2012 led to one of the buzziest restaurant openings in years, the perennially packed (and soon to re-launch) Mission Chinese, known for Mapo Ramen, Kung Pao Pastrami, and mouth-numbingly hot Chongqing Chicken Wings.
You wouldn’t have expected Per Se and Eleven Madison Park alums to have anything to do with egg rolls, but instead of going on to open white tablecloth, French-influenced restaurants, Jonathan Wu and Thomas Chen decided to stay true to their own culinary traditions. Wu launched Fung Tu on the Lower East Side, bringing serious technique to highly inventive creations, such as a Fava Bean Curd Terrine and Chinese Spaetzle with Sichuan Pork Sauce. Chen just debuted Tuome in Alphabet City, where he dispenses Potato Espuma tableside, atop seared swirls of Octopus bathed in unctuous, housemade Pork XO. And believe it or not, farm-to-table Chinese is actually a thing in Brooklyn. In fact, you can find two such spots located only blocks away from each other in Gowanus — there’s Michael & Ping’s, which uses hormone-free chicken in their General Tso’s and local produce in their veggie Chow Fun, and 2 Duck Goose, currently offering three versions of Pork Char Siu, labeled “Classic,” “Modern,” and “Seasonal.”
So seriously, forget about greasy, 1960’s-era Chow Mein, or gravy-gobbed Egg Foo Young. Because from Brisket and Rhubarb Fried Rice to Cantonese Borscht Stew, the state of Chinese food in the city has never been better, and the future has never looked brighter (or tastier)!