A number of new prestige projects reliably made critics “best of” lists this past year, from Daniel Rose’s sumptuous, classically French Le Coucou, to Aska, Fredrik Berselius’ austere Scandinavian tasting room. Yet an (at the time) under-the-radar Chinese restaurant ended up garnering an equal measure of praise — that would be Hao Noodle & Tea by Madam Zhu’s Kitchen — a debut American venture from a prolific restaurateur, with establishments throughout Beijing, Chongqing, Hangzhou, and Shanghai.
While members of New York’s recent “modern Chinese cuisine” movement tend to traffic in familiar tropes, embracing kitsch like cheerful, waving lucky cats and plastic banquet hall plates, Hao’s presiding stylistic influence appears to be its chic West Village neighborhood — furnished with wooden communal tables, marble two-tops and throw pillow bedecked benches, and attended by young, attractive servers dressed in natty denim aprons.
Hao also forgoes the popular, contemporary practice of juxtaposing country-style dishes with luxury ingredients; appealing to modern sensibilities by drawing culinary inspiration from cosmopolitan China instead. Thank Shanghai for feathery lion’s head meatballs and clay pot dumplings (actually broth afloat with pork-padded half-moon omelets), as well as Taiwan for minced pork noodles, Canton for char sui bao, and Sichuan for the resplendently spicy fish stew — whose stock-submerged store of peppercorns and nest of fresh, verdant peppers are responsible for both its creeping heat and seductively sour funk.
The eatery also takes the concept of seasonally-changing menus to the extreme; a recent winter overhaul features six distinct sections such as “Light Snow” (look for chili-spiced beef with dried orange peel), “Heavy Snow” (stir-fried cauliflower with smoked ham), “Moderate Cold”(shrimp wontons in chicken soup), and “Severe Cold” — celebrate Chinese New Year’s Eve on January 26th with sticky, fried pumpkin rice cakes, and hope the coming months bring additional, unexpected restaurant treasures, like Hao Noodle & Tea.
Hao Noodle & Tea by Madam Zhu’s Kitchen
401 6th Ave.