Cheap Silence and Barely Any Chicken
I’m not one to reach for a Chinese menu. My experience has been one of venous, over-large chicken chunks, Bunnicula-d broccoli, and lots of motorbike delivery jackets. I’ve ventured into soup dumplings territory and even glared as Bryan ate chicken feet in deep ChinaBrooklyn, wondering why were not eating raw fish and seaweed. My most recent PreBeast* feast reminded me that China is a huge place, with a huge diversity of cooking styles and not just a bunch of bird pieces.
If you want a fast, cheap meal without having to speak much, this is your jawn. I approached the counter, lips pressed as I met the signs. The Many Signs. The questions bubbling to my lips -What do you recommend/ eyes batting- were answered with odd Univers font. Signs made chef recommendations, pointed out items for vegetarians, snack-sized choices, or simple dishes for the timid. Other signs provided detailed adjectives for the subjective, loaded terms of spicy, mildly spicy, medium spicy, YOU GET IT. My favorite sign told customers to take a moment to consider what textures and tastes were most appealing to them before ordering- beautiful advice, no? Anything to slow me down. If you are not an asshole, all you need do is tell the counter person “N5” or “A1” pay, and take a number. “This place has great signs,” remarked guest and yoga pal Sean Hart. I ordered A1: Liang Pi Cold Skin Noodles and a chilled, slightly sweetened Jasmine tea. Sean had N9: Pork Zha Jiang Hand-Ripped Noodles and some sort of darker tea. The noodles were fabulous. Starchy, bouncy (like the bread part of Sicillian pizza) and surely pressed just that morning. It was lovely to eat in the small sun-filled dining area and to watch Yoga To The People devotees pile in. These dishes could easily be enjoyed on a car ride down the Turnpike, or carried up to a 5th floor walkup for a viewing of The Story of Qiu Ju. The restaurant is in favor of this idea, as another sign directs you to bars that will accept you, takeout and all, if the tiny dining area is at capacity.
I’ve learned that I’m not into typical Cantonese dishes, but ever so into the country’s Southwest treasures: the full leaves of cilantro, the chili oil soaking pieces of red meat- and no doii- anything with a heavily-guarded recipe: I’ll lap that shit up while my counterpart is still battling with the spiciness of his choices. I watched Sean switch from chopsticks to fork for succor as I chewed on Jasmine tea leaves over an empty plate. With 20-30 different herbs and spices in this restaurant’s secret sauce, I’ll return there as many times.
I had a similarly eye-opening experience when I first wandered into the Xi’an in Chinatown. Back in the old days (‘08) we New Yorkers weren’t familiar with Shaanxi food. They use ingredients (cumin! lamb!) that we more associate with Middle Eastern and Indian than Chinese. But NO ONE does a noodle like the Chinese (sorry Italy, Japan and all other pretenders.) And these are the best noodles in the city, hand pulled by a no nonsense lady in back. My recommendations are the Savory Cumin Lamb and especially the super-spicy Mount Qi Pork. Wash them down with a Lamb Burger (more bun than burger) and roll yourself across the street to Tompkins Square Park to digest.
Xi’ an Famous Foods
81 St Marks Place (1st & 2nd)
*We feasted before The Tuesday Night Open Mic. 11:30pm at UCB east. It’s my favorite mic. at the moment.