On my last few trips to San Francisco I'd always wanted to visit Mission Chinese but either couldn't find the time or gave up when we arrived to find a dishearteningly long queue out the door. Arriving in New York I'd heard that their first foray had closed due to Health Department issues but last winter they reopened in a new location.
New York and San Francisco seem to be a hotbed for chefs reinventing Eastern cuisine. It's not out-dated fusion, its new generation Westernised Asian. More ingredients - so many in fact its hard to read a menu and know what a dish will taste like. More housemade pickles, cross-border borrowed ingredients and brazen tongue in cheek messing around with them. The flavours are always bold and sometimes miss their mark. There's nothing subtle in the message, but it can be interesting, and when it succeeds, whether through humour, outlandishness or through skill and clever combination, it achieves something unique and genuinely innovative.
The decor at Mission Chinese is a clever blend of modern design and Chinese chintz. There are gold dragon and phoenix reliefs with glowing red eyes, cosy half moon booths and creased silver Mylar reflecting light into a downstairs bar complete with a light box menu from the former site. Our table is a palette of black, pink, purple, gold and white - classic Asian kitsch.
We loved the pastrami and dinosaur bone-like lamb rib tips, the black kale with its overwhelming ume plum punch not so much. The potsticker dumplings that arrived 'on the house' suffered from slightly too thick pastry that hadn't cooked through so were dry and tough. The cooking is adventurous and breaks with tradition - for that it deserves to be tried. There are ideas here that could be developed and dishes I'll be thinking about stealing aspects of. I'd also like to go back and try everything on the menu so that I at least know what they taste like.
Miyozakura junmai sake in a panda jar - genius!
Mild rice vinegar pickled cucumbers with white poppy seeds in Sichuan peppercorn oil, misozuke carrots, green radish and turnips with bonito and seaweed, and black vinegar braised peanuts, spring onions and garlic cloves with slivers of pickled ginger.
Scrambled egg, coriander and tapioca pearl potsticker dumplings with vinegary chilli sauce. The fried lacy crust was very fun, if costly for the dumpling wrappers being properly cooked.
Tongue tingling, lip searingly spicy Chongqing chicken wings and puffed dehydrated beef tripe (definitely one to try at home), covered with chilli flakes and 'Xinjiang spices'. We tasted coriander and something very savoury, possibly onion and garlic powders, in between having our taste buds annihilated by chilli and numbing peppercorns. Not unpleasantly, mind.
House made pastrami, smoked for 12 hours before being cubed and blanched in hot oil, then charred in a hot wok with same sized chunks of celery, red onion, red pepper and cooked potato, dried Tianjin chillies, chilli flakes and peanuts. The pastrami had either been brined with sugar or marinated; giving the meaty cubes a mildly sweet, caramelised crust that contrasted beautifully with the tender, fatty meat underneath. Paired with the smoky sweet peppers, soft onions, crisp potatoes and raw crunch of celery it was a winning combination.
Black kale sautéed with (too many) umeboshi plums, pickled (too thin) slices of lotus root and topped with thin slices of plum. While the idea here was good the dish packed far too much of a wallop to be the vegetable side we were hoping for.
Show stopping salt and pepper battered lamb rib tips - enormous hunks of falling-off-the-bone crisped meat, complete with gelatinous bits of skin and fat. Served with sweet bread and butter pickles, rice paddy leaves, labneh and warm pita bread.