"We only had a fraction of the 237 items on the Amazing 66 dinner menu."

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[Photographs: Robyn Lee]

Amazing 66

66 Mott Street, New York, NY 10013 (b/n Bayard and Canal; map); 212-334-0099
Service: Efficient, friendly
Setting: Brightly lit dining room
Must-Haves: Pastrami shrimp fried rice, roast chicken with garlic and preserves
Grade: B

When Save the Deli author David Sax wanted to meet up at Amazing 66 to try some of its deli-derived dishes while we discussed his extraordinary book, that's when I knew that Amazing 66 had, well, a truly amazing menu for a Chinese restaurant.

I brought Robyn and Alaina along for the interview, and we knew we weren't in the Chinatown that I grew up with, the moment we started reading the huge menu. Consider the following Sax-recommended items: Pastrami over Spinach. Corned Beef over Lettuce. Pastrami Shrimp Fried Rice.

And how about these chef-recommended dishes:

  • Short Rib Beef in a Pumpkin
  • Golden Prawns over Twin Rice
  • Mixed Asian Mushroom over Bean Curd Rolls
  • House Special Crispy Chicken Stuffed with Sticky Rice (Pre-order Required)
  • House Special Crispy Chicken Stuffed with Shrimp & Almond (Pre-order Required)
  • Roast Chicken with Garlic/Preserved Vegetable

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Of the three deli dishes, the one to get is the pastrami shrimp fried rice. Why? It's pastrami and shrimp nuggets in fried rice. What could be bad? If I had a reform Jewish, decidedly-not-kosher nephew or niece having a bar mitzvah, I would tell their parents to serve this dish at the reception. The rest of the deli dishes were more interesting than delicious, but they certainly piqued my interest in returning. What clinched it were the two dishes that required pre-ordering: Crispy Chicken Stuffed with Shrimp & Almond, anyone? We were so there the next week.

My first impulse was to quote (or should I say, liberally paraphrase) Talking Heads founding member David Byrne. "You may ask yourself, how did they get there?"

The most interesting dishes on Amazing 66's menu are the product of chef Chen Ge's imagination and experience. He is a Vietnamese American whose father was a chef in a French restaurant. Though much of the restaurant's menu has a Cantonese bent, the most intriguing dishes on the menu reflect Chen Ge's more far-flung sensibilities.

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The Short Rib Beef in a Pumpkin ($38) was just that: chunks of tender short rib roasted in a whole pumpkin or Kambucha squash. When your server brings the dish to the table, he or she scoops the hunks of short rib out and then chops the pumpkin into manageable pieces. This is what I would do with our leftover Halloween pumpkin if I could. The short ribs are beefy, tender, and soul-satisfying, and the pieces of pumpkin lend a sweet counterpoint to the savory beef. This is a truly amazing and seriously delicious dish.

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So is the Roast Chicken with Garlic/Preserved Vegetable ($21 for the whole chicken, $10.95 for a half), which has crispy skin, tender white and dark meat, and these amazing garlicky preserved vegetables.

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The two crispy chicken dishes that had to be ordered in advance were unusual and just about as amazing. The House Special Crispy Chicken Stuffed with Sticky Rice ($38) is actually the skin of a whole deboned chicken, with all the flesh removed, that's been stuffed with sausage-studded sticky rice. Yes, it's $38, but it could easily feed four serious eaters by itself.

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The House Special Crispy Chicken Stuffed with Shrimp & Almond (Whole, $33, half $16) is a similar preparation, except the crispy skin is stuffed with shrimp paste.

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Jumbo Prawns with Fruit Salad ($18.95) are jumbo fried shrimp coated in a sweet mayonnaise-derived sauce, accompanied by steamed broccoli, canned pineapple, crunchy walnuts, and grape tomatoes. The breading of the prawns is a little too thick, so eating more than one or two of these not-light shrimp would be a mistake.

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Mixed Asian Mushroom over Bean Curd Rolls ($16.95) is more interesting than delicious, and had a curious smoky flavor.

In our two visits we only had a fraction of the 237 items on the amazing Amazing 66 dinner menu (there are an astounding 125 dishes on the much cheaper lunch menu). I look forward to returning to try the Clams or Scallops Casino, the House Baked Spare Ribs with Golden Sands (Garlic), and the Fried Squid, Scallop & Prawn with Spicy Salt & Pepper. Nasty Bits fans, taken note: Goose Intestine with Bitter Melon in Preserved Bean Sauce is also one of the chef's recommendations.

Don't all these dishes sound amazing?

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