Note: This venue is now closed.
"You have to get the clay pot rice at Yummy Noodle," a friend told me recently. Okay, fair enough: when can we go for lunch? "No, we have to get it to go."
A visit to the Bowery restaurant and a 15 minute wait later (all the clay pot dishes are cooked to order, and take some time), I understood. The clay pot rice here isn't just a satisfying meal for two or three people; included in its whopping $7 to $10 price tag is the clay pot it's served in. That's right: food for a few bucks a head, plus a piece of Chinese cookware. It's like a souvenir mug from a theme restaurant, except you'll actually want to take it home. This has to be one of the best deals in Chinatown. The catch: you don't get the pot if you eat in, but you do if you order take out or delivery.
The rice itself is done well. A little too oily, sure, but the bottom and sides develop an excellent crust just on the right side of too burnt. When that crust soaks up some accompanying soy sauce, it's the best part of the meal. Toppings range from the conventional, like chicken and mushroom or beef and egg, to the exotic: frog, eel, and a few types of salted fish. Chicken and Mushroom ($7.25) featured super-savory chunks of skin-on, bone-in chicken, a little wobbly but plenty rich. The Minced Pork with Preserved Cabbage ($7.25) was a similarly intense disk of tender meat; more salty than porky, sure, but more than meaty enough.
Both toppings are a little skimpy for this volume of rice, and even with a pour of soy sauce, things can get a little monotonous. So a pro tip: get an order of Salted Fish Chicken and Eggplant in Casserole ($10.95; essentially a meal and a half of soft, garlicky eggplant in brown sauce with bits of chicken and the very slight funk of preserved fish) to mix in.
If it's a nice day, take your pot past the Manhattan bridge to the south end of the park between Chrystie and Grand. Eat on a park bench while old ladies play mahjong at one of the tables they monopolize. Once/if you ever finish, you'll be rewarded with a quite lovely, perfectly seasoned clay pot for home use. What to do with it? We have some ideas.
This isn't the best meal you can get in Chinatown, but it's a damn solid one, and it does crusty clay pot rice justice. Considering you'd have to pay around $10 for a clay pot without several meals of rice and meat, it's a ridiculously good deal.