Mission Chinese Food: Initial Reactions

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Stir-Fried Pork Jowl and Radishes [Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

At just over a week old, it's still way too early to give a full report on the new New York outpost of San Francisco's awesome Mission Chinese Food, but it's not too early to give some quick initial reactions.

Ed and I headed over there with a few friends last night to check out the new digs and the menu.

Fans of the original will see a lot of their favorites featured prominently, some exactly the same, most slightly modified to reflect availability of ingredients in New York, some vastly overhauled after Chef Danny Bowien's recent trips through Chengdu, China.

Some quick initial thoughts, mostly on the space, a bit about the food (we'll cover the food more extensively later):

Bad: Long-ass wait times (we waited nearly 1 1/2 hours for a five-top, after arriving at 6:15 on a Thursday).
Good: Free beer while-u-wait. That's right. They set up a keg of Narragansett and pass out little plastic cups for you to help yourself.

Bad: They ran out of plastic cups.
Good: One of the cooks from the open take-out window was nice enough to pass me a pint-sized deli container to sip out of.

Bad: The waiting area is small and gets very crowded, very fast.
Good: They do take-out service, which means that there's the potential to order take out, and sit right outside the door eating it in front of all the folks still waiting in line for a seat.

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Interior

Bad: Like the original, it's dim, dark, and raucous.
Good: The dimness, darkness, raucousness are there not as a self-conscious hipster move, but because there was obviously more attention paid to the food than anything else.

Bad: Low ceilings, small tables, hard seats.
Good: There's a DRAGON on the low ceiling.

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Chongqing Chicken Wings

Bad: We bumped elbows, backs, chairs, and all other manner of limbs and bodily extensions with our neighbors.
Good: Our friendly neighbors helped us finish off a mound of ultra-crisp, hot-and-tingly Chongqing Chicken Wings in exchange for letting us overflow a bit onto their table.

Bad: They haven't found a good source for sea urchin yet, so their awesome sea urchin custard comes without it.
Good: The sea urchin is replaced with sweet raw sea scallop and a big drizzle of Japanese mitsuba-infused oil.

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Mapo Tofu

Bad: Fans of the old mapo tofu at San Francisco's Mission Street Food will be disappointed, as the mapo tofu here has been completely overhauled into a new dish.
Good: The old mapo tofu was not good anyway. Now this is some seriously good Mapo Tofu. This is one of the dishes Chef Bowien says, "I made like 40 times with 40 different chefs in Chengdu and realized that it's not all just about the searing heat I was doing in San Francisco." The old one was one-dimensionally hot. The new one is deep, rich, and complex.

Bad: There's not too much bacon in the thrice-cooked bacon.
Good: What's there is ultra-smoky bacon from Benton's. Holy cow.

Bad: I'm... out of bad.
Good: Ridiculously affordable prices. Dishes from $4 to $13. I often do a double take at my restaurant bills because they end up getting out of hand. This time we did a double take at how inexpensive it was.

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Kung Pao Pastrami

Overall reaction? GO, AND GET THERE FAST AND EARLY.

As of yesterday, they started lunch service from 11:30 to 3pm every day. That's probably a better option.

Stay tuned for a full review down the line.

Mission Chinese Food

154 Orchard Street, New York, NY 10002 (map)
missionchinesefood.com/ny

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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