This Chinese/Southeast Asian restaurant from the folks behind Bottino opened just a short while ago, yet no one seems to have heard about it. No media campaign, no major countdown on local blogs or magazines, no push on Twitter. Searching "chop shop" on Google brings up places to get your hair trimmed or your stolen car disassembled. We stumbled on it making our way up Tenth Avenue to check out the Kobra mural. An age-old question asks, if a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? Living in Manhattan means we can't rightly answer, but we can say that a restaurant that opened to little fanfare is kicking it in Chelsea.
On menus such as the one at Chop Shop, it can be hard to tell what to order when. There are no "starters," no "entrees," just a list of dishes and their prices. As it happens, the cheaper dishes came first, followed by the pricier ones, a result of how we requested the food, rather than any kind of official order. Two dishes per person seemed about right to us.
The pan-fried vegetable dumplings ($8) came out about fifteen seconds after we ordered them. Such quickness often bodes poorly, but, man, were these dumplings fresh. Chopped cabbage, chives, shiitake mushrooms, and bok choy tasted as if they had been sun-dappled and blowing in the breeze just minutes before we sat down.
As for the pork belly bun ($8), the steamed bun offered good give, the springiness, slight tackiness, and chew you want from a bun. The rich, fatty pork belly invokes its usual salivating, while the Taiwanese-style ground peanuts lend the whole thing a subtle but satisfying crunch. When mentioning pork belly buns, it seems requisite to compare them to David Chang's, but we'll just say that there's room enough in our hearts and stomachs for both.
We'd like to propose renaming the braised short rib ($20) "umami on the bone." If the so-called fifth taste is your thing, then this is your dish. The meat needed just a whisper of encouragement to fall onto the plate. Oh, the power we wielded.
Deep fried in the shell, salt and pepper shrimp ($13) arrived tail up, a flower of flavor. The sea salt went to spicy war with the pepper and green chilies, emerging victorious after a riotous battle. With no time to gloat, the salt set about returning the de-shelled shrimp to their briny home.
We ate inside the minimalist dining room, with its artfully chipped whitewashed walls and metal chairs. Above us hung a huge sign, advertising something on Ludlow Street. Outside, in the garden, bamboo swayed in the slight breeze. That's where you want to be in the early evening, post-gallery but pre-sunset on the High Line. For years, Chinese in Chelsea has meant Grand Sichuan, or more recently Legend, both spots slicked with spice and a frenzied vibe. A block or so away from Grand Sichuan, Chop Shop offers peace, calm, and fusion. With its quietude and humility, it's best for: an unassuming date.