If you've lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan as long as I have (we're talking 35 years here), you can understand the neighborhood's excitement anticipating the opening of the Upper West Side branch of RedFarm.
Full disclosure: I have known RedFarm honcho-restaurateur and ultimate Chinese food maven Ed Schoenfeld for more than 30 years now, ever since he used to seat me at Shun Lee Palace as the only non-Chinese maitre d' in the late '70's when I worked at Warner Brothers Records. But you don't have to know Ed to a) appreciate just how much he knows about Chinese food and b) how good a Chinese chef Joe Ng, the man behind the stove at RedFarm, is. Ng is a great Chinese cook, deeply steeped in Chinese cooking traditions and yet not a slave to them. And as I've said before, Ng is the best dumpling chef I know of in New York.
Although this post is nothing remotely resembling a review of the restaurant—I was there on opening day and was recognized on my way in—my meal was encouraging enough to send me back for meals once a week, especially if RedFarm improves over time the way good restaurants do. The dumplings were killer, the fried things were crunchy and greaseless, and the wok-cooked dishes were for the most part spot-on. Here's a look at some dishes on the menu.
The Shrimp and Snow Pea Leaf Dumplings ($12 for four) are one of Ng's signatures from the downtown restaurant, and they're in great form here: delicate wrappers cooked slightly al dente without being chewy and a fresh, clean-tasting filling. Pac Man Dumplings ($12.50 for four) come in four variations: shrimp and crab, yellow leek, lobster, and bamboo shoots, another strong showing. You'll also find eyes on the Shrimp, Beef, and Spinach Dumplings ($9 for two large), perhaps overly cutesy if they didn't also deliver on flavor.
Vegetarian mushroom and vegetable Spring Rolls come two to an order for $9, held upright in a cucumber. They're served with a "Chinese guacamole," which was a surprising treat. A meatier appetizer of Spicy Crispy Beef ($16) doesn't break new ground, but it's a well-executed version of the classic dish.
In a dish of Neuske's Bacon and Egg Fried Rice ($16), the bacon was smoky and the egg comes out tender, well scrambled into the rice. Wide Rice Noodles ($27) came with duck breast featuring perfectly crisp, laquered skin.
Raw fish makes a couple appearances on the menu. Tuna with Crispy Noodles ($16) featured raw tuna with jicama, said crispy noodles, and fresh shelled soybeans. There's nothing recognizably Chinese about it, and I could have done without the blueberries dotting the side, but it worked nonetheless. Smoked Salmon with Eggplant "Bruschetta" ($10 for two) is a riff on Wolfgang Puck's smoked salmon pizza served in crisp fried eggplant. Like the tuna, there's also nothing Chinese about it, but no complaints.
RedFarm is currently only open for lunch until 5 p.m. Dinner service and takeout should come later this month. If you pay a visit, let us know what you think.