After a few meals at Cantina I can feel the dedication and energy going into the restaurant. But the crushing ordinariness of the food suggests it's not enough. Petite, overstuffed tacos, high on style, are wan in the punch-to-the-gut flavors that made Bowien's name. Housemade Oaxacan cheese, bland as grocery store mozzarella and plated with some useless greens, is head-scratching. The question to ask at this early stage isn't "is it good," but rather, "would we be talking about it if it were owned by someone besides Danny Bowien?"
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The Fourth Annual Lucky Rice Festival—a week-long event celebrating Asian cuisine—officially kicked off last night with a "dumpling party" featuring some amazing bites from chef Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese Food. There were not only dumplings but also noodles, meatballs, and even the rogue tostada. Despite any seeming differences, the dishes were all united in deliciousness.
It's not every restaurant that can cross the nation without losing something along the way. But this proved to be a good summer for cult favorite West Coast Asian restaurants landing in New York. Our expectations were high for Mission Chinese Food, but after repeated visits—and we've done the walk over to Orchard and Rivington quite a few times by now—we've been delighted again and again.