This week's opening of Mantao Chinese Sandwiches (formerly known as Province Canteen) in Midtown East fulfilled my latent desire for sandwiches made with mantao, the soft, fluffy Chinese steamed bun with a hint of sweetness. After looking over the recommendations from Midtown Lunch readers, the Serious Eats office sampled some of the goods. Here are our first impressions.
The sandwiches range from $2.50 to $4.50. They're dainty things—you'd probably want two for a meal, although one makes a nice snack. The soft and fluffy sesame seed-topped bread is the best part about the sandwiches. The fillings, while not bad, are less memorable (right now, at least; hopefully they'll improve with time). If you're a fan of Momofuku's various bun sandwiches, you won't find the same level of tastiness here, but you'll get more variety.
Fried egg and Chinese sausage ($3.50, $2.50 without sausage): This sandwich featured two of my favorite ingredients; there wasn't any way I couldn't like it. Fried eggs with runny yolks tend to make anything taste better, and I especially liked the fresh flavor added by the crunchy cucumber and cilantro. No part of this sandwich really stood out (as would be the case for the other sandwiches)—it would've been better if the sausage had been fattier and more moist—but considering that there are few competitors (if any) in the egg-and-Chinese-sausage-sandwich market, it's worth trying if these ingredients strike a cord with you.
Spicy Pork ($3.95): This was the all-around favorite. The pickled daikon was a nice contrast from the slices of not-especially-spicy pork (a bottle of Sriracha on the table would help in this department).
Spicy Mackerel ($4.50): Again, not all that spicy. You'd have to like especially fishy things to enjoy this sandwich, which I do, although not enough to pay $4.50.
Angus Beef Burger with Spicy Sambal Sauce ($4.50): You can't expect this to taste like anything resembling a typical burger—it's good as a sandwich of ground beef patty (unfortunately overcooked) topped with spicy sauce and cucumber slices.
All of the non-sandwich items we tried were fine, but seemed a smidge overpriced. Sandwiches are the best bet.
Cold Sesame Noodles with Sweet and Spicy Tofu ($7.50): The noodles were topped with shredded cucumber, carrot, firm tofu (in addition to the marinated spicy tofu), and egg. Overall, it tasted okay—not great or bad. I wasn't a fan of the noodles, which I could only think to describe as lifeless. After reading Michele Humes' recipe, I'd rather put in the effort to make it at home.
Pancake Roll with Shredded Beef ($5.95): You may not be able to tell from the photo, but this was small. Really small. "How the hell did this cost $5.95?" small. Although I liked the thin, chewy pancake and the flavor of the beef combined with pickled vegetables, it's not worth the price, especially considering that it's about as filling (or less so) as one of their sandwiches.
Spicy Wontons (5 for $5.50): Probably the only protein out of everything we tried that was juicy (as opposed to merely "not dry"). Tasty when smothered in the spicy, oily sauce, but again, it didn't seem to be worth the price.