380 Lafayette Street, New York NY 10012 (between 3rd and 4th; map); 212-533-7000; chinatownbrasserie.com
Veggie Options: Lots of vegetable dishes, a couple noodle dishes, and a few appetizers/dim sum
Cost: Entrees $14-16, dim sum $6-9, but most items are a few dollars cheaper at lunch
I had heard many good things about Chinatown Brasserie, but I didn't think such a thing could really exist. A fancy-looking Chinese restaurant above Houston Street? Wouldn't it just be overwrought, overpriced, gourmet-ified mediocrity? No, I'd been told; and all the things I heard were true.
It's definitely swanky and pricier than just about any Chinatown establishment, but for the quality of food you're getting, the price is totally justified. Chinatown Brasserie manages to bridge the gap between fresh, high-quality, well-executed cuisine, and simple, straightforward dishes. That is no small feat, or at least not easy to come by.
The Vegetable Potstickerss ($8) are one of my favorites of the dim sum items on the menu, and they would definitely kick butt in a potsticker-off. Filled with carrot, mushroom, corn, and other manner of vegetables, these also come with a perfect dipping sauce to douse them in.
The Eggplant with Spicy Garlic Sauce ($14) isn't very spicy, but it is saucy and flavorful. The eggplant has a silky smooth texture without any sliminess, and the sauce has none of that awful too-much-thickener syndrome. This may be a fairly common dish, but I have to say that Chinatown Brasserie does it better than anywhere else I've been.
Finally we got the Tofu Three Ways with Cauliflower and Broccoli ($16, pictured above). Both dried tofu and tofu puffs in miso are mixed together with vegetables, with a layer of seared soft tofu lying underneath it all. Compared with the eggplant it isn't nearly as flavorful, but it is still a well-composed dish of contrasting textures.
If anything, the meal left me wanting to try much more of their menu. Lesson to be learned: if you can, go with a group and order family-style. I had a very difficult time resisting the noodle dishes and other delicious-sounding things—as at many Chinese restaurants, this is best enjoyed by splitting up lot of dishes.
But wait, there's one last thing...
Chocolate fortune cookies. Now I'm usually not one to mess with tradition, but these are much tastier than the more common variety. Your last bite is certainly one to remind you that Chinatown Brasserie is no ordinary Chinese restaurant.