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Tasting San Francisco Import: Mission Chinese

September 1, 2012

Doesn’t it feel like lately there’s been an influx of outposts of non New York restaurants these days?  Pok Pok and Mission Chinese are two that have definitely garnered the most attention from critics as well as amateurs like us.  Just look at the hours long lines at these restaurants!  Not to mention the fact that on a Thursday night, Mission Chinese was able to accumulate a long enough wait list that they closed the list around 7.30PM for the night.  Mind boggling isn’t it?

So there we were on that particular Thursday night, a group of four, rather hungry after an almost a two hour wait.  Finally, we were ushered into the dining room, the inner sanctum of Mission Chinese like the chosen ones.  The sheer volume of relief and excitement we felt would have been misplaced and misdirected in any other situation but this was one of the hottest tickets in town this summer after all!

We were led through a narrow hall way past the kitchen where the staff was busy churning plates after plates into a red hued dining room.  There were so many tables already diving into their plates that I was pretty eager to do the same.  Especially after inhaling the Szechuan peppercorn dosed air.

We tide over our hunger with small bowls of Beijing vinegar peanuts and Sichuan pickled vegetables.  These were indeed very small but typical of dishes that are meant to be eaten while drinking.  Chinese bar snacks if you will.

I was immediately drawn to the savory egg custard with scallops, salmon roe and apple.  This sounds exactly like my cup of tea but just my luck, they had run out that night already.  So we made do with a few other selections from the menu.

The salted cod fried rice was quite a large plate.  The flavor was mild studded with bits of the salty cod and sweet Chinese sausage.  This understated dish reminded me of the rice that my grandmother used to make for me as an after school snack.

We were all pretty adventurous eaters so bring on the red braised pig tail!  Using root beer and pineapple to create a sweet sticky sauce, we were pretty happy with these little bites that reminded us of ribs.  Bonier ribs that is.

Broccoli beef brisket with smoked oyster sauce was an upscale take on the traditional Chinese restaurant dish.  A generous pile of crunchy Chinese broccoli buried practically all signs of the tender beef brisket slices.  The smoked oyster sauce was lost on my tongue but this was still a welcoming reprieve from what came next.

The next few parts of the meal can be summarized as the “alarmingly hot and spicy and numbing” portion of the meal.  First were the Chongqing chicken wings.  Crispy crunchy wings were buried under a pile of alarming looking red peppers, scattered with fried tripe that made for great snacks.  Those red peppers weren’t what was dangerous.  One bite of the wings, my tongue and lips started to tingle, unwilling to calm down.  I fought through and felt a bit of sweetness at the end.  Addicted to the pain, I couldn’t help but keep going between sips of the slightly sweet corn tea and rice.

Compared to the wings, the thrice cooked bacon was a much tamer dish.  Large chunks of salty bacon were tossed with toothsome rice cakes, tofu skin and bitter melon pieces.  This dish had that perfect balance of spice and flavor, making it one of my favorite dishes of the night.

Our last dish of the night brought the heat back.  The bowl of catfish a la Sichuan was Mission Chinese’s take on the ubiquitous dish found on many of the Szechuan restaurants in New York City.  The soup was best approached when it was slightly cooler to take the edge off the heat.  Even though the fish was fresh and the broth flavorful, this wasn’t that different from others I have had.

We did our best with the dishes that we had ordered, clearly a classic case of our eyes bigger than our stomachs.  Walking out into the still packed front door way of Mission Chinese, it felt as if we had come back from battle with beads of sweat on our foreheads and tongues still numb.  There were still plenty of diners patiently waiting for their turn while sipping on the free beer provided by the restaurant, with hardly any progress made.  I did notice however that throughout the night,  the takeout counter was getting quite a work out as well.  Perhaps that was the smarter choice.  Instead of standing on the sidewalks for over 2 hours, it is probably better to grab an order of the thrice cooked bacon and the broccoli and brisket to eat at the comfort of your own home.

Mission Chinese Food | 154 Orchard Street, New York, NY 10002 | http://www.missionchinesefood.com/ny/

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