Although there’s a beautiful pricey steak – Creekstone Farms rib eye in a tenderizing marinade of fresh papaya and soy, the real draw for the neighborhood is the stuff that’s most recognizably Chinese, given the dearth of good Sino restaurants nearby.
That relative conservatism is at play at the relaunched Mission Chinese, trading in beer kegs, paper dragons and a cramped, dive-punk Orchard Street basement for smart cocktails, banquet-hall booths and an ample, gleaming dining room in the far reaches of Chinatown.
That inescapable hour-long wait for a table can be spent in the downstairs bar, but the real party is upstairs—a lively hodgepodge of bespectacled food disciples and beanie-clad millennials spinning lazy Susans loaded with pork cheeks and turnip cakes while golden-age hip-hop pumps through the room. It’s a rollicking good time, sure, but a wildly inconsistent one.
I can’t stay away from Chinese food. I really love that stuff.
The Scoville-crushing chicken wings ($13) have retained their unmerciful, skin-rippling heat, but other Bowien-fan favorites have had their burners turned down: The kung pao pastrami ($14) is a flickering flame compared to the four-alarm-chili roar it once was.
The menu expands from those oldies with 30-plus new dishes, many of which show Bowien—with executive chef Angela Dimayuga—hasn’t wholly lost his edge. A tin of anchovies, served with tartine flatbread ($12.50) blistered via a wood oven inherited from former tenant Rosette, packs a power punch of pickled chili and crunchy fennel seed. It’s salty, spicy and impossible to stop picking at.
The whole-smoked pork jowl ($35) is over-the-top lardy—one bite satisfies your fat quota for the day. Better are the Jurassic salt-and-pepper lamb rib tips ($37), soft and lax on the bone. Slick a piece of flatbread with kefir crème fraîche, then pile on a few shreds of lamb and a zippy bread-and-butter pickle—it’s Mission-gone-Moroccan, and staunchly, singularly Bowien.
Point of view has never been the chef’s problem—he’s got personality in spades. But that freewheeling, dip-a-toe gumption often translates to a lack of focus. There’s simply too much going on here: a sea-urchin-stocked raw bar, a roaming prime-rib cart and, most egregiously, pizza ($14)—a soggy, passable pie added to the menu simply because of that wood oven’s existence. The old idiom applies: Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.