If you found this blog by Googling my name or by following sundry noxious links (you know where), please note that all claims that I was fired from my job are 100% false, as are most of the other things written about me. I don't know the people who are libeling me, but it's clear they have some imaginary axe to grind and way too much time.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Me So Hung Ry...Not

In the food world, it seems like there is a fine line between having a philosophy and taking yourself too seriously, and another between trying something new and deploying a marketing gimmick. I am constantly trying to parse restaurants along these axes, obsessed with divining the ingredients of success and failure.

When it comes to Chinese restaurants, I am especially obsessed. I feel that ours is a cuisine equal to if not greater than France or Japan's, yet in the United States, Chinese food is pitifully relegated to the lowest rung within the already-peripheral bucket of "ethnic food." We are known for inventing delivery and keeping the MSG market afloat; for tacky menus (accumulating on the floor) and unnaturally glistening stock photos; for cockroaches and grease traps; for corn starch and brown sauce; for names containing the words "garden," "palace," and "imperial" in Wonton font.

So, I think constantly about what makes a good Chinese restaurant because I want nothing short of a complete Chinese food renaissance: high-quality, value-oriented, and accessible. Where are our bistros and brasseries, izakayas and trattorias? People - it was really hard to resist saying "comrades" - we can do better than this bullshit:

So, after reading glowing reviews practically everywhere, I was pretty interested in trying Hung Ry, the new hand-pulled noodle shop on Bond St. I convinced a skeptical Eddie Huang to come along...and all I really ate for dinner was crow.

I should have known that buying Chinatown talent and putting it in Limoges china falls squarely on the wrong side of every fine line.

Certainly, the name is already enough to merit a side-eye. When Eddie tries to work that kind of humor, Racialicious writes a whole post unpacking it, and he’s Asian! Then there was the admission that whiteboy couldn’t learn how to make the noodles himself. Ok, maybe that’s a smart move, maybe even humble, but again, if you’re going to move hand-pulled noodles to NoHo and charge me $18 a bowl (and dammit the actual Chinese guy in this operation, the one actually making your noodles - he better be a partner), you should at least pick up your end of the slack!

Because the noodles themselves were great: masterfully chewy, springy, delightful. Apparently in NYC, this and a foodie-baiting menu (OXTAIL! LIVER! MARROW!) are enough to earn accolades from NYM, NYT, Village Voice, and even Lucky Rice. But noodles alone can’t carry a noodle soup. The broth part of this partnership had no smell, no taste, and no body; everything tasted so flat I dumped a ton of house-made chili sauce into my bowl, and then it just tasted flat and spicy. Then again, you have to stink up the air to make a decent bone broth, and that probably doesn’t fly if you’re trying to do the sexy NoHo open-kitchen thing.

Maybe it was an off night. I only went once.

Still, the bigger problem for me was conceptual. Why would anyone float giant gobs of bone marrow in broth? I didn't think I could not love bone marrow, but it turns out I don’t love eating nuggets of slimy, flavorless fat, which is what the product had been reduced to by such uninspired treatment. So I left them floating there, the sad, misguided marshmallows, which of course hurt my Chinese heart.
Aiya, this is so un-Chinese!

I hate thinking that. Like I said, I get excited when people color outside the lines. I don't even believe in authenticity, because all cuisines are dynamic. But I guess I do believe in staying true to the spirit of things, in sound philosophy. Chinese food, like all great cuisines, is about balance. No discordant ingredients, no spiky flavors. This is not so much dogma as plain logic: cooking is synthesis.
In the end, only the New Yorker got it right by my book:
If you like your macaroni and cheese drizzled with truffle oil, your French fries fried in duck fat, and foie gras in your banh mi, you might make a beeline for Hung Ry"
Hung Ry is a gilded lily that will smell sweet to a certain type of foodie. But it ain't me.