Since Sichuan cuisine first appeared in Chinatown around 1970, it has gradually become the most popular Chinese cuisine in the city. At the same time, food in other parts of China like Shanghai, Hunan, Yunnan, Dongbei, Qingdao, and Xi’an has also gained popularity. Meanwhile, New York’s own version of Cantonese – with a history dating back to the mid-19th century – has waned in popularity over the years. The pandemic hasn’t seemed to help as New York’s Chinatowns have been hit hard by COVID and anti-Asian violence. Over the past decade, I’ve also watched neighborhood Chinese restaurants being replaced by other types of establishments like Thai and Japanese looking to capture the explosion in the take-out and delivery trade.
But now, Cantonese cuisine has come back with a bang. It appears in a newer version that brings the cuisine up to date with dishes newly imported from Guangdong, Hong Kong and Beijing itself – where Cantonese is still considered the country’s most respected cuisine, sought after for banquets. and special occasions.
Wu’s Wonton King (2016) and August Gatherings (2019) were the precursors to the current trend. Wu’s kept traditional Cantonese and Chinese-American dishes, but added upscale dishes, from rack of lamb in black pepper sauce to razor clams with black beans. Then August Gatherings improvised on a traditional menu with fine Western ingredients like shavings of truffles and dollops of caviar. Red hot Bonnie’s in Williamsburg is another establishment inspired by Canto classics.
Recently, I visited four new restaurants that have further modernized New York Cantonese cuisine.
Entering Chinatown on a struggling block of Mulberry in December, Uncle Lou caused a stir with long queues during Lunar New Year as dragons and drums cavorted outside. The artsy interior — with giant squares of green foliage on bare brick walls and quirky paintings — looked as much like a hip bistro as it did a traditional Chinatown restaurant.
A fascinating section of the menu called low wah kiu (“old ones”) seeks to bring historical Guangdong dishes to life. One highlight is the “homemade chenpi duck” ($14.95), which verifies the name of the dried tangerine peel that flavors the sauce.
Another is the Garlic Chive Beef ($26.95). Uncle Lou uses premium, well-marbled, cooked medium-rare beef tenderloins to modernize this dish. It also contains an equal amount of crunchy garlic chives – which ultimately contributes to the excellence of the dish as the succulent meat does. 73 Mulberry Street, between Bayard and Canal streets, Chinatown
The name means “double happiness”, referring to weddings, birthdays and other events that can be celebrated in the banquet halls. And indeed, the interior of the Chelsea space offers scattered photo opportunities, including a display of vintage cameras, a wall of colorful silk scarves, and a backdrop that makes it look like you’re in. a traditional banquet hall.
At its heart, Hey Yuet, which opened in mid-November, is a Hong Kong-style Cantonese restaurant, with half its menu devoted to a modern collection of dim sum served all day, similar to Tim Ho Wan . It includes pristine standards like prawn har gow and rice noodle rolls in the usual permutations, but also new standards like black steamed bao with powdered charcoal coloring dough and sheets of rice. gold painted on top. Cut one and a filling of salted egg yolk will come out of it.
The same salted egg yolk coats strips of ground poultry in Chicken Overlord ($20), the name suggesting the cost of this dish could only be paid by an oligarch. Indeed, there are plenty of Hong Kong-style flourishes on the solid menu of casseroles and stir-fries, including the Maggi prawns: giant head beauties saucy with the Swiss-made broth; and beef chow delight with XO spicy sauce instead of the usual brown sauce. Distinguished varieties of tea (about $7) served in decorative pots encourage parties to linger (hint: don’t miss the da hong pao (“red dress”) tea, with its subtle scent of orchids). 251 West 26th Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues, Chelsea
Grand Master 95 recently opened on Chrystie Street in very modest premises, but with an ambitious menu that ranges from Chinese-American favorites like sesame chicken and broccoli beef to funky house-style offal, including four courses made from pig intestines; to more expensive seafood, such as whole fish and crabs. Nevertheless, among the new Cantonese restaurants described here, it is the one whose menu most closely resembles that of traditional restaurants in Chinatown.
Curiously, dim sum is almost completely ignored, while live and expensive sea fish like sea bass are available by the pound with a choice of five cooking methods, including steaming with ginger and chives. yellow, perhaps the quintessential Cantonese treatment for sea fish. 95 Chrystie Street, between Hester and Grand streets, Chinatown
So have fun
The bright monochrome interior could be mistaken for an airport cocktail bar with its red lanterns, banquettes, and walls encrusted with mahjong tile panels. Neon signs glow with slogans and a bathroom is decorated with lucky tokens. So Do Fun, an elision of a slang term for Sichuan Province plus the owner’s name (Fung), is the first US branch of a chain of 90 locations based in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong, featuring the Sichuan cuisine with Cantonese flavors.
That said, about half of the dishes are straight Sichuan, like a perfect double-cooked pork belly sautéed with chewy leeks and fermented black beans; and maoxue wang ($24.95), a lake of red chili oil, crushed red chilies and Sichuan peppercorns dancing with pork liver, tripe and heart with bonus boards of spam and twisted little cookies that are all the rage in Beijing and Flushing.
But the balance of the menu features more subtle Cantonese dishes in its modern form, including a plate of shrimp lo mein and a bowl of wonton soup ($7.95) with the palest broth that doesn’t distract from the dumplings. of gauze. While lo mein could have been sent by taxi from any of Chinatown’s old Cantonese establishments, wonton soup contrasts sharply in its ethereal lightness with its Chinese-American counterpart (see the version at Grand Masters, below). above). And it shows how the soup may have evolved over a century as it moved from the old world to the new. No wonder the Chinese-American version is much warmer. 155 Third Avenue, between 15th and 16th Streets, Union Square