Chinese food, American-Chinese food, and Mission Chinese Food are three very, very different entities. Chinese food as prepared in China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan is in my opinion superior to any Chinese food you will find in the U.S. Each region has its own specialties and traditions developed over thousands of years: fishcake wrapped meatballs from Fuzhou, crispy duck from Beijing, stinky tofu from Taiwan. At a Chinese banquet there is an endless procession of sophisticated flavors.
American-Chinese food is it’s own separate thing, Chinese food co-opted for an American palate. But I like this kind of food also, especially from a take-out joint like Hon’s Wok in St. Louis, which serves breaded and deep-fried Sesame Chicken in a sticky, sweet red sauce with sesame seeds sprinkled on top, the combination of which will induce a carb- and MSG-laced coma. However, ask for “Sesame Chicken” in a traditional Chinese restaurant and you will be met with blank stares. These dishes are wholly made up in the U.S., and they are satisfying in their own way.
Mission Chinese Food has received a ton of local and national press, because of chef Danny Bowien’s creative re-interpretation of Chinese food, and because of its pedigree as an offshoot of the successful Mission Street Food project that was documented in the inspiring book by Anthony Myint and Karen Liebowitz. I wanted to share my experience having had several meals at MCF over the past one and a half years, especially now with the news that Chef Danny Bowien is leaving for New York City.
The dishes at MCF are very forward-thinking and have a ton of bold flavors. Different takes on a roasted and fried pork belly have been served, including one dish with rice noodles and ginger scallion, and another with pineapple and cucumber, perhaps the SF response to David Chang’s Momofuku Pork Belly Buns. MCF makes use of unusual ingredients for Chinese food, like pastrami and potatoes in their Kung Pao Pastrami dish. There is a great rendition of a rice porridge with bits of beef, Dungeness crab, and slow-cooked egg. The tea-smoked eel is a standout, with crunchy eel wrapped in rice noodles. Another favorite is Thrice Cooked Bacon, with Rice Cakes, sweet chewy Tofu Skin, and Bitter Melon. So much flavor! They got a smoker and started veering way over into American BBQ, serving a white bread BBQ platter with Coca-cola BBQ sauce. Since there are always new additions and subtractions to the menu, there are many other dishes I have unfortunately missed. Some flavor profiles are not for everyone – for example, the cold savory egg custard with uni and trout roe. Many of the dishes have heat from chili peppers and Szechuan peppercorns, which are really pungent.
There seems to be many hipsters and foodies who come to MCF, and thus MCF has introduced some Chinese ingredients, like Chinese sausage, rice noodles, and rice porridge, to a new audience. Customers expecting more traditional Chinese food or American-Chinese Food will be challenged. Still, I would much rather come here and try Chef Bowien’s latest creation than go to almost any other restaurant serving “rustic” Northern California cuisine for another iteration of beef short rib, pork chop, chicken breast, salmon, or vegetarian risotto. Chinese food continues to evolve in the hands of creative chefs like Danny Bowien who are willing to experiment, and I am glad to be part of the audience. Highly recommended.
The New York Times also published several recipes like Rice Porridge with Dungeness Crab, Chicken and Soft-Cooked Egg.
Link to coolcookstyle’s visit to Mission Chinese NYC here.