It appears that the comment in my 10 Best Chinese Restaurants article (which actually wasn't written for publication, but was a prefatory aside accompanying the article submission) that New York Chinese food is mired in the 1990s has rankled a lot of observers on the East Coast. But as I have subsequently explained, anybody familiar with the San Gabriel Valley will understand the breadth and depth of Chinese food here, and in contrast anyone who hasn't been to the San Gabriel Valley cannot imagine what it's like. But it's not like 1990s Chinese food in the U.S. was bad. It was quite good, just not as good as what you can get in California these days. So my comment was not meant to say that New York Chinese food isn't any good.
Actually I have been waiting, indeed expecting for quite a few years, for something like Koi Palace or Sea Harbour or Elite, or heck even Happy Harbor or Mission 261 to open up in New York. And perhaps it did. A few years ago a heralded restaurant called World Tong opened up in Brooklyn, and reports indicate that it was of the same ilk as the top Chinese restaurants in California and perhaps worthy of a Top 10 berth. However, by the time I made it to World Tong, chef Joe Ng was gone to Chinatown Brasserie in SoHo, and it certainly could not maintain Joe Ng's magic. And now World Tong is gone altogether. Chinatown Brasserie did turn out to be the best Chinese restaurant I had eaten at in New York City, but its split clientele seems to have prevented it from achieving true greatness.
But while Chinatown Brasserie at least gave New York a contender for a destination Chinese restaurant, I learn that it has closed down as of a couple of weeks ago, replaced at its Lafayette St. location by a non-Chinese eatery. It is supposed to re-open in the near future at another location, but such a proclamation, like the statement that a Chinese restaurant "is closed for remodeling" often turns out to mask a fatal condition. And Chinatown Brasserie's closing isn't the only blow to the standing of New York Chinese food. Earlier this year, Manhattan Chinatown's South China Garden, fka Cantoon Garden, fka New Pearl River, closed down because it lost its lease. South China Garden was truly a San Gabriel Valley quality restaurant, one which Mrs. Chandavkl looked forward to eating at multiple times every time we visited New York. (And even in the San Gabriel Valley, Mrs. Chandavkl finds relatively few restaurants to her liking.) And oh yeah, my next favorite Chinese restaurant in New York, Yogee on Chrystie St., also closed down recently due to a rent hike. So with my personal top three rated Chinese restaurants in New York all having closed this year, the gap between California and New York has grown, even though one would otherwise expect the gap to narrow.
At this point, if you asked me to recommend one or two Chinese restaurants in New York, I'm not sure if I could single any out. Perhaps Szechwan Gourmet in Midtown, as it does surpass any Sichuan style food in California. Maybe Hunan Manor, but I am highly skeptical of the combination of “Hunan” and “New York” for a couple of reasons. First of all, New York unleashed the faux “Hunan” style food in the 1970s, which is something that continues to plague Americanized Chinese food throughout the United States to this day. Secondly, authentic Hunan style food is such a new concept in New York, having been present for just a couple of years, compared the 20 years’ experience for that cuisine in Los Angeles where it is currently served in 10 or more locations, such that I’m not sure it has had time to season. (Pun intended.) And possibly Red Farm, with the Joe Ng tradition, though the only time I made it to their location they were closed.
And it's possible that things will get worse. The food blog Lauhound has recently identified Danny Ng's Restaurant in the 50 Bowery building as a possible successor to South China Garden as a go to destination in New York Chinatown. However it turns out that Danny Ng's sits on the same parcel of land as was occupied by South China Garden on Elizabeth Street. And that site is where a 27 story hotel and condominium complex is being readied for development starting next year. Not only would that also take Danny Ng's with it, but possibly some other fairly decent Chinese eateries along Bowery and Elizabeth. Also, with what strikes me as a Fujianese dominance of a good portion of the Chinese restaurant industry in New York, perhaps that breakthrough in Chinese cuisine might not be forthcoming after all.