Sunday, February 17, 2013

Good Things Happening in Manhattan Chinatown

Like most observers of Chinese food in New York, I have dismissed the quality of Chinese food in Manhattan Chinatown as compared to that in Flushing, Brooklyn, or even to some of the Chinese restaurants in Manhattan outside of Chinatown.  And while there still are no longer any real destination Chinese restaurants in Manhattan Chinatown, there are signs based on recent openings of several good and interesting Chinese restaurants that things may be turning around  there.

Most of these new options are flying under the publicity radar and represent a departure from the traditional restaurants of Manhattan Chinatown, creating their own little niches   A good example is Cha Chan Tang at 45 Mott Street.  This may already be the busiest and most popular Chinese restaurant in Chinatown.  Yet there has been virtually no mention of Cha Chan Tang in the food press or even the food message boards.  This may be in part due to the fact that Cha Chan Tang serves Hong Kong style cafe food, which might not rate the level of discussion among foodies that other types of food might.  On the other hand, Cha Chan Tang's menu has an entire section of fabulous Yunnan Fish Broth Noodle Soup selections, which clearly deserves widespread attention by itself.

A lot of the negative opinions about food in New York Chinatown arise from the fact that it hasn't kept up with the evolution of Chinese food in the 21st Century in both Asia and North America.  However, one new restaurant bucking this trend is Mottzar Kitchen at 70 Mott St.  Influenced by master New York chef Joe Ng, Mottzar has a creative Hong Kong style menu that includes smoked salmon in eggplant tempura,  black bass  avocado crackers, egg white with crab meat, goose web with sea cucumber, teriyaki lamb chops and lobster with truffles.  Still, the reaction to Mottzar seems not to be that favorable.  First of all, is the pricing, perhaps as much as 50 percent more expensive than what locals are used to paying in Chinatown.  Also some of these newfangled dishes are probably a shock to a community that had not experienced the gradual evolution of Hong Kong style food in the past 10 to 15 years that people in Hong Kong, Canada and California have.

Another under the radar Hong Kong style cafe is Full House Cafe at 97 Bowery.  Full House Cafe incredibly has over 400 items on their menu (don't be fooled by the fact that dishes on its menu are numbered up to 564), including around 40 dim sum items.  Indeed their dim sum (menu, not carts, of course) is as good as any in Manhattan Chinatown.  But you can't call it the best dim sum restaurant in Chinatown since dim sum constitutes only 10 percent of the menu.

Then there's Lee Chung Cafe, located at 82 Madison St.   Lee Chung Cafe is located in the grittiest part of Chinatown, where even newly opened restaurants look like they've been in business for 40 years.  In contrast, Lee Chung Cafe is modern and airy, and would fit in quite well on Mott St. or Canal St. or even Valley Blvd. in San Gabriel, but is certainly out of place where it is located.  Its eclectic menu includes Hong Kong style street food and numerous boba drinks for the younger set.  When I went there they were serving ramen soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, Burmese fish soup, croissants and Hong Kong style toast, but who knows what's on the menu today?.

Noodle Village at 13 Mott St., another jam packed restaurant, serves various noodle dishes and perhaps the best clay pot rice in Chinatown.  Cutting Board, 53 Bayard, serves Chinese style Italian food, as well as lobster rolls and lobster topped beef sliders, and brings a fresh twist to Chinatown. Spicy Village at 68B Forsyth Ave., formerly known as He Nan Flavor, introduces Henan style food to Chinatown.  Notable dishes include various meat pancakes (essentially flatbread sandwiches), big plate chicken, and hand pulled noodles.  The restaurant has been discovered by the hipster crowd, too, and I don't know if that's a good thing or not.   Then there's Diamond Hill Cafe at 147 Canal St., which for want of a better description is the "Asian Chipotle," offering build your own burritos and tacos with Chipotle like condiments but Asian fillings.  Biting into my tofu burrito, I thought to myself "tastes like Chipotle."  Also worth noting is the reopening of Yogee Restaurant as 85 Chinese Restaurant at 85 Chrystie St., whose closing down a few months ago I had previously lamented.

Last mention should go to the over the radar Xi'an Famous Foods  at 67 Bayard St., this is a marvelous story of a restaurant lifted from the obscurity of the basement of the working class Golden Mall on Main Street in Flushing into the East Village and Brooklyn, as well as Manhattan Chinatown.  Despite their crossover success, there's no doubt that their lamb noodles and lamb burgers are good and authentic. 

So if you want to hold a banquet in Manhattan Chinatown, I'm still not sure what to tell you.  But for a good and interesting meal, the choices are expanding. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Raise Los Angeles Sales Tax Rate to 9.5% To Pay For City Employee Raises? I Don't Think So

While California launched the anti-tax movement with the passage of the Proposition 13 limit on property taxes back in the 1970s, the recent passage of Proposition 30 shows that Californians will take a thoughtful approach to selectively increasing taxes.  Consequently, along those lines a potential half cent sales tax increase in the city of Los Angeles  to close a massive budget deficit seemed like it could be a reasonable measure.  That is until today's Los Angeles Times article indicating that most of the revenue raised would be used to fund pay raises for Los Angeles city workers.  Pay raises???  In light of the recent attention on bloated public employee pensions throughout California, we have scheduled pay raises coming up for Los Angeles city workers?

Now it's understandable that city workers would like a pay increase, given that their wages have not gone up recently.  However there is one overriding factor that makes a pay increase ludicrous in these tough financial times.  In the city of Los Angeles, the minimum annual pay for full time city workers is $40,000 a year.  That's minimum pay, not average pay.  (A recent report did show one Los Angeles city employee earning a little under $40,000, but I presume that has since been remedied.)  Not to demean the individual, hard working employees of our city, but I would presume that there are some city of Los Angeles employment positions that would equate to minimum wage jobs in private industry.  Consequently it is alarming to see that minimum pay for city of Los Angeles workers is more than double the minimum wage in private industry.  Indeed, that same report noted window washers working for the city of Los Angeles earning in excess of $50,000 a year.

It is obviously clear why Los Angeles is facing such a budget shortfall, with bloated employee pensions and bloated employee salaries.  So who would come up with the idea of solving the gap by raising the sales tax, as opposed, maybe, to cutting labor costs.  Obviously, only government officials who are beholden to the city public employee unions, and not the taxpayers of the city of Los Angeles.