When The Insatiable Palate began to take off last winter, I became infatuated with the idea of fine dining to a point where I began to lose sight of what my original goal was. I started alienating people who couldn’t deal with my irrational dining expenses. I inevitably became the condescending asshole who thought it was best for you to be ashamed of what you were eating because his dinner was inevitably going to be more expensive, more gourmand.
My first basket of pork soup dumplings at Shanghai Café helped me understand that my mission wasn’t to find the most luxurious meals. The original objective was to find new restaurants that my friends could approach and enjoy for themselves. The pictures were supposed to create memories and allow my parents to stress out about how fat I was going to become once my metabolism started slowing down.
I’m beginning to dedicate more of my dining towards comfort food. Bo ssam, samgyupsal, Mama Cho’s kimchi, naeng myun, Popeyes Fried Chicken, and Chinese cuisine are always there for me. I also recently discovered that the many of the dishes at Mission Chinese are new additions to my examples of comfort food. Let’s begin.
At the beginning of your meal at Mission Chinese, your server might inform you that many of the dishes are very hot. Correct me if I’m wrong, but on the MCF NY Menu, the spiciness level is indicated by the number of ass cheeks shitting out fire. The numbingly-spicy “mala” effect comes from the wonderful Sichuan chilies and peppercorns that produce a lingering, mentally stimulating kick. This is a much more pleasant experience than eating fiery Hell’s Inferno buffalo wings. In movie analogy, this is less Texas Chainsaw Massacre and more The Ring.
This tastes like home. The thrice cooked bacon is fragrant, salty and the rice cakes are soft yet chewy (in a great way). It’s like the ganjang tteokbokki (pan fried rice cakes in soy sauce) that Mama Cho used to make. This is one of the few times when I will gravitate towards rice cakes than the bacon. Meat-loving Americans often turn away from ingredients like tofu and rice cakes because it practically has no taste (if cooked improperly). At Mission Chinese Food, the enjoyment of the bacon pieces will eventually run into the law of diminishing returns. On the contrary, the savory rice cakes are nonstop fun in your mouth and belly.
Every other table was ordering the Kung Pao Pastrami. It’s one of Mission Chinese’s signature dishes. The pastrami arrives with piping hot peanuts, celery, potato and chilis. I remember our waitress specifically telling us that the dish was going to be extremely spicy. However, it didn’t taste as nearly as hot as I anticipated. The two warning signs are somewhat of an exaggeration. Nonetheless, the pastrami is tender and the potatoes and peppers flow vibrantly throughout the taste buds. I can’t decide whether my meat-centric tendencies are coming to an end or the vegetables at Mission Chinese are unbelievably….exciting. I feel nauseous just thinking about loving vegetables more than pork.
The eel similarly resembles the texture of a Vietnamese summer roll. The cheung fun rice noodle rolls have a very neutral scent, but the tea smoked eel has an aromatic herbal smell which initially caught me off guard. The rolls are nonetheless refreshing and fragrant. The crunchy bites from the cucumbers and fish skin echo through my senses.
By far, the demon of the night. The waitress should have warned us about the peas instead of the pastrami. This doesn’t even have fire-breathing ass cheeks on the label and it was one of the spiciest dishes of the meal! I particularly love the soft center of peas so I scooped a spoonful in my mouth. What I learned from the mala effect is that you don’t realize how much danger you’re in until many seconds later when almost finish swallowing. The chili and the peppercorns are devious. Your tounge just becomes numb and your head begins to spin. Your five senses realize that a glass of water is not going to make things any better. However, the taste of the peas are still so enticing, so delicious.
The tofu was so special because it reminded me of all the fermented kimchi and tofu in my fridge back home. The neutral flavor of the fresh and firm tofu at Mission Chinese is enhanced by the bean paste and soy milk and it has a savory pungency that I truly admire. Most importantly, it tastes extremely light and cool which is a refreshing option to have during the meal.
Mission Chinese Food is run by a staff that passionately enjoys its cuisine. Chef Danny Bowien didn’t come all the way from San Francisco to earn a title of “Szechuan masterchef.” He chose NYC because he was inspired by the passion instilled amongst successful New York restaurants. He also wants to help out the community. In the process, the Mission Chinese Food team is donating 75 cents from each entrée sold to the New York City Food Bank.
Not a lot of people get to pursue what they truly enjoy. It’s remarkable to see Chef Danny Bowien not only cooking the tasty comfort food he loves, but also seeing him share it with the Lower East Side community.
P.S. It’s packed during dinner hours. If you’d like to avoid the long waits during the weekday/weekends, run to 154 Orchard Street during lunchtime between 12PM-3PM. The restaurant is closed on Wednesdays.