When a hotel replaces its brasserie restaurant with a Chinese one, you would think it is a somewhat risky move. Well, that’s what Waldorf Astoria in Midtown East did, and my first impression of La Chine was that it would be a classic tourist trip serving boring and predictable Chinese dishes. Well, the looks can be deceiving, as the kitchen led by chef Kong Khai Meng served some really impressive dishes.
The menu at La Chine isn’t bound by particular Chinese region. In fact, most dishes that I sampled had the unexpected modern twist, in a good way. I didn’t expect smoking peony oil to greatly enhance the texture of Long Island fluke that was already very tender, and the citrusy taste of vinegar gave such a pleasant sensation to my palate. Crispy Spanish mackerel that came with pickled Napa cabbage and smoked soy dressing was another winner; I loved the combination of mackerel with cabbage (looked more like Korean kimchi) that worked so harmoniously together, with the fresh cabbage complementing the smoky taste of mackerel wonderfully.
Eight hour golden broth soup with lobster, scallop and crab meat was definitely not an average Chinese soup, and its rich and aromatic broth was a perfect antidote to a brutal winter evening that day. Surprisingly, the biggest disappointment came from the dish that I was most looking forward to. We tried the half portion of duck that you can wrap inside crepes along with vegetables. The duck was nicely cooked, but it didn’t turn out to be as satisfactory as I had expected, and I couldn’t quite pinpoint why. I’ve definitely had a better one somewhere in Chinatown before; perhaps the flavor came out a little too rich to overwhelm the texture of the meat? For dessert, we tried dark chocolate and Szechuan pepper cake. The hint of pepper gave the otherwise good chocolate cake a somewhat funky flavor, and I couldn’t say that I was a huge fan.
Getting a reservation could be challenging (I tried walk-in on a brutally cold Saturday night, and there was no open table although the dining space was almost half empty) so either book in advance or show up early to try your luck at the bar area that serves the full menu. The restaurant has a full bar with some creative Asian-inspired cocktail menus. The dining space looks classy that is fitting for a hotel restaurant, but the overall atmosphere wasn’t too stuffy. La Chine is another example to show that you can’t really judge a book by its cover; I was pleasantly surprised with the creativity of the kitchen and look forward to coming back to visit.
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 8.0/10
- Ingredients: 7.5/10
- Flavor: 8.0/10
- Texture: 7.5/10
Address: 540 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10022
Telephone: (212) 872-4913