Wow, really? I always admired chef Danny Bowien for his envelope-pushing Chinese/pan-Asian fare at Mission Chinese (at the top of my re-visit list). His second gig with Mexican food at Mission Cantina has been solid on my previous visits, but not quite eye-opening. It is hard to mess up Mexican food, but on the other hand it is also hard to really make a memorable meal out of it too. OK, maybe I might change my minds after visiting places like Texas down the road. Anyways, while my four friends and I were strolling around Lower East Side, we figured we would just visit this place that was relatively quiet for an early dinner. The first bad sign considering that Mission Chinese has always been packed with people no matter when in the day you are there. The second bad sign: Mission Cantina started serving Chinese food in addition to the Mexican offerings. I was quite perplexed to say the least. Was the kitchen not confident enough with its Mexican dishes that it had to mix them up with Chinese ones? My worries turned into a nightmare. I usually don’t write reviews for places that I had a terrible meal (I just don’t have the energy for it), but given the high level of expectations that chef Bowien typically sets, this was a huge disappointment.
Guacamole is usually a pretty good barometer of how good a Mexican restaurant can be. According to the menu, a server makes one right on the spot at the table. After half-hearted effort from our server, the avocado was not ground well enough (one of my dining companions had to do the grinding himself again!) and the flavor overall lacked the touch I was looking for. Ceviche is usually a good dish to have for summer dining, but the scallop ceviche turned out just not fresh and tasted too fishy. Another dining companion of mine had to ask when they caught the scallop, and the server responded it was that same day. We were all like “What is this guy saying?” It would definitely belong in the worst food of the year category if I had to create one.
Mission burrito with fried chicken was another huge disappointment. On my last visit, I felt the ingredients came together well with a ton of flavor and texture packed together; on this one, they were all over the place and the temperature was absolutely off. Another dining companion of mine had to drop the dish mid-way through her meal. So the Mexican parts were a big failure; did the Chinese dishes at least salvage the meal? Not quite. The best dish of the evening was kung pao cauliflower with celery, peanuts and hot chili paste, with nice texture of the cauliflower that worked well with the hot chili paste for a spicy kick. Still, the flavor seemed to lack authenticity of spicy Chinese food tradition or any Bowien-style flair. General Tso’s chicken with spicy garlic sauce was pretty funky in flavor, and not in a good way, while the texture of chicken felt like it had been sitting outside for hours.
The only thing that salvaged our meal was the potent margarita pitcher that I had no problem with. It almost felt like that the restaurant was deliberately making the margarita strong so no one would notice out of their drunkenness how bad the food is. I hope chef Bowien either fixes or shuts down this place soon; among so many viable options for food in LES, Mission Cantina is a place you must avoid unless you just want to get some solid margaritas while waiting to get seated at another restaurant.
- Creativity: 5.5/10
- Execution: 3.0/10
- Ingredients: 4.5/10
- Flavor: 4.5/10
- Texture: 4.0/10
Address: 172 Orchard Street, New York, NY 10002
Telephone: (212) 254-2233