When my mom was in town recently, I’ve taken her to all types of restaurants from French to Italian to Korean to Japanese. Before her departure back to Korea, she said she wanted to try a Chinese restaurant so I figured a re-visit to Mission Chinese, which I had always had high regard for chef Danny Bowien’s creative cooking, would be the answer to impress her. On my previous visit, I really enjoyed witnessing the evolution of the restaurant, which started out as a modest operation focusing on Sichuan-style dishes to a larger space with more pan-Asian touch that offered plenty of surprises. It turned out the experience on my re-visit with mom was 180 degrees from what I had experienced. Totally my oversight on deciding to take her out at a place that has become more of a circus than a serious dining destination; I’m really puzzled why Mission Chinese devolved to lower level this way.
On my last visit to the current location, I dined at the high stool area next to the bar, not the dining room inside. This time, we were seated at the dining room, and that was the first mistake. The dining room was even louder than the bar area, and there was chaos everywhere with clueless servers missing on our drinks or the food coming out on an insanely slow pace. All of this discomfort (I had to keep screaming at my mom just so she can hear me) would’ve been forgiven if the food had stayed at the high level of quality that I had remembered. But then, the red cabbage salad with sesame, anchovy and seaweed came out way too salty for a salad, and my mom had to drop her chopsticks midway. Kung pao pastrami that I had enjoyed on my previous visit didn’t feel like it had the punch that I was looking for, and mapo tofu with heritage pork and aged beef fat also felt more or less pedestrian. It’s not the lack of spice that underwhelmed me; there was plenty. I just felt that these dishes fundamentally missed something that had made me love Mission Chinese in the first place, an element of surprise and ingenuity. The only saving grace of the night was the lobster and coconut fried rice with coconut oil and scallop floss that I immensely enjoyed with its flavor that perfectly neutralized the fiery sensation inside my mouth after all the spicy dishes.
Mission Chinese nowadays takes reservations, and judging by the way the dining room was absolutely packed on a Thursday night, booking your table in advance would be a smart way to do it. My restaurant reviews always rate based first and foremost on the quality of food, but the surprisingly underwhelming experience on my re-visit to this perennially popular spot, along with the chaotic experience that led my mom to head out of the restaurant as soon as the bill was paid, would leave me a sour note. I hope that my next visit is more successful; I know what chef Bowien is capable of.
- Creativity: 7.5/10
- Execution: 7.0/10
- Ingredients: 7.0/10
- Flavor: 7.5/10
- Texture: 7.0/10
Address: 171 East Broadway, New York, NY 10002
Telephone: (212) 432-0300