Reviewing Asian restaurants during my culinary journey has always been a tricky endeavor. While I don’t pretend to know everything about each country’s culinary tradition other than Korea where I was born and raised, I still have at least a decent amount of experience on how flavor and texture is supposed to work across different regions. That job becomes even harder for Asian “fusion” style restaurants that do not stick with traditions but attempt to reinvent unique taste out of combination of different influences. I wouldn’t say all such experiments end up in failure, and had some hopes that Chinese Tuxedo, located on the quiet Doyers Street in Chinatown that also has a popular speakeasy bar I frequented in the past (Apotheke) and the famed dumpling spot Nom Wah Tea Parlor, would be one of those rare exceptions. The moment I stepped into the restaurant, though, I started to have some doubts immediately. The two-story dining space had a club-like atmosphere and it seemed as if the restaurant was trying to sell itself as a drinking spot (although they don’t even have a full liquor license so only beer, wine and wine based cocktails are served) than a serious restaurant. My wife and I were seated on the edge of the second floor overlooking the dining space below, and there was barely any light on top of our table, making it almost possible to take good photos of the food that we sampled. Finally, it almost sounds comical but during the course of our meal, we found no more than two or three Asian diners in the soon packed dining space. Almost no Asian at an Asian (albeit fusion) restaurant? All of these shortcomings and misgivings would have been forgiven and forgotten had the quality of food compensated for them. Well, let me just say Chinese Tuxedo is an unfortunate cautionary tale of how NOT to do Asian fusion.
Asian fusion restaurants in the U.S. often cater to the Caucasian audience and that usually translates to employing rich flavors of sweet, sour and salty and sacrificing the essence of where the food originally came from. I’m all for originality if it is done right, but Chinese Tuxedo doesn’t seem to have the type of discipline to maintain a sense of balance and attention to detail in doing so. The beef tongue and broccoli served “pastrami” style had too much going on in flavor department with the sour sensation quickly overpowering my palate. I didn’t understand why the dumpling with spicy pork filling and flying fish roe had to be so salty, and all I could think about the crispy “eggplant” was the over-fried crust that didn’t even pretend to have a trace of the smooth texture of eggplant inside.
The biggest disappointment had to the whole crispy skin squab though. It literally came in the form of a whole bird (a little tip in advance that the squab’s head, which startled my wife, was also somewhere in the pile would’ve been a kind gesture…) accompanied by spice salt and black vinegar. I didn’t even bother to dip the meat to the condiment suspecting that it would already be overseasoned anyways (which was right), and the bird barely had any flesh to eat (for that, the restaurant amazingly charged $32). Our astonishment was somewhat mitigated by the Johny fried rice with shrimp and roast pork that was the best dish of the night, but as my wife quipped, if a restaurant fails even at fried rice, it doesn’t deserve to be one, right? For dessert, we had strawberries and cream that was a pile of yogurt and whipped cream. Obviously delicious, but how could it not be?
The restaurant takes reservations for only groups of four and more, and the dining space on the ground floor barely had any tables for two people, pushing all the smaller groups to the dark, upstairs space next to the bar. Service was uneven to say the least, and the chaotic environment (the restaurant quickly turned into this giant pre-party fest and the noise became almost unbearable toward the end) certainly didn’t help our dining experience. On our way out, at least my wife tried to comfort me, saying that visits to restaurants like these would make us appreciate other finer places that much more. Yes, indeed…
- Creativity: 8.0/10
- Execution: 5.0/10
- Ingredients: 7.0/10
- Flavor: 4.0/10
- Texture: 6.5/10
Address: 5 Doyers Street, New York, NY 10013
Telephone: (646) 895-9301