The other night I asked Danny Bowien, the blonde-haired madman behind Mission Chinese Food to marry me. I’d just finished the meal pictured above—thrice cooked bacon ($12), tingly tea smoked chicken ($9), and Beijing beef pancake—while seated at the bar at MCF NYC under the light of a scarlet dragon. As I paid the check my mouth was still buzzing from the Sichuan peppercorn and chilies.
“Danny Bowien will you marry me,” I asked poking my head into the kitchen. “I’m already married,” he said. “If you were a polygamist you could cook for me,”I responded. I can just imagine it. Bowls of the Sichuan-peppercorn dusted fried tripe that comes with MCF’S chicken wings; kung pao lamb pastrami for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and mapo tofu for when I have a cold. I suppose it’s too much to ask for, which is why I can often be found seated alone at the bar underneath the red dragon that winds its way through the dining room. I eat at MCF alone for two reasons: a) I am greedy and b) I like to eat the leftovers for lunch the next day over rice. Once I ate there with five or six fellow food writers. We all fell quiet as we dug into Bowien’s explosively spiced food. All I could think about was how those tripe garnished wings were on the far side of the table—and whether I’d get my share.
“You work within your limitations,” a guy with a camera much better than mine said when asked how he takes photos in the scarlet-hued light of what I like to call the Red Planet. The only other restaurant that was as difficult to shoot food in was the purple spaceship of a Thai joint called Kurve in the East Village. Speaking of limitations mine do not include the inability to appreciate authentically inauthentic and vibrant spins on Chinese food such as Bowien’s. I have a friend who holds that, “Mission Chinese is a crude parody of Sichuan food for people who can’t be bothered to develop a palate for the real thing.” I am fortunate enough to have developed a palate for both.
I expected the beef pancake to be just that, a flat griddled cake, a gussied up scallion pancake of sorts. Nevertheless I rolled with the presentation: sushi-like roulades of flatbread filled with confit of beef shoulder and potatoes and topped with salted chilies. The tingly tea smoked chicken was as advertised, silky morsels of poached and smoked bird that left my mouth humming from the “chili sediment” and Sichuan pepper. The incendiary thrice-cooked bacon with chewy rice cakes, black beans,and winter melon was also excellent.
Danny, if you’re reading this my proposal still stands. If not I’ll see you on the Red Planet.