04/26/13 12:29pm

Is Mission Chinese Turning Japanese?

This  refreshing bowl of tsukemen topped with a trio of fish roe sings with the flavors of Japan.

Noodles topped with a trio of fish roe sing with the flavors of Japan.

Last night I found myself wandering around the Lower East Side with a restless appetite. I considered eating at Wylie Dufresne’s new spot Alder then realized I was nowhere near it. Perhaps a bowl of Japanese bacon and egg mazemen noodles at the new Smorgasburg outpost inside Whole Foods. Alas they were closed. So I headed over to my favorite spot in the hood, Mission Chinese, for Danny Bowien’s mouth-blasting, palate-tingling take on Chinese food.

As I waited on line I weighed my spice-fueled options: kung pao lamb pastrami, thrice-cooked bacon, Chonqing chicken wings? When I took a seat in the dining room something delightfully odd happened. I was handed a slip of paper with the evening’s specials, two of which were Japanese. The first, cold tsukemen noodles ($16) with trout roe and sea urchin in bacon consommé sounded quite lovely. Turning back to the main menu I noticed beef heart and Hokkaido scallop sashimi ($13). I immediately ordered both, but felt quite strange. Was I really going to dine on Japanese fare at MCF with nary a hint of lip tingling Sichuan peppercorn? Apparently so.
That tsukemen was indeed quite lovely, though I was amused by the waiter’s instruction to be sure to mix in the wasabi.  Springy noodles topped with a trio of maritime roe, sea urchin, trout roe escabeche, and salmon eggs. That last was a welcome surprise not mentioned on the menu. It tasted like it came from an izakaya kitchen on St. Marks, which is not a bad thing at all. The smoky broth was nicely balanced with the various fish eggs. So it turns out that I did get to have Japanese bacon and egg noodle soup after all.

Beef heart and Hokkaido scallop sashimi.

Beef heart and Hokkaido scallop sashimi.

The beef heart and scallop sashimi was also good, and again all together Japanese. Bursting with chive flavor, pickled mustard, and shiso leaf, which also made an appearance in the noodles, it was a flavor sensation far more understated than anything I’ve had at MCF. Think snow falling on cedars, as opposed to flamethrowers.

To tell the truth I kind of missed the flamethrowers. So for dessert I had an order of tingly smoked chicken ($9.50). The one-two punch of chili sediment and Sichuan peppercorns woke up my palate and left my lips humming. I’ve probably never raved about a place that serves Chinese and Japanese cuisine, but I’ll go on record to say that I’m glad that Mission Chinese is turning, at least slightly, Japanese.

Mission Chinese Food 154 Orchard St., New York, NY 10002, 212-529-8800

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