Psychedelic chicharrones by way of the South and Japan.
For the past two months my fellow ink- and grease-stained wretches have all been abuzz about Danny Bowien’s new spot Mission Cantina. I’m still smarting from the loss of Mission Chinese, but decided to put my sorrow aside and check out his new joint. The first thing I noticed was that it gets really crowded on a Saturday night. The second was the comforting aroma of fresh masa. I tried several of the teeny tiny tacos—my favorite was the suaderos ($6.50), beef brisket braised in lard—but the dish that really made me sit up and take notice was the chicharrones ($7).
Crackling—whether chicken, duck, or, in this case, pork—is one of my favorite snacks. Bowien’s airy sheets of blistered pork skin get a Japanese/down home spin thanks to the addition of togarishi pepper and pimento cheese. Salty, crunchy, cheesy, and spicy I could not stop eating them. On my next visit I think I’ll try the creamed masa with spicy collard greens and get some of Bowien’s psychedelic crackling to throw on top.
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. (more…)
Danny Bowien and crew at Flushing’s Golden Shopping Mall.
A few weeks ago I was giving a tour of downtown Flushing’s Chinatown. I had forgotten that the Lunar New Year Parade was being held that day. It was an unexpected treat for both me and my guests when we exited New World Mall to the pulsing beat of Gangnam Style from a passing float. As if the parade and its lion dancers weren’t enough good fortune for one day we encountered one of my favorite chefs. Just as we got to the bottom of the stairs of the Golden Shopping Mall Food Court, Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese Food came into view. He and his posse were digging into a meal at Chen Du Tian Fu. Danny was kind enough to let me ask him Seven Questions . . .
Shocking and intense—like my passion for Danny Bowien’s food.
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.
A better look: Beijing beef pancake, thrice cooked bacon, and tingly tea smoked chicken.
“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.