RedFarm, the boisterous newfangled Chinese restaurant on Hudson Street in the West Village, is bankrolled by that ubiquitous restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow (China Grill
, Asia de Cuba
), but the concept belongs to the great czar of New York’s increasingly moribund Chinese-food scene, Ed Schoenfeld. He’s had a hand in numerous Chinese dining trends over the decades (the seventies establishment he managed, Uncle Tai’s Hunan Yuan, launched the General Tso’s chicken craze on an unsuspecting city), and he’s been involved with many high-profile Chinese restaurants, including Shun Lee Palace
and Chinatown Brasserie
. As the catchy name indicates, RedFarm is an attempt to update the ancient, tired formulas and market them to the new, more casual generation of big-city diners. This means, among other things, that there are no reservations at this “farm style” Chinese restaurant, and that the bistro-style one-page menu is imbued with what the proprietors eagerly describe as a “Greenmarket style” sensibility.
Fusion concepts like this are filled with many potential pitfalls, but Schoenfeld had the good sense to enlist the talents of the great Hong Kong dim sum chef Joe Ng, with whom he worked at Chinatown Brasserie. Ng’s cooking is playful and fresh, and although some of his forward-thinking creations veer off the rails, most of the food is a cut above the kind of run-of-the-mill cooking you see these days down in Chinatown. I didn’t discern any Greenmarket qualities in my fatty, slightly leaden, American-style egg roll stuffed with Katz’s pastrami (served with a nice honey-mustard and kaffir-lime sauce), but Mrs. Platt’s brittle, deliciously candied spicy crispy-beef appetizer was so good that I ordered it on my next visit. Ditto the classic, Shanghai-style pork-and-crab soup dumplings, and the impressive, football-size RedFarm chicken salad, which is tossed with mounds of lettuce and fresh corn and spiked with giant spears of asparagus. I couldn’t stop eating the slippery chunks of black cod, which Ng cooks with fresh yellow leeks and serves with a pot of housemade XO sauce on the side. The menu includes professional renditions of old favorites like cashew shrimp, and a meltingly tender version of smoked chicken (served as a special) that Ng smokes in a wok with brown sugar and jasmine tea.
The brightly lit little townhouse space is built with wooden rafters and banquettes, and decorated here and there with familiar casual barnyard touches like wooden packing crates, dangling candles, and the kinds of flowerpots you see hanging in the courtyard homes of old Chinese houses. There are plenty of tattooed diners, too, sitting at the long tables, which are set with mismatched chairs as in a country kitchen and sipping fashionable, non-Chinese cocktails like the RedFarm Manhattan.