Any fine Chinese meal is like a banquet, and Chinatown is like that, too. Being greedy, however, I'd choose to feast in several establishments instead of just one.
Breakfast: The Saint's Alp Teahouse has superior teas and lots of inventive tapioca drinks, but for neighborhood quirkiness, I'll take a paper cup of ginseng tea and honey from Dragon Land Bakery and a crumbly walnut cookie served by one of the prim cookie ladies wearing dainty stewardesslike hats. After that, a spoonful or two of nourishing breakfast congee (Cantonese rice porridge) amid the plasticated vines and bamboo bridges of Congee Village up on Allen Street preferably without chunks of the house specialty, sautéed frog. For a pointedly non-Western breakfast, eat what the Chinese eat: dumplings. At Dim Sum Go Go, you'll find them stuffed with wood mushrooms or mashed shark's fin or pearly bits of chives and baby shrimp.
Lunch: Stay on a little longer at Dim Sum Go Go for a platter of the fluffy seafood fried rice (with lightly whisked eggs and slivers of apple-green broccoli stems) and the thin strips of salt-baked pork, fried into crinkly shapes like some strange form of ribbon candy. Then nip across the street to the always-reliable New York Noodle Town to snack on a helping of duck rolls and a platter of cold suckling pig, before repairing to the nearby Sweet-N-Tart Café for a restorative bowl of chestnut tong shui (literal translation: "hot soup") filled with soft green lotus seeds.
Dinner: The final meal of the day means the obligatory pilgrimage to Ping's Seafood for a plate of the crispy shredded squid, shot through with scallions, jícama, and crunchy little silver fish. Follow this by leaving Chinatown proper, and travel up to the new midtown branch of Grand Sichuan International. The menu here is accompanied by a runish and amusing volume of footnotes. The hot stuff is the point, however, so go directly to No. 115, the simple braised beef fillets in chili sauce, containing shards of beef cooked to mushy softness, in a deliciously viscous sauce fierce enough to strip the bark from a thousand trees.
|Dragon Land Bakery, 125 Walker Street, 212-219-2012
Congee Village, 100 Allen Street, 212-925-1978
Dim Sum Go Go, 5 East Broadway, 212-732-0797
New York Noodle Town, 28 Bowery, 212-349-0923
Sweet-N-Tart Cafe, 76 Mott Street, 212-334-8088
Ping's Seafood, 22 Mott Street, 212-602-9988
Grand Sichuan International, 745 Ninth Avenue, 212-582-2288