We've always liked Chris Cheung, going back to the days when the young Long Island–born chef was trying to reinvent Asian fusion from the Chinese side at Almond Flower in Chinatown. (His exit from the place, and its epic aftermath, made some good Grub Street fodder.) Now that Cheung has taken over from Patricia Yeo at Monkey Bar, he’s trying to implement his style of “evolutionary Asian cuisine.” So what does that amount to?
We recently got an e-mail from Sze Chuen, manager of Almond Flower bistro, the restaurant that chef Chris Cheung recently departed. Sze didn’t mince words: He accused Cheung of being a lazy, self-promoting “mediocre talent” who “thought he was Gordon Ramsay.” It ended by telling us to “please get the story straight and just say he was fired for being himself. I would hope he doesn’t find another victim in his scheme to promote himself.” We asked Cheung for his response and, while waiting for it via e-mail, received a call from the astonished (and apparently tipped-off) co-owner of Almond Flower Joe Lam. “We love Chris!” he told us. “We just parted over philosophical differences what that manager said was egregious, unacceptable, unprofessional. He will be fired as soon as my brother gets back from Hong Kong on Monday.” When Cheung himself got back to us, he just seemed bewildered: “I worked with [Sze] for only a period of a week and we had no working relationship to speak of. I can only respond that the entire letter is untrue.”
Chinatown’s Almond Flower is an unusual restaurant, and its young chef, Chris Cheung — who just left the restaurant on Sunday — was the main reason. The bistro was the reverse of places which serve Western food with Asian accents to a largely Caucasian clientele; Almond Flower served fusion food from a Chinese perspective to an overwhelmingly Asian crowd. But Cheung kept pushing the envelope with luxe ingredients that chefs sometimes like more than customers: roast pork buns filled with foie gras, say, or truffled congee soup with abalone wontons. And now that he’s done with Almond Flower, he's unrepentant.
Cops and city workers rub elbows with professors, bankers, and the courthouse crowd in the micro-micro-neighborhood around Mulberry and Canal Streets. In addition to fine Chinese, you'll find everything from Malaysian and Vietnamese to Italian and New American.