It’s a tricky business to make chung fun, or rice noodles. They're sticky and dense, and the dough is typically thicker than most Chinese noodle dough. Steaming it is problematic, but the ever-inventive Joe Ng at Chinatown Brasserie has come up with a streamlined solution: a customized dough cooker that’s a cross between a crêpe pan, a steamer, and a colander. “It works exactly like a steamer, except it’s flat,” says Ng. “We lay some very thin fabric in over the holes, and the dough is cooked very fast, like in 30 seconds. It takes up less space than an ordinary noodle cooker, and we change the fabric constantly.” For a machine that takes up so little space, it's very efficient, he says. “I designed it myself and gave it to the manufacturer to make. No one else has one like it.” As for how well it works, the only solution is to eat the rice noodles at Chinatown Brasserie and judge for yourself.
With all New York offers, it's still not enough. Our appetite for change and novelty is insatiable and voracious. Good thing we have this week's magazine! Why bother with traditional Thanksgiving, when there are so many global options here? We have recipes for Chinese Thanksgiving from Joe Ng of Chinatown Brasserie, Mexican Thanksgiving from Aaraon Sanchez of Centrico and Paladar, African Thanksgiving from Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit, and more. And if all that isn't novel enough, and you have to jet out of town, we can tell you where to eat while you're waiting – both in the airport, and in the surrounding areas. Finally, if you're sticking close to home, the Underground Gourmet suggests where to get a proper hero.
When Chinatown Brasserie opened last year, its high production values and pointedly non-challenging menu misled many of the city’s self-appointed Asian food experts into dissing the place. But the city’s Chinese community was well aware that Joe Ng, the dim-sum chef there, was the city’s finest and one of the top in his field nationwide. (The process of making dim sum is a complicated one and demands its own chef and its own kitchen.) We dropped in on a recent Saturday morning to see how Joe did it and invited former Almond Flower chef Chris Cheung to help us with our eating.
Kitchen Insider: Chinatown Brassiere [Video]
In January, dim-sum aficionados reveled in the news that Joe Ng, the city’s top dim-sum man, was being promoted to executive chef of Chinatown Brasserie. Indeed, we named Ng’s creations the best in the city. Now the cook has introduced a new lunch menu centered on his delicate Cantonese-style work. The dim sum (beef and scallion buns, lobster-tail tempura, fried lobster-and-cream-cheese sticks) is complemented by a number of light dishes (wok-fried noodles, udon omelettes, and various kinds of soup noodles). If you’re still hankering for the heavier dishes they were serving at lunch, you can get them by special request. But as far we’re concerned, the new menu is all you need to know.
Chinatown Brasserie lunch menu [Menus]
When we asked the great Daniel Boulud what he’s eaten this week, we were secretly hoping to hear confessions of Seven Layer Burritos at Taco Bell. We shouldn’t have been surprised when he reported that, with exceptions like Sunday brunch and the occasional sushi splurge, he eats 75 percent of his meals at his own restaurants. Luckily that didn’t make his food journal any less fascinating; not only did he give us the scoop on some spring menu additions and his new line of spices available this fall, but he actually did scarf a burrito.
We recently heard from our friend Francis Lam, a connoisseur of Chinese food who had some intriguing things to say in response to our post on the wooing of Chinatown Brasserie's Joe Ng by Bensonhurst restaurateurs.
"Frankly speaking, the dim sum I know of in the city just doesn't match up to the best stuff in Hong Kong and Vancouver. What you can get in those and other places is much more in line with Joe Ng's work at Chinatown Brasserie, which I would definitely call head and shoulders above anything else here. (Secretly, I'm glad he's being headhunted back to a Chinese community in Brooklyn, where it will be more affordable and the product turnover will be higher.)"
Okay, Francis. So where do you get decent dim sum in the city?
Joe Ng, the city's top dim-sum chef, is being ardently pursued by those who seek to woo him away from Chinatown Brasserie — to Bensonhurst. Moneyed Chinese are pouring into the neighborhood, and restaurateurs are looking to open the dim-sum palaces that will sate them. Several have been pursuing Ng. He surely wouldn't sour things with the Brasserie by admitting otherwise, but the chef maintains that he's staying put. Yet he also gives us a few reasons why a big, busy dim-sum factory in Brooklyn might suit his avant-garde stylings: "There's a new generation of Chinese cooking that's not simple and easy. You need a lot of time, a lot of room, and a lot of people to make it — and lot of people to eat it. Chinese people need to eat dim sum every day. Americans only want to eat Chinese food once in a while." Not us, Joe! Still, Ng's point is well taken. Watch your back, Chinatown Brasserie.
Tyson Ophaso and Joe Ng, the chefs at Chinatown Brasserie, are also on the Thanksgiving bandwagon, and will be cooking turkeys in the restaurant's custom-built Perking-duck oven. Expect crisp, laquered skin like you've never seen on your family table. The birds will be accompanied by the restaurant's delicate, supple steamed Mandarin pancakes, cranberry-ginger chutney, and hoisin sauce. On top of that, Ng will also be preparing turkey spring rolls, baked turkey buns, and other Thanksgiving-inspired dim sum items. The menu will be available all weekend.