Any restaurant that makes a Top 10 list by a respected critic is likely to please my husband. He collects foodie merit badges like an over eager Boy Scout. So I said, “Next time we are in New York, let’s try this place.”
In this case the list was by Adam Platt of New York Magazine and Grubstreet and the restaurant was Hao Noodle and Tea by Madam Zhu’s Kitchen. The line on this West Village spot is that it’s run by a real Chinese person who isn’t cooking from the Americanized Chinese restaurant guide. “Zhu comes from Chongqing, Sichuan, and operates restaurants in Shanghai, Beijing, and Hangzhou, and she and her chefs create a menu which reflects elements of all of these evolving regional cuisines,” Platt says.
The restaurant also receives high marks for ambience and decor. There are no red lacquer tables and dragon heads here; only a cool farm-to-table vibe. It’s a far cry from the Americanized Chinese restaurants whose names seem taken interchangably from Column A or Column B of the same limited vocabulary: lucky, Budda, dragon, golden, pearl, garden, lotus, jade, China, Hunan and so on.
From the perspective of one trying to eat in moderation, this is a Chinese restaurant that forgoes the typical American Chinese cuisine. There’s no endless bowl of nutritionally vapid white rice, no portions big enough to wreck a diet in one sitting or provide an enormous portion for the next day or two. Portions are said to be shared, but split among four persons, they amount to a bite or two each at most. The food itself is not low in fat, but you won’t go home stuffed either.
The menu is seasonally influenced and divided by the type of course: cold salads, hot starters, noodles, mains, dim sum and dessert. It’s unclear how to juggle among them, in what order they will appear or what utensils besides one’s own chopsticks to use to serve oneself or others. Go with people who you like and aren’t worried about germs.
The standouts were delicate, tiny fried meatballs; clay pot dumplings made of minced pork with an egg crepe skin in a savory chicken broth; cauliflower stir-fired with chiles and a seafood pancake that was crispy fried but not greasy. The dan dan noodles were silkier and more subtle than the peanut butter laden variety of a typical restaurant, but kind of bland and boring as a result. Overall, it’s a good bet.