Chef Danny Bowien is quickly rising amongst the transplant Chef world, making his presence known with tons of media coverage. We picked up an issue of Bon Appetit to check out the latest ongoings in the food world. Low and behold, there’s Danny again headlining the magazine with Andrew Knowlton reflecting on their recent trip to eating up Chengdu. They even have a book out publishing their recipes. With much fanfare surrounding the opening, we wanted to satiate our need to know why the SF mainstay is much heralded….
Not for the faint of heart, Mission Chinese packs some serious heat. Not marketed as such, you may want to bring some milk with you. On Grand Opening Day, we even saw Daniel Boulud and his posse walk in eager to try the food.
Occupying the former Rhong-Tiam LES space, Mission Chinese made some improvements. The kitchen and ‘reception’ area remains the same, but the Thai murals are gone. There is now a bar out back with some interesting Asian cocktails. The ceiling is now covered with wood. There are even chairs hanging from the ceiling beams and a giant red paper dragon draping across the room. The ‘pay phone’ door is now gone and replaced with a curtain. Also, tiles were placed out back instead of wood and the pass to go to the back has clear glass allowing curious eyes to peep into the kitchen.
#1. Sichuan Pickled Vegetables [Napa cabbage, carrot, nasturtium, sichuan pepper, beer] ($4) – primarily cabbage, not crazy about the bitterness from the beer [NOT SPICY]
#10. Lamb Cheek Dumplings [Black vinegar, rock sugar, peanuts, numbing peppercorn] ($8) – They sold out of this quickly, there’s no wonder why. The black vinegar is in your face but pairs well. Must get. [NOT SPICY]
#12. Stir Fried Pork Jowl and Radishes [Fermented black bean, red perilla, mint] ($11) – Another favorite, this reminded us of double fried pork belly. The perilla puts this dish over the top and makes it SING! [NOT SPICY]
#13. Salt Cod Fried Rice [Slow cooked mackerel, chinese sausage, lettuce, egg] ($11) – instead of using the typical salted cod, they used mackerel, which actually works well. The chinese sausage could be crispy and there could be more ‘wok hey’ or wok flavor/appearance since the rice looks and tastes steamed but still solid [NOT SPICY]
#15. Thrice Cooked Bacon [Shanghainese rice cakes, tofu skin, bitter melon, chili oil] ($11.50) – someone was either really smart or really high to think of this dish, but it’s genius. For those closed minded, the bitter melon grows on you, great combination of flavors, quite oily, you will be reaching for your water on this one, please ditch the liquid smoke on this dish (makes it taste like propane) [SPICY]
#16. Mapo Tofu [Pork shoulder, doubanjiang, sichuan pepper] ($12.50) – Despite the pillowy soft bean curd, we didn’t care for this dish, as it was more like a soup than anything, with over the top ‘ma la’, or numbing from the insertion of whole sichuan peppers, almost guaranteed to be a doggy bag, very oily [VERY SPICY]
#18. Chongqing Chicken Wings [Fragrant chili and crispy beef tripe] ($10) – good but not great, deceptively NOT spicy, despite the slew of red peppers surrounding it. Don’t forget to pick at the fried beef tripe, as they taste like fat globules from the heavens [NOT SPICY]
WHAT WE LOVE
1. The Service – Down to earth and friendly would be the choice words to describe the experience. The owners make their rounds constantly not afraid to get their hands dirty, assuring you have everything to you need to walk out happy. Grand Opening Day, there was even a keg to help yourself while you waited for your table. The owner even gave us a free family bowl of rice while we awaited our fried rice.
2. The Philanthropy – 75 cents from each of the entrees is given to the Food Bank of NYC. More restaurants should learn from this model and follow suit.
3. The ‘Up Yours’ menu – We love that they stuck to their guns and made the menu THEIR way (super spicy), not catering to the American palate. However, we found it excessive for our taste buds, and we LOVE spicy food.
4. The Food – Take heed to the 2 flames on the menu. They are not there just for show. That denotes your tongue will be burning and you will be reaching for your milk. You will notice that every dish is 1 ingredient away from being ‘truly’ Chinese. Whether it be nasturtium leaf, perilla leaf, radish, or pastrami, the flavors jive and that’s what matters most. Purposely so, the food is comforting and cooked with love. When you are eating you feel like your friend’s Chinese mom cooked for you. Makes for great hangover food as well.
THINGS TO IMPROVE ON
1. The Menu – We may be splitting hairs, but we noticed there is no pricing on the lighted wall menu. You can ask for a laminated menu to peruse, but why not just list the price on the wall menu too? Also, since the menus are already laminated, we thought it may be cool to provide dry erase markers for patrons to circle the number of the dishes they want to order to help expedite things.
2. The Pace – Your food may come all at once or one dish at a time. This allows for some of the food to get cold as you eat the other dishes. For this reason, pacing would be nice.
Since there are no reservations, be prepared to wait 2hrs+ if you arrive at 8pm so go early or go late. You can always opt your name/number down, watch a movie, and come back. We waited 45min at 7:45pm on Grand Opening Day. With its huge hipster following, we have a feeling that Mission is not shutting its doors anytime soon. Mission: Accomplished.
Total came out to $30/pp after everything