Although we have several Chinese restaurants that we love, none compares to Cafe China, You won’t find a better value, even now that they have abandoned their no tipping policy, and the entire experience – from the wine, cocktails, food, staff, and decor – is enchanting. The captivating photos of winsome Chinese women take you back to a more romantic time and place. Our most recent visit was with friends, which is the best way to experience more variety.
We started with cocktails – 2 vespers, an Ashes of Time (whiskey and scotch-based), and an Old Fashioned. I love that the classics are available, along with some newbies. They also have a nice, but reasonably-priced wine list that includes choices with a touch of sweetness like the Vouvray to hold up to the numbing Sichuan peppercorns that permeate many of the plates.
Our first course included possibly my favorite dish in the entire world, the Husband and Wife Special. We still haven’t quite figured out exactly what is in this spicy, multi-textural concoction – maybe lung, tendon, tripe, etc. – it varies by the restaurant, but Cafe China makes the best one. They add finely chopped celery and peanuts to the “parts” (in this case, it’s beef and tripe), along with the traditional chile oil. It’s too adventurous for most, but I recommend you try it at least once. Anything served in the spicy chile oil is a winner, including the Pork Dumpling appetizer. The numbing peppers lend a fun and elegant flair to the Szechuan Pickled Vegetables, and we appreciated the silkiness of the Butter Squash Soup.
Moving on to the mains, we chose Beef Sautéed with Pickled Chili, Ma Po Tofu, and then the Sautéed Pea Shoots as a break from the heat. Each option on the menu takes a traditional plate and elevates it with the flawless sophistication that has earned Cafe China their Michelin Star.
I have one complaint about Cafe China. They only deliver to a small section of Manhattan, so our weekend orders had to stop when we moved south. The absence just makes our heart grow fonder.