cafe china

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.

mission chinese

Mission Chinese is one of our most beloved places in the city, so we were delighted when we were able to make a last-minute reservation for 7:00 on a Saturday night. Our original plan was to check out Gitano, the Mexican pop-up in SoHo that has hosted many celebrity-spotting. I made the reservations before the palm-filled outdoor space opened, but after one of my team mentioned that they had been closed temporarily by the health department, it made sense to see if any reviews had been posted. After a quick search, I found only negative comments about the food and service, plus it didn’t seem the exterior atmosphere was going to be very comfortable with the Summer heat. We’ll probably try it for drinks at some point. So long Gitano; hello Mission!

We arrived a bit early and headed to the bar for a apertif while we waited for our friends to arrive. I think this may be the first time we tried their cocktails, as we tend to just go for a bottle of Reisling to stand up to the intense heat of the food. This time we went for both since there were four of us. The drinks were delicious and fun; my personal favorite was the Phil Kallins – gin, coconut milk, kaffir lime, tianjin chili, ginger, lemongrass, and sesame oil. It had a savory quality with a slightly sweet creaminess. The chili-sesame oil really made it. Other standouts were the electric blue MSG Margarita (tequila, bitter melon, blue curacao, aloe salt, and citrus) and the General Tso’s Whiskey Sour (rye, pineapple, roasted peanut + sesame, ginger, chili, and umami bitters). I love how they sprinkle just a bit of seasoning on the top ice cube versus the usual rim.

The Quick Mission Dinner is our go-to, but we decided to continue on our a la carte spree. One of our companions is gluten-free and vegan, and the menu was very accommodating for her. Wood Fired Celery, Effervescent Sichuan Water Pickles, Smoked Mushroom “Jerky” Fried Rice, and Vegan Mapo Tofu provided the base, and then the other three of us supplemented with Chongqing Chicken Wings w/XXX Spices and Kung Pao Pastrami. I don’t think it is possible for my husband to go to Mission without ordering the chicken wings, but I don’t discourage. The pickles, which are served with chunks of ice – I know, weird, right? – are spicy and exquisite. A lot of the dishes, including the wings and pickles, contain the spicy, numbing Sichuan peppers – you love and curse them in the same bite. The lobster fried rice is still my number one pick in the rice section, but the mushroom one is a worthy second. We’ve never had a dish at Mission that was anything less than extraordinary, and I’m so glad our friends were just as mesmerized.

le sia

After seeing a review on Eater, we decided to check out Le Sia (which means shrimp) on an early Friday evening. You definitely need to get there by 5:30 or 6 pm if you don’t want to stand in line, and I would not advocate standing in line. The crawfish and crab leg combo was good with a Chinese twist to the Creole standby but wasn’t really memorable. Same with the squid leg and pork belly/enoki mushroom skewers that needed salt and a bit more char. The kimchi was a highlight – interesting because it added five-spice powder to give it a Chinese flavor.

We did not use the gloves provided, but probably should have – the apron was definitely helpful to contain the mess. By the time we left at 6:30, the place was packed with Asian students. We were definitely the oldest people in the room by far. I would recommend going once if you love Cajun crawfish and want to try them with a Chinese slant, but it probably won’t be a place to which you will often return.

hong kong + toyko 2017

Hong Kong Tokyo Trip 2017 – Copy of agenda

It has taken me a while to create this post, which has given me the insight that I don’t really love to blog – at least not in the way that I think it is supposed to be done. But because I was able to create an unforgettable itinerary for our vacation based on articles, blog posts, and other resources from the web, I felt I had to give back. That’s why I started this blog years ago in the first place.

My friend, Stacey, said “Why don’t you just post your spreadsheet?” I decided that was an excellent idea. You can find it at the link below. It’s been edited with our notes on what was amazing, what was so-so, and what we didn’t do. There are also notes on how much things cost, for those of us who have a budget to maintain. Feel free to ask any questions you may have, and I will be happy to answer the best I can. Enjoy!

Hong Kong Tokyo Trip 2017 – Agenda