Once in a while you have a food experience that blows your socks off. In the case of Ba Shan, that was almost literally true. Danny Bowien’s food at Mission Chinese in New York is also at times fiery hot, but it’s so much more than that – it’s Asian food remixed and redefined, and it’s incredibly good.
I saw Danny Bowien a few days before heading to New York at Taste’s The Lab event in London (pictured above). He cooked a demonstration dish which layered dried shrimp and dried squid with Chinese sausage, Chinese bacon, and several types of chilli. We got no more than half a teaspoonful to taste, but it was enough to get me intrigued and wanting more (I also have since tried to re-create it: that post is coming soon).
Bowien is Korean-American, was in a rock band before moving into food, and made his mark at a popup in San Francisco. His New York restaurant, in the city’s Lower East Side, has quickly become a site of pilgrimage for the world’s chefs. The reviews have been glowing, and Bowien’s star is in the ascendant (how many chefs opening their first regular restaurant get a full article about them in GQ?).
From the outside, it looks like a fairly ordinary takeout joint, apart from the queue of people waiting. There’s a convoluted policy on reservations, but mainly it’s a walk-up restaurant. They’ll take your number and call you – be prepared to wait an hour or two. Once you’re in, you make your way up a long corridor with a window into the tiny kitchen, and emerge into the dining room with a paper Chinese dragon hanging over you.
Five years ago New York was filled with big box Asian restaurants like Buddakan and Spice Market. They would mix and match across Asian flavours and techniques, but the food was always pretty uninteresting – mostly toned-down, accessible crowd pleasers.
Mission’s food is anything but toned-down – pig ear, beef heart and lamb tongue all feature before you even get to the big plates. Going with a vegetarian who doesn’t like food too spicy meant we had to pick carefully, but our meal was still highly memorable.
Red cabbage leaves with ground sesame, anchovy, crisp barley and sea kelp was an amazing plate: two types of crunch (from the lettuce and the barley) and a whole host of flavours. My dinner companion thought is so delicious he returned the next day and got it for takeout.
Stir-fried pork jowl with radishes, fermented black bean, shiso and mint was savoury and fresh and I couldn’t stop eating it (I was inspired to make a version, which will appear here shortly).
Braised pea greens in a pumpkin broth with adzuki beans and peanuts was warming, spicy and really satisfying.
Our final dish was Egg Egg Noodles – a dish of fresh noodles with ginger, scallions and a soft, barely-boiled hens egg that you break and stir into the noodles. I write as someone who doesn’t really like an egg-y flavour, but it was quite delicious – basically noodles in a light, ginger-flavoured emulsion.
The food really is incredible – and the prices are very reasonable: $7-11 for most small plates and $11-13 for each but a few of the large plates. The restaurant also donates money from each large plate sold to a local food bank.
Danny Bowien is making big waves in the restaurant world, and his food certainly impacted me in a big way – you’ll see its influence in some forthcoming posts, and I’m already plotting my way back to New York for second helpings.