It was probably the very first time we agreed 100% about where to have dinner last Saturday night. Hands down, no hesitation, we all voted for Chef Danny Bowien’s Mission Chinese on the lower east side in New York City. We found parking two blocks away, which was a good omen. It was going to be a good night.
The place was jammed, and I was happy we made a reservation. Although we were late, we got seated relatively soon after being diverted to the bar for a drink. Swiveling my head around and around, I marveled at the diversity of the staff. Seemed like there was a healthy slice from all walks of life across the LGBQ and heavily tattooed community. I was very comfortable and very happy to see this beautiful community of what felt like acceptance.
The restaurant was beautifully decorated. The combination of mirrored walls, cozy booths, Chinese style statues, and multicolored lighting combined to suggest an aura of cool.
The menu boasted a variety of foods from very spicy, to mild, meaty, vegetarian, and vegan. The Tingling Sichuan Water Pickles, served over a bed of ice, were amazingly spicy and so refreshing. The Green Tea Noodles with ginger scallion sauce, hoisin and matcha were richly flavored, chewy and satisfying, the Mongolian Long Beans with horseradish and toasted chili powder were packed with a spicy and crunchy punch, the Steamed Broccoli Shoots served with smoked oyster sauce were wonderfully crisp-tender, with understated smoky back notes. The Mouth Numbing Mapo Tofu with Sea Urchin was spicy from chili bean paste, with a silky mouthfeel from the aged beef fat offset by the complex of flavor of sea urchin. We also ordered the Pea Greens & Yuba in Kabocha Broth, topped with grilled chili paste and pumpkin seeds and oil. Nothing disappointed, which quite frankly, is not a statement I make lightly.
Even the leftovers, which we took home and finished off the next day were glorious. Being so enticed by the food, I wanted to know more about Danny Bowien, his food journey, and his evolution as a chef, and his personal story as an adopted child from Korea. After all, I do work for a food magazine, and I’m always scouting for our next potential feature.
Regrettably, what I uncovered was simply disappointing, disheartening, frustrating and disenchanting. Several articles below in major food and news publications tout articles describing Mission Chinese as a toxic hotbed of racial discrimination.
Such a talented, young chef with so much potential to be at the heart of accusations like this really makes me sad. Hasn’t this country, especially New York City, experienced enough racist behavior? Isn’t it time to start appreciating each other, whoever or whatever we are, and embracing our differences?
I was recently invited to return to Mission Chinese for dinner. I paused for a moment, trying to rationalize the fact that it was strictly about the food and another great meal, and then, I turned the invitation down. What would you have done?
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