A glance around the dining room at A-Wah convinced Lau that the smart order would be bo zai fan, the Cantonese rice casserole that everyone else in the place seemed to be enjoying. Sometimes the crowd is on to something good. This is the best bo zai fan in town, Lau says: Better than the tasty version at nearby Yummy Noodles, it would even be considered decent in Hong Kong.
For the uninitiated, bo zai fan is rice steamed in a clay pot and topped with various meats and vegetables. Season it to taste with thick, dark soy sauce, mix it all up, and be sure to excavate down to the crispy, crusty stuff at the bottom of the pot. Lau chose the house special, listed first among 17 "Rice in Casserole" choices on the menu. It's a hearty and delicious pig trifecta of Chinese sausage, minced pork patty, and thick-cut bacon.
No one-trick pony, A-Wah also makes a carp and ginger clay pot (jiang cong yu nan bao) that transports Lau back to Hong Kong: chunks of fried fish in a semisweet sauce with scallion, spring onion, and fried garlic cloves. And this is the rare Chinatown restaurant where you should save room for dessert. Try sesame-filled rice dough balls (tang yuan) or milk and egg white ginger flan, sweeter and less silky than Hong Kong's best, but still a singular treat in New York; "OMG this made me so happy," sighs Lau.
There's more happy news from Mott and Bayard streets, the big corner space long occupied by Mr. Tang. It recently reopened as Old Shanghai Deluxe, which may or may not be the reincarnation of the old New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe a half block to the east. In any case, buttertart says this place is on its game. She describes excellent, thin-skinned and very juicy xiao long bao (soup dumplings); a nice crisp scallion pancake; and nearly perfect version of bean curd skin with pickled vegetable, soybeans, and pork.
Across Canal Street, tea hound HLing has discovered a deal: single-bush Dan Cong oolong from Phoenix Mountain in Guangdong, at the herb store Wing Fat. Normally sold in bulk for $30 a pound, Song variety special grade Dan Cong was going for around $25. It was strong, slightly bitter, and quite fresh.
5 Catherine Street (between Division Street and East Broadway), Manhattan
Old Shanghai Deluxe [Chinatown]
50 Mott Street (at Bayard Street), Manhattan
Wing Fat [Chinatown]
106 Mott Street (between Hester and Canal streets), Manhattan
Discuss: A-Wah–The best bo zai fan (claypot rice) in ctown
A-Wah Restaurant 5 Catherine Street
Your favorite non-Cantonese restaurant in Manhattan's Chinatown
Found Phoenix Dan Cong ("single bush") tea in Chinatown!