A Lament for Lo Mein

Raymond Sokolov was a big old Mr. Crankypants last weekend in the Wall Street Journal, complaining that Chinese food isn’t hip in the U.S. today, and that it hasn’t been exciting since the 1970s period after Nixon returned from his historic visit to China. “And get off my lawn, you whippersnappers,” he did not go on to say.

The Chinese food in urban centers today tastes muddy, and there isn’t much of a fusion cuisine built around regional Chinese dishes, Sokolov whines. And where are the high-end Chinese restaurants aimed at “nonethnic diners”? Chinese food just hasn’t broken into foodie culture, he sighs.

Perhaps if he looked in other urban centers besides Manhattan and Los Angeles, the only two U.S. cities he talks about.

It’s not even completely clear what his gripe is in the first place: He acknowledges that Shun Lee West is still going strong in Manhattan; that Santa Monica’s Chinois on Main is Wolfgang Puck’s successful attempt at Chinese fusion; and that he loves the authentic Chinese spots run by immigrants in Flushing as much as he craves the Shanghai soup dumplings “empowered” with foie gras at Manhattan’s upscale Annisa.

Maybe he was high on Szechuan peppercorns while writing the piece, because aside from a somewhat schizophrenic POV, Sokolov also takes a moment to throw out a stunning bit of cultural nonsense: “Perhaps we can blame the poor quality of virtually all Chinese restaurants outside Chinese enclaves on their patrons—descendants of the same non-Chinese who enabled self-taught immigrant Chinese chefs to invent chop suey.”

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