About four years ago while strolling through Chinatown I blundered upon a restaurant that served the best Chinese food -- by far -- that I have ever encountered. Under the Manhattan Bridge, this cavernous banquet palace was totally hidden from the street and the only reason I found it is that the first week it was open, they had a huge banner on East Broadway. I have eaten there about twenty times and never saw a diner who was not Chinese. I have never told a soul, but now that I've discovered Chowhound it is time to share. Three caveats. First, I haven't been there in over a year, so it may have gone way downhill. (That often happens in Chinatown. A banquet hall discovers a new chef. He becomes a superstar, dazzles diners for a year or two, then leaves for another job that pays better.) Second, all the good stuff is on a menu writen only in Chinese. (Ignore teh English menu!) Last, it is primarily a banquet hall. It is usually given over to wedding receptions -- boisterous, fun, lively, but about half the time I went, I couldn't get in. Sometimes there'd be a tiny part of the hall, screened off, for walk-in diners. Once or twice, after they got to know me, they'd sneak me in to a reception. And what a joy that was! There would be act after act of entertainers: Peking opera, costumed dancers, comedians, Taiwanese rock singers with dancing. Even when I was behind the screen, I could hear the action and wished I was part of it.
And the food. It was the only Chinese place I've encountered that was incredibly creative but worked within tradition. (Most Chinese places that try to be creative go overboard and feature shrimps with mayonnaise or ham and cheese with spaghetti.) One entree was perfectly cooked eel steaks of the plumpest juiciest eels I've seen served atop a bed of fried candied apples! It was a bit sweet, but the sweetness and the salty eels worked in harmony and given a bit of tweaking and this dish could be served to applause at Jean-Georges. Another was a version of a seafood casserole I've had in other places (one Chinese character has three tiny squares, another has a horizontal line, meaning number one) but infinitely better. A big clay pot with a little burner under it. In the pot, bubbling in a rich, thick brown sauce that varied in thickness so you'd in effect have several different sauces, were slices of good-quality abalone, beef tendons, chicken feet, tiny puff pastry balls filled with what tasted like pate, scallops, all perfectly cooked, reclining on a bed of fresh spinach leaves. Every time I left that place, I'd be planning the next visit.
Ming Dynasty, 75-85 East Broadway, New York, NY, 212-732-8886