Well, Siestema at the Village Voice has weighed in, the NY Times has weighed in, and our own Lau here at Chowhound has weighed in - even Eddie Huang, owner of Baohaus has weighed in - they're all excited about the Bo Zai Fan (Clay Pot Rice) at A-Wah.
Color me underwhelmed.
I eat in Chinatown a lot - at least a couple nights a week. I love me some little holes-in-walls (Ah Ping!) and unexpected flavors and ingredients. The only thing unexpected about A-Wah was how bland everything was.
I dined there last night and it was, to be frank, one of the worst meals I've had in Chinatown in at least two years.
The clay pot rice everyone's going nuts over - really? Really? Let's start with the rice itself, since it makes up about 90% of the dish: not very good. The flavor and texture was noting to write home about, and it didn't so much crisp against the sides of the bowl as get dried out and chewy. This is no Dol Sut Bi Bim Bap.
The meats (of which there were very little) it was topped with were nothing worth going back for, either. The Chinese Sausage was what it was - perfectly fine. But the other meats we had were more bone than anything edible. I don't mind bones in my food (you can find me knawing down on one in a bowl of hand-pull noodles at Lam Zhou on East Broadway pretty frequently) but this was ridiculous. And the way it was cut up was so haphazard it may have been dangerous - while some pieces were obviously mostly bones with little bits of meat to pull off, others were cut so randomly that what looked like a whole piece of meat would have tiny, sharp shards that you only found once you bit into it.
As to the flavor of the meats, they were fine, though in that case of the Bo Zai Fan - Sausage and Preserved Duck - store bought. A second dish of lamb and bean curd skin over rice was worse. The lamb was even bonier than the preserved duck from the casserole, and what bits of meat one could find were completely flavorless. It takes some skill to render lamb flavorless. It seemed it had been boiled in water for hours upon hours with no seasoning, until all the flavor had been drained out. The sauce appeared to be nothing but the unseasoned boiling liquid thickened with a hefty dollop of corn starch. The rice, oddly, was s different kind than was in the BZF - a shorter grain - and completely overcooked.
A dish of sauteed vegetables ("Buddhist Style") was ruined by drowning them in yet more flavorless corn starch gloop. Really, I began to wonder if there were any spices (or soy sauce or salt or even MSG for that matter) in the kitchen, or if all they did was boil everything and add corn starch to the resulting mess.
The only things with any taste at the table were the bottled condiments - the much-vaunted thick soy "syrup", which was okay if nothing amazing. There was the usual chili oil, and some kind of red vinegar. The chili oil was seriously lacking in any heat. One had to add these to every dish, and the result was - because the dishes had no flavor of their own - that every dish wound up tasting the same. And since the two main dishes were primarily rice, that's pretty much all we ate. Sweetend soy sauce over rice with bland chili oil.
It's cheap, sure, but frankly you'd get a better meal paying even half that at any "three meats over rice" joint.
Well, that's my opinion. One vote against.
137 Rivington St, New York, NY 10002
5 Catherine St, New York, NY 10038