So I found myself craving a bit of Cantonese seafood the other night, and decided to go back to Ping's. It had been awhile since I'd been there - for whatever reason, I'd been favoring Oriental Garden, South China Garden, and Fuleen over the last couple years. But I noticed Ping's had a new website, facebook page, etc, and saw some dazzling looking dishes on them (foie gras w/ lotus root chips & pomegranate! really!?) so I figured, time for a revisit.
We popped in around 9:30 on a Saturday night, and every table was empty. Not to worry, though - they'd had a full buy-out, and we just happened to be the first walk-ins as the last of that group was leaving.
Since there were only two of us we didn't order a whole lot. We started off with a couple orders of dumplings - shrimp and "seafood with parsley" - the seafood in question turns out was just more shrimp, but no complaints here as they were delighful, light and juicy. The accompanying XO sauce was some of the best I've had in town (outside of my own homemade XO... but then I make mine all fancy-pants with extra-large conpoy and Serrano ham...)
Sea Bass two ways - listed as "Sea Bass with Asparagus" on the menu - was excellent, though there wasn't a stalk of asparagus to be found. One half of the dish had wok-sauteed fish of perfect texture over a bed of pea pods, the sauce more of a thin glaze, just enough to add oomph but never overpowering the fish. The other side had bone-in chunks flash-fried, so the outer fin bones were crunchy (though watch out for the inner bones... not so crunchy.)
Ping's Jicama Siu-Chow was, for me, the winner of the night. Kind of a sauteed slaw, with crispy fried fish-things studded throughout - no idea what they were, but fishy and delicious and perfectly balanced. I could go back again and again for this one.
Finally, the only disappointment of the evening was the E-Fu noodles with braised abalone. The abalone was decent, tender, and the mushrooms were solid, but the sauce... ugh. The flavor was okay if nothing exciting - honestly, it needed a bit of chili to liven it up - but it was SO heavy on the corn starch. They had described it as a soup or broth, but it was just a thick mucilaginous gloop. And because the noodles are not particularly toothsome but light and soft (they're made with seltzer, I think?) there was practically no textural difference between the sauce and the noodles themselves.
We couldn't have picked a better time to dine. Around 11:00 they closed the front door, though they never rushed us or any of the other diners out. Then from downstairs, the sound of a karaoke machine came on... for the next half hour the singing got louder and louder as whoever was down there seemed to get drunker and drunker. Turns out it was "the boss" - as our waiter explained to everyone in the room with a laugh when the singing reached a particularly emotive and gloriously off-key crescendo. For whatever reason, I like the fact that Chef Ping kicks back in the downstairs lounge after hours drunkenly belting out Chinese cabaret songs. That's the kind of ambience you can't buy.
Well... as it turns out, there was no foie gras on the menu - whether that's something only at the Queens location or something he just makes for special banquets, I don't know. But those noodles aside, Ping's is definitely back in the regular rotation. Now, if I can just figure out what I have to do to get that foie gras...
South China Garden
22 Elizabeth St, New York, NY 10013
11 Division St, New York, NY 10002
14 Elizabeth St, New York, NY 10013
22 Mott St, New York, NY 10013