Grub Street: The absolute best Chinese restaurant in Chinatown (NYC)

Grub Street (by Hannah Goldfield):

For six weeks, the editors of New York Magazine and Grub Street are publishing a series of definitive lists that declare the absolute best versions of 101 things to eat, drink, and do. The idea that there is “no good Chinese food in Chinatown” has prevailed for quite some time now; it’s an argument that’s been put forth by our own Adam Platt. It’s true that if you’re looking for Chinese food that will expand your mind and thrill your palate, you’re much better off trekking to Flushing or Sunset Park, or even other parts of Manhattan. It’s also true that there’s a certain brand of Cantonese food — made bland, sweet, and gloppy to cater to a certain American sensibility — that dominates in Chinatown, or at least most people’s idea of the neighborhood, and some of it is genuinely bad. But there are dozens and dozens of restaurants in the neighborhood — with new ones opening regularly and old ones changing hands. Not all of them are Cantonese, and some of them offer food that is very good — plus a whole lot of atmosphere. Herein, five of the absolute best full-service Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, right now.

The Absolute Best

1. Royal Seafood
103 Mott Street, nr. Canal St.; 212-219-2338

It’s a good idea to call before making plans for dinner here; though they don’t take reservations, except for large groups, the entire place is often bought out for banquets. Even when they’re not closed for a private event, you might find yourself an unwitting participant in one, since they often rent out half the dining room for weddings and the like, bisecting it with a curtain. But what could be more fun than eating festive, family-style Cantonese standards — like the really excellent off-menu lobster you’ll see on almost every table, hacked into shell-on pieces, then lightly fried in batter and strewn with ginger, scallions, and garlic — while listening to the joyous sounds of celebration from the other side? It’s an institution, as integral to the fabric of the local community as it is welcoming to outsiders, with cheerful pale-pink tablecloths, friendly but efficient service, and plenty of delicious non-lobster dishes, too, including the addictively crispy, caramelized fried Peking pork chops; a steamed half-chicken, served with the requisite salty scallion-ginger-oil condiment; and full dim sum service on weekends. For a similar but calmer and less exciting experience, Oriental Garden offers many of the same dishes in a much smaller dining room, which makes, especially, for a refreshingly non-hectic dim sum destination.

2. Spicy Village
68 Forsyth St., near Hester St.; 212-625-8299
Spicy Village, formerly known as Henan Flavor, is a definition hole in the wall: a narrow sliver of a space that lets in almost no natural light, with just half a dozen tables. Food arrives, for the most part, in Styrofoam, but that does little to detract from its fantastic flavors, imported from China’s Henan province. Jagged-edge hand-pulled noodles show up in bowls of rich, steamy lamb or beef broth bobbing with brisket or fish balls, and again dry-sautéed with egg and tomato or dense, pungent black-bean sauce. Perfect steamed pork dumplings come a whopping 12 to an order, for just $5 — almost nothing on the menu is more than $6. An important exception is the $13.75 Spicy Big Tray Chicken, beloved by Danny Bowien and Mark Bittman; it’s a mess of juicy dark-meat bone-in chunks and tender quartered potatoes enveloped in a dark, satisfyingly beer-based braise, flecked with Sichuan peppercorns and cumin and fennel seeds. It’s best ordered with a side of those hand-pulled noodles, and/or a couple of “pancakes,” arepa-like doughy rounds with crisp exteriors that come plain or stuffed with minced pork or egg.

3. Great New York Noodletown
28 Bowery, nr. Bayard St.; 212-349-0923

Ask a celebrity chef for her or his favorite places to eat in Chinatown, and you are likely to get New York Noodletown among the responses. Open daily until 4 a.m., it has a reputation for being nothing more than a place to fill a drunk stomach cheaply, and it’s true that the grimy-tile-and-fluorescent-light atmosphere is probably best appreciated (read: ignored) under the influence, but the food is also much better than it has to be, no matter your mental state. There are noodles, of course, in soups topped with juicy slices of roast pork, chicken, or duck, or served in a room-temperature tangle drizzled with a tangy ginger sauce that will make the back of your throat tingle pleasantly, plus a scattering of shredded raw scallion (it’s the dish David Chang credits as the inspiration for the chilled ginger noodles on the menu at his Noodle Bar). And when in season, soft-shell crabs are salt-baked to a deeply satisfying, light-as-air crackle.

4. Big Wong King
67 Mott St., nr. Bayard St.; 212-964-0540

There is something deeply comforting about Big Wong King, which serves up top-notch versions of many Cantonese standards, but is an especially good place to get a warm bowl of perfect congee, topped with roast duck or salted pork and chopped thousand-year egg, and best ordered with a giant fried cruller for dipping. It’s hard to imagine a better breakfast. They also do a mean steamed rice crêpe, flecked with tiny dried shrimp and scallions and drizzled in soy sauce — or, for a full on carbfest, get the one that comes wrapped around slices of that same fried cruller. To top it off, the service is a thing of wonder, with waitstaff moving around the room in a seamless ballet, delivering and removing plates and pouring tea and water with an efficiency that could be studied in business school. Depending on what you order, you can be in and out of here in 20 minutes. Which is not to say you’ll want to be; the late-’70s décor, which includes a wood-paneled wall with a groovy round doorway that divides two dining areas, is part of the charm.

5. Wonton Noodle Garden
56 Mott St. nr. Bayard St.; 212-966-4033

There is no shortage of wonton soup in Chinatown — it’s on the menu almost everywhere — but it’s nice to know that one of the very best versions is at a place so named for it, sometimes also referred to as New Wonton Garden, due to a change in ownership. A big corner of the dining room is devoted to the soup’s making, with a huge vat of deep golden, intensely umami broth (if the flavor comes from MSG, they’re using it masterfully) simmering at all times. Poured over a nest of thin egg noodles and a handful of neatly wrapped wontons filled with juicy pork and perfectly crunchy shrimp, it makes a filling, excellent meal, but there are plenty of other things on the menu to supplement, from classic roasted meats to Cantonese-style lo mein, served with a side of broth.

50th anniversary Ultraman sneakers by Converse All Star

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RocketNews 24 (by KK Miller):

After 50 years on air, Ultraman has become an iconic hero of the modern Japanese age. He’s such a staple of Japanese TV that he is being included in a set of themed “working hero” shoes released by Converse All Star.

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Is Ultraman really a normal everyday working hero? Who else is part of this line-up?

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Mechanic, astronaut, hunter, fireman, police officer, Ultraman??? Maybe it’s not that Ultraman is some normal “working hero”, but that the people who do these other jobs are actually working superheroes!

If you are ready to take on the responsibilities of Ultraman, the super flashy red and silver Ultraman R Hi All Star will cost you 9,500 yen (US$88.80). However, that isn’t the only Ultraman star getting a brand new set of shoes. Collectors can also grab a pair of Baltanseijin R Slip Ox for the same price, or some Eleking R Hi for 8,500 yen ($79.45).

Universities plan to build android of Japanese literary great Soseki Natsume

RocketNews 24:

Soseki Natsume: writer, a man long dead. We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was: better, stronger, faster…

With 2016 marking the 100th anniversary of his death and next year celebrating his 150th birthday, this is perhaps an appropriate time to honor one of Japan’s greatest writers, Soseki Natsume. And what better way to pay tribute to the author of classics such as Kokoro and I Am a Cat than by making a robot of him?

That’s exactly what the Nishogakusha University Graduate School is planning. In 1881, a young Natsume was enrolled there and heavily influenced by their teachings of Chinese poetry and Confucianism. And to celebrate the institution’s 140th anniversary they are hoping for his return, only this time as “Soseki Android.”

First, a team of students at Nishogakusha will conduct in-depth research into Natsume’s life, revisiting not only his extensive written works and life story but also gathering information about his physical appearance and size for an accurate android. To help out, major newspaper Asahi Shimbun has agreed to allow them access to their large collection of photos and works of their former employee Soseki Natsume.

▼ Old-timers in Japan may remember Natsume as the guy on the 1,000 yen bill 

Once the necessary information has been gathered, a team at the Osaka University Graduate School of Engineering Science will take on the challenge of building Soseki Android with the assistance of robotics company A-Lab, who made headlines with their Asuna android last year.

The sound of Soseki Android will be extracted from samples of his grandson Fusanosuke Natsume’s voice.

When the robot is complete, they hope to program him to give lectures at universities, high schools, and junior high schools. Understandably, a robotic Soseki Natsume might be a little too intense for elementary school kids.

The aim is to breathe life into his works by allowing the students to witness Soseki Natsume reading and discussing them first-hand. It is hoped this will inspire them to read and write more, improving their language skills.

Starbucks matcha marches into the Via lineup with new, Japan-exclusive green tea drink mix

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RocketNews 24 (by Casey Baseel):

The powdered drink series isn’t just for coffee anymore.

While most people immediately think “coffee” when they hear “Starbucks,” the immensely popular chain of cafes also does a brisk business in teas at its Japanese locations. In 2001, the chain introduced the Matcha Cream Frappuccino, which predated the current matcha sweets boom by several years and paved the way for this year’s Chocolate Brownie Matcha, plus the matcha tea latte, which was added to the menu in 2006.

Now, Starbucks is bringing out the first Japan-exclusive item in its Via line of instant beverage mixes: Tea Essence Matcha.

▼ Tea Essence Matcha, hanging out with its coffee-based Via half-siblings

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The matcha Via contains the same domestically produced matcha tea powder as Starbucks uses for its barista-prepared beverages while offering the convenience and portability of Via’s powdered drink bases. Starbucks recommends mixing the contents of a pack with milk for a rich, relaxing cup of matcha latte.

Matcha Via goes on sale June 17 at Starbucks Japan branches and through the company’s online store, priced at 650 yen (US$5.90) for a pack of five.