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My Chinese Banquet at XingReview By: Andrea Strong
When you get a craving for Chinese food, it is usually a ravenous need for the take-out stuff, not the fusion-laced plates of frizzle-topped fare of China Grill, Asia de Cuba, or Tao. Sure, they all do a nice job, but they dress it up too much, flourishing it with flavors from places outside China’s borders, drizzling it with neon-colored squeeze bottle sauces and often serving it with an alphabetically arranged collection of couture dipping sauces. Look, it’s all good, but it’s not the sort of Chinese that speaks to your gut. It’s not that carton of cold sesame noodles, beef with broccoli, or General Tso’s Chicken with extra sauce that you pace around your apartment for, counting the 13.5 minutes that you know it will take from the time you hang up your receiver until the downstairs buzzer rings.
For Josh Eden (Shorty Chef as some of you may know him), who was the chef de cuisine at 66, and who has worked for years for JGV and traveled extensively through China, Chinese Food was all about the stuff you yearned for from your couch. His vision was to bring Chinese take out to the dining room. What he has created at Xing—the latest restaurant from Hell’s Kitchen’s John Dempsey—is what he calls the “Greatest Hits of Chinese Take Out Menus.” Yup, all your favorites are here—Egg rolls, Moo Shu Pork, Chicken with Cashew Nuts—gussied up not with fusion twists or frilly garnishes, but with the best ingredients, and the skill of a classically trained chef with the most refined technique. There are no gummy sauces or greasy egg rolls here, and what this means is the food at Xing is a delicious anthology of guilty pleasures—dishes that you know well from your past, but have never known like this.
There were eight of us at Xing on a recent Girl’s Night Out. When I arrived with Lisa and Robin, Jamie was already sucking on a blue straw that protruded from the belly of a ceramic Buddha filled with Electric Karma—a feisty ginger-spiked vodka cocktail. While we waited for our table in the smooth wood-paneled bar, dramatically accented with kiwi colored jewel-striped plexiglass installations, we passed the Buddha around, sipping from his belly straw, blushing from the ridiculously suggestive drinking method, but not really caring because that drink was pretty damn good. Yes, Xing is the perfect spot for such silliness—whether with your best girls or a coed team of eaters.
Our GNO dinner was a Chinese Banquet of riches—platters of crispy egg rolls, baskets of glistening dumplings, steamy bowls of fried rice—washed down with endless bottles of wine. One tip—make sure you go hungry because you will want to have room for lots of Josh’s Greatest Hits, because indeed (for the most part) they are GREAT.
Our banquet feast began with golden, utterly greaseless Egg Rolls ($3) stuffed to steam pipe size with shredded vegetables and pork, with a sweet and sticky duck sauce, and a platter of slender Shrimp Rolls ($6) delicately filled up with whole sweet shrimp and veggies, served with lettuce leaves, fresh mint and cilantro. Tuck some herbs in between the lettuce leaf and the shrimp roll, wrap it up, and dip it in some sweet and sour sauce and you pretty much have the perfect edible experience—the hot, crispy wonton skin, the sweet and juicy shrimp, the cool lettuce, and the refreshing flash of herbs.
The table was then assaulted with a wow-worthy Chilled Green Bean Salad ($8)—fresh, crisp, snappy beans showered with fresh toasted garlic. Next came Peking Duck Rolls ($9) with rich hoisin sauce. While I loved the crispy skinned slices of Peking Duck inside, the rolls were wrapped up a few too many times, so that the wrapper to duck ratio was off: too much wrapper, not enough duck. Sadly, I wasn’t really impressed with the Shrimp Hargow ($6) either. The glistening oval dumplings were fine, but they were sort of flavorless, and they were impossible to eat with Xing’s fancy shiny black chopsticks. These chopsticks may look cool, but they are too slippery. They don’t give you a grip on the dumplings—so those suckers just slip right through onto your lap, or if you are lucky, the plate in front of you. (They landed in my lap.) So to eat the dumplings, you’ve got to use a single chopstick like a harpoon and stab the thing, or just pick them up with your hands. Note to Xing: lose the fancy chopsticks.
But there were no complaints about the Crispy Shrimp ($12) with sweet pineapple mayonnaise. These flash fried shrimp—plump, moist, and hot—are plated on a creamy sauce made of condensed milk, mayo and pineapple juice. While I don’t know if I would ever combine the aforementioned ingredients, I am glad Josh had the brilliant foresight to do so. You will want to eat these with your hands and then lick your fingers and the fingers of those of anyone around you. (Do ask first before licking.) And yes, these taste as good as they are bad for you. Indeed, the guiltiest of pleasures are often the best of pleasures (until the next morning at least).
Now, let’s just get this next point straight so there’s no misunderstanding: The fish is off the charts here people. The Sweet and Sour Snapper ($16) is worthy of a standing ovation, or even a spontaneous Wave at your table. Josh fries a large and luscious filet so it has that bubbly crisp, and stays moist and sweet on the inside, and serves it swimming in a fearless cheek-puckering, brow-sweating sweet and sour sauce—Punch! Pow! Yum!
A rice noodle basket stocked with scallops and shrimp ($17) in XO sauce was tossed with a magnificent collection of fresh bright green vegetables so perfectly cooked you could teach a vegetable cookery class from their example. We were also floored by the Steamed Fish ($17)—a flawless snapper from Thailand, in a saucy bath of ginger and coriander that astounded us in its bold simplicity—as if to say, “Yes I am just a steamed fillet of fish, but look how good I can be when someone treats me right!”
Now, what would a Greatest Hits of Chinese Takeout Menu album be without General Tso’s Chicken ($12)? Nothing! Let me tell you, Josh’s General is fabulous. Actually, this one is so good, it’s a Colonel. (Is Colonel higher than a General? Hope so. Sorry, I have no idea.) Seriously, you won’t be able to order this dish from your local joint because Josh’s version is just too good to be true, and to go back to the old gummy greasiness, well, it will be a challenge. It’s like having really phenomenal sex—you realize what you have been missing, and you just can’t go back. (Or at least you try not to. Desperate times do call for desperate measures, I suppose, so in a take-out emergency, I guess you will survive.) Anyway, Josh’s General (Colonel) Tso’s Chicken ($12) is sensational: oversized hunks of tender deep-fried chicken slicked with a lightly syrupy golden brown gloss, flecked with sesame seeds, and flanked by the brightest green steamed broccoli. Soft moans were indeed audible, especially from Susie and Cori’s end of the table.
Bellies bulging over our jeans, we forged onward, lifting large piles of ludicrously good Moo Shu Pork ($12) straight from the plate and into our mouths (skipping pancakes and hoisin sauce accoutrement altogether). And don’t think we didn’t pile on some fried rice ($8-$12)—a perfectly seasoned bowl of silky rice jumbled up with finely diced al dente veggies and bits of scrambled egg.
Wait. There’s more. I haven’t gotten to the donuts yet—beignets, actually, dusted in five spice powder, served in take-out cartons with some fruit puree dipping sauces. Take that carton and get it away from the rest of the people at the table. Puffy, freshly fried, utterly greaseless, and sugared with spices, these hot pom poms of yeasty dough will make you delirious with glee. Yes, GLEE!
And that, my dear readers, is the point of Xing. Who needs haute cuisine with levitating foams when you can have Egg Rolls, Crispy Shrimp, General Tso’s Chicken, Five Spice Donuts, and cocktails sucked out of a ceramic Buddha? Gather your friends together, and go to XING and get yourselves some GLEE. Life is too short to be lived without such delicious guilty pleasures.
Neighborhood: West 50s
Entree Price: $10-15
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