A few months ago I purchased the book, Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine by Sarah Lohman. It was one of the most interesting books I ever read and the author offers a compelling look at our history as it relates to food. She explains how eight flavors in America: black pepper, vanilla, curry powder, chili powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG, and Sriracha have helped form the American palate. One of the most interesting chapters in the book, in my opinion, is the chapter on Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). Chinese immigrants were among the first to use MSG in their cooking in America and by 1969, 58 million pounds of MSG were being produced ever year to meet the demands of food manufacturers. It was quite an interesting chapter and I became absorbed with learning more about Chinese cooking techniques and the use of MSG in Chinese cuisine. At the end of the book, the author mentions the Museum of Food and Drink, MOFAD, in Brooklyn, NY and, as luck would have it, their current exhibition is on the birth and evolution of Chinese-American restaurants; I was so excited to see the exhibition as a supplement to Lohman’s book.
*As an aside, I highly recommend Sarah Lohman’s book. Besides being informative, it has helped me find some cool places, such as, Kalustyan’s spice shop in New York City. Check out my article on that magical place right here.
The MOFAD exhibit in Brooklyn, rightfully named Chow, was excellent. I learned about the difficulties Chinese Americans faced when entering America after 1949 as a result of the California Gold Rush, the evolution of Chinese-American food and, most importantly, the most popular Chinese fast food dishes with a focus on their ingredients. This was not a solely academic day; I would never visit a food museum without tickling my taste buds! I indulged in a fabulous fortune cookie and took the opportunity to speak to the museum’s endearing staff about my love of food. In addition to their exhibit on Chinese-American cuisine, the exhibit offers a small tasting menu dedicated to the current exhibition for an extra $15. Additionally, they do trivia nights and various other events at the museum; it is definitely worth the trip. If you have had a chance to visit this museum and want to read more about the history of Chinese-American cuisine in America, I highly suggest, Ten Restaurants That Changed America; another fabulous book.
On the way back from Brooklyn, I had an intense craving for some delicious Chinese food for dinner so I did a bit of searching and came across, China Blue, in Tribeca. The restaurant itself was beautiful, charming, elegant, and mimics the bustling city of Shanghai in the early 20th Century. I thoroughly enjoyed the unique decorations, including the old-fashioned lights and lamps, the wooden chairs, and the myriad of pastel colored beams, that gave this place character. Additionally, as you walk inside there is a dimly lit room to your left containing vintage style couches, wooden bookshelves and various antique memorabilia including a typewriter and a telegraph, as well as Chinese pictures on the walls. The vibe felt very speakeasy, and I felt as if I was transported back to the 1920s. My guests and I spoke with the hostess and she sat us near the large, ornate windows and left us with little books as menus with tabs labeled, drinks, food, dessert and lunch. Another charming touch that made this place so memorable.
We started with cocktails, specifically, the lychee martinis which were bright and refreshing. I love sharing plates of things in any restaurant in order to taste the full range of delicacies offered. We split the Braised Tofu with King Crab Meat and the Marinated Duck as an appetizer. The tofu dish was very unique; the tofu was very silky and mild and came with shredded king crab meat in a light broth. The flavors were subtle, and the texture of the tofu allowed it to quickly melt in your mouth. The marinated duck came with a delicious hoisin sauce and the meat was very tender and fell right off the bone. As a main course, we split the pan fried, skin-on prawns sautéed in sugar and vinegar. It was as good as it sounds!
For dessert, we had the pumpkin cakes steamed with red bean filling and the red bean puffs along with some excellent Jasmine tea. The pumpkin cakes came four to an order and had a nice hot, sticky dough exterior and a delicious red bean flavor on the inside. The red bean puffs, also came four to a plate, and were my favorite as I love sesame seeds and the flaky pastry puff was excellent.
This was the most ethnic Chinese food I have had since I went to Chinatown in Bangkok two years ago. I was very pleased and can definitely see why the restaurant has a Michelin recommended sign as soon as you walk in! China Blue gives you an experience of truly ethnic Chinese food.