Man oh man do I love the satisfaction that comes with crossing off things on my to-do lists. Even better still when that satisfying feeling of completion comes along with the happy, stuffed high of a great, big delicious meal.
Such was the case earlier this week when a friend and I finally, after talking about it over and over and meaning to go for the past year or so, went to Mission Chinese Food, the tiny, much-raved about Americanized Chinese food joint made famous in San Fran and now also located in the Lower East Side.
Dinner service starts at 5:30pm and hungry folks line up outside before the door’s even unlocked and neon sign turned on just to claim one of the few spots in the no-reservations restaurant. Right there in that line, was us, ready to scarf down our hipster Chinese grub version of an early bird special. Even though I hate early dinners, especially when the sun’s still out, I’d gladly do it again because the food totally, if you ask me, lived up to the hype.
To celebrate our success at A.) getting our acts together and finally making it to the restaurant and B.) actually getting seated right away, we ordered ourselves some drinks. The chili margaritas, with their orangey pink color, citrusy bite and toasted chili kick were the perfect way to start things off.
Food at Mission Chinese comes out as the kitchen finishes it and for us, first out was the mapo ramen, a generous bowl of fatty pork broth, seaweed, coddledegg, mapo tofu and ramen noodles. Like many of the dishes here, this one wasn’t shy about being packed with bright bold flavors and a fiery kick that had me breaking out in full on nose sweats. (You know, when the bridge of your nose beads up with spicy food induced sweat. Not exactly my best look.)
Moments later came the lamb tongue and cuttlefish terrine, a cold, salady dish with soft egg, celery, frisée and a thick drizzle of hot mustard. The taste of the tongue was a bit buried under the other flavors, but that was fine by me because the egg was so buttery and soft and the mustard so rich and spicy that I was happy enough enjoying those.
Because I’m a sucker for all things pork belly, we ordered the shaved pork belly, a saucy and delicious plate of soft, plump meat in soy caramel with garlic and Sichuan pepper.
Never tiring of pig, we also ordered the stir fried pork jowl and radishes, an exotic looking mound of long, thin ribbons of meat tossed with fermented black bean, shiso and mint. Like everything else, bursting with flavors and textures, spices and herbs filling the whole inside of my head.
To maybe, just maybe, balance out the pork and other meats, we got a vegetable side of red braised eggplant, something that turned out to be one of my favorites of the night. (Not really that surprising since I’m an eggplant lover.) The fat chunks of tender eggplant were served in a spicy-but-not-too-hot oily sauce of chili paste, sichuan pepper and herbs and spices I couldn’t even began to guess about. All I needed to know was that I loved it all.
So while it made me happy to finally cross off going to Mission Chinese Food from my ever growing list of things to do in this city, now I have a new one to tack on to the bottom: go back to Mission Chinese, again and again, early bird dinner or not.