Friday, July 1, 2011

Whither Mission Chinese Food?

This is not a review of anything. I have yet to eat at Mission Chinese Food, the restaurant-within-a-restaurant conceived and executed by Danny Bowien and Anthony Myint, and make no judgments as to the merits of its food. I’ve followed the buzz and do know it is loved by Alan Richman, The New York Times, and caucasian hipsters generally, less so by my Asian acquaintances (perhaps for philosophical reasons more than anything else).  It was named Best New Restaurant and Best Chinese Restaurant by SF Weekly.  I’m also of the opinion that whatever the lads are doing to Chinese food is not “dumbing it down,” since they are reportedly liberal with both the ma and the la of it when a dish warrants.

What I’m doing in this post is wondering aloud (and wondering if they are wondering) about where they go from here.  With obvious large talents and widening recognition of their efforts in a limiting, though intriguing venue, Bowien and Myint are ripe for busting out of their radical chic popstand at Lung Shan.  But in what direction will they take flight?

On their recent sojourn in China, Bowien and Myint paused to do a popup in a restaurant in Shenzhen, China, just across the border from Hong Kong.  It was an invitation-only affair, primarily targeting Hong Kong food bloggers.  Included among these was a long-term (in Internet time) twitter friend, @e_ting (Janice Leung), who also writes on food for the South China Morning Post.  It was she who first let me know about the event, and tweeted links to bloggers’ reviews as they came out.

This one-off event took place at the Capistrano Restaurant in Shenzhen on June 12, 2011.
According to the invitation sent by Anthony Myint to one blogger,  the event was conceived to cook “our style of Chinese food.”  Attendees were requested to not publicize the event in advance (but were free to blog about it afterward), and were not notified of the venue until the morning of the event.

Reactions to the meal (and many photos) can be found in the blogs of three of the participants, e*ting the worldFood of Hong Kong and Macau, and joie de vivre. Taste Hong Kong and Chopstixfix that I know of were also invited, but have yet to report on the dinner.

The menu consisted of seven courses:

  • Geoduck sashimi with razor clams, in clear tomato broth with herbal oil, and melon marinated in ginger sauce.
  • Chawan mushi of steamed egg,  scallop,  apple and chrysanthemum
  • Salt-baked prawns, accompanied by a side dish of 3 types of mushrooms in broth with pinenuts. 
  • Duck 3 ways -  duck breast,  shredded leg confit in ‘crepe purse’, and fried duck tongue
  • Steamed fish roulade with chicken liver & meat,  in broth of ginseng and barley
  • Sauterne with mangosteen and chrysanthemum
  • Cornmeal bread and cream with cognac, chrysanthemum syrup and Asian pear
When I first heard about the MCF's Shenzhen popup, I assumed it was to staged to seek validation from sophisticated real Chinese-in-China foodies for what Bowien and Myint had already been doing on Mission Street, San Francisco.  The menu and the descriptions and photos which came out of Shenzhen disabused me of that notion.  What they presented was more Bo Innovation than Yu Bo, and a far cry from the meat-centric, ma la happy proletarian fare one would expect at Mission Chinese Food. Why were they running this menu by a gathering of influential Hong Kong Bloggers? Another thing I noticed from the accounts coming out of Shenzhen (and you can make what you will of it) was the unequal prominence of the two  partners.  It was Myint who apparently sent out the invites and Myint whose cooking was photographically featured by two of the bloggers.  One blogger even referred to Myint and his wife as "our hosts,"  while Danny Bowien seemed to be staying in the background.  Who is the Great Helmsman at Mission Chinese food, and where will he take it?

As Col. Hall might say, What are they up to?

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