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Friday, March 23, 2012

The Annals of Chinese

Chinese food.  I think of chicken with brocoli, fried rice, the chicken of that famous general, orange beef, sweet and sour pork.  This is what I grew up eating in Pittsburgh.  It was served by people who looked Chinese to me, so I assumed this must be what Chinese people eat, either in Pittsburgh or Beijing.

But that is not Chinese food, some will say.  It's Americanized.  It's not authentic! I moved to New York, in part, to seek out the True ethnic foods. When I first encountered Flushing, Queens, I came to believe that I was finally encountering the real deal. Ah, this is what real Chinese people eat!  How adventurous I am; how worthy of praise I am.   I’ve since become quite wary of calling anything "authentic."  Indeed, calling something authentic says more about the speaker than of what is being spoken of.

For anyone who has an interest in the tensions between American and Motherland Chinese, Redfarm is worthy of consideration.  It's owned by Ed Schoenfeld, a Brooklyn Jew, who established himself within the world of the Golden Age Chinese restaurants, the new class of Chinese restaurants that sprang up in New York back in the 60s during a new wave of immigration.

I don’t live in Brooklyn, but I’d like to, and I am Jewish, so perhaps I am the new Ed Schoenfield?  Yes, I’m glad you agree.  Now that we have that taken care of, what about Redfarm?  Well, if you listen to its website, “This new destination from dim sum master chef Joe Ng and Chinese food expert Ed Schoenfeld aims to be one of the most exciting and influential restaurants in the country.”  A lofty goal.

The place is in the West Village, and has an open, wooden-clad, cute dining room, filled mostly with large communal tables.  It’s always packed.  There are lots of affluent West Villagers around.  While I was outside waiting for a table (mercifully, only 75 minutes), there were two individuals speaking so loudly and enthusiastically about yoga that I wanted to shoot myself.  Please, no one cares about how mind blowing your yoga is.

I digress. Redfarm. The menu seems very much to be a nod to the classical American-type Chinese (fried rices, noodles, crispy beef, stir fries).  You might be asking yourself, what did I eat?  I will tell you…

-Crispy Beef
-Shrimp and Snow Pea Leaf Dumplings
-Wide Rice Noodles with Shredded Roast Duck
- Grilled & Sautéed Short Ribs, Carrots & Asparagus
- Okra & Thai Eggplant Yellow Curry (probably the most un-Chinese dish on the menu, and maybe the most delicious)

I shall not go into the specific details of these dishes. I will say they were all good. The freshness of the ingredients was apparent. Did I love anything I ate? Not exactly. Truth be told, I didn’t enjoy it anymore than some of the better Chinese takeout places I’ve been to, which is to say I enjoyed it a good bit, but it wasn’t a revelatory experience. Perhaps that's because I’m used to this type of Chinese (yes yes, it had great ingredients and some inventive twists, but what I ate tasted like the various incarnations of that type of Chinese of which General Tso’s belongs).

The whole experience was fun and pleasant. In the end, after a $12 cocktail, I dropped $72. Based purely on the food, I’ve enjoyed a much larger feast of Szechuan food for less than half the price, gaining possibly twice the pleasure.

The dumplings, listed above, with sesame seed eyes, looked like little green aliens. As I ate them, I hoped the gastronomical extraterrestrials would come to life and beam those annoying yoga fanatics into their spaceship, never to return. That didn't happen, though, as far as I know.