104 2nd Ave (between 6th and 7th St, East Village)
Fatty Kat Eats: Ma Po Tofu, Steamed Whole Tilapia with Ginger Scallion, Dry Sauteed String Beans, Village Steamed Pork with Steamed Buns
It's difficult to find a neighborhood Chinese restaurant run by Chinese people where customers actually want to sit and eat. Besides Chinatown, such places are usually good for delivery, takeout and not much else.
Hot Kitchen and its new rival, Han Dynasty, are changing Chinese food in the East Village. They both happen to be Sichuan Chinese restaurants, but it's hard to compare the abbreviated menu at Han Dynasty with the more traditional one at Hot Kitchen. Neither are as entirely good as Wu Liang Ye. That reminds me, I've never posted about it, because it's my family's not-so-secret spot.
Hot Kitchen has a straightforward menu that even has an "American Chinese Food" section. Love the unabashed honesty. There wasn't much coursing during our meal, so we started with the Chow Fun with Shrimp. This is straight up comfort food. The chewy noodles were fantastic and teased my taste buds to no end. I was a little freaked out by the shrimp, which were almost too crunchy and plump. I got over it...first world problems.
After the unfortunate ma po tofu at Han Dynasty, I was a little weary of ordering it here. So glad one of my fatty friends was in a tofu-or-die kind of mood, because the Ma Po Tofu was "bomb diggitayyy" as she would say. The silky tofu was both soft and firm, just enough that your chopsticks could grab a little something before it fell apart. The delicious sauce was more hearty than spicy, but that was fine with me.
Get ready for this. My first General Tso's Chicken ever! I didn't grow up eating anything like this, but my fellow fatties were eager to get some neon red chicken. I was on board for the sake of it. I mean, the restaurant had the balls to make "American Chinese Food" an entire section of their menu, so why the hell not? Firstly, the chicken was real chicken, so that's already pretty good. The sauce was definitely tasty but a little too intense for my liking. Now, I can at least understand why this dish is so popular in America, but I still can't get over the neon red hue.
The Steamed Whole Tilapia with Ginger Scallion took us 180 from the General Tso's. Steamed fish is one of my favorite ways to eat fish, and you can't beat the purity in a little soy sauce, cooking wine, ginger and scallions. The actual fish wasn't amazing in quality, but it tasted just fine for a casual dinner.
The Dry Sauteed String Beans was pretty much unavoidable. You convince yourself about its nutritional value and try to forget about the vat of oil and minced pork behind the magic. These beans were great but Han Dynasty wins, hands down. They put crack in their string beans.
Lastly, we tried the Village Steamed Pork with Steamed Buns based off a pretty Yelp picture. I loved everything about the sweet pork belly and fluffy steamed buns, but the preserved mustard greens were way too oily. We call these greens "mei cai" in Chinese, and it's known to be oily. So basically, you're stuck between a rock and a hard place. Eat or not to eat? You know the answer.
We like a lot of stuff at Hot Kitchen. It's great for an average night out, but don't expect anything to wow your pants off. All that stuff is in the motherland! We still have to try Hot Kitchen's hot pot, so stayed tuned fatties!