For years, a lot of us that lived in Chinatown avoided Nom Wah because it was too grimey... even for people from the hit movie, Gremlins. We respected it as the oldest Dim Sum Parlor in NYC Chinatown, but it looked more like a place for foot massages than almond cookies. Enter Wilson Tang.
People say Wilson revamped the restaurant, but the adjustments were all front of the house. He cleaned it up, re-organized it, got a wine list, and did the things any owner would, but left the kitchen and most staff intact. Yet, when Nom Wah re-opened, received a great review from Ligaya Mishan, and people outside Chinatown descended on the landmark, people in the neighborhood resented it.
Anytime I asked how Nom Wah v2 was, they'd say things like "It's a hipster spot" or "White people eat there". Traditionally, these are valid identifiers of shitty restaurants. It took white people a while to get adventurous and eat "authentic" ethnic food, so, it's only reasonable that it's taking a little time for 1st/2nd gen immigrants to accept that it's possible for them to have good taste. This integration is a two-way street yall.
One day, I decided to try Nom Wah for myself with my boy, Steve, at the recommendation of his Grandma and it was a revelation. Bouncy dumpling skins with perfect pores, toothsome rice rolls, shrimp that was actually cleaned. I mean, really, dim sum joints, HOW ARE SOME OF YOU STILL SERVING RICE ROLLS WITH SHRIMP POOP. If that's authentic, I eject.
Nom Wah became my spot for a few months and I really liked that they served dim sum through the night. Most places cut off at 2:30 or 3pm. One night, I had a date at Nom Wah and for what was probably the first time since Y2K, I was early by 10 minutes. I walked up to the joint, grabbed the handle of the door and stopped. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a food photographer, a writer from grubstreet, and some other industry people at the long table.
I called the girl and we bailed. Not because they aren't nice people, but because Nom Wah had officially become a hangout where you'd get your spot blown. It sucked to realize that I'd have to cross Nom Wah off the date night list, but I'm happy for Wilson and I'm there once a month on weekend afternoons. We complain all the time about American chefs getting credit for fucking up Asian food and putting it on square plates, but here's a guy who dedicated his life to the family business and serves food his parents and grandparents would be proud of. Shit, all of New York is proud of the dim sum being served at Nom Wah, it's probably tops.
Wilson did not "cater" to people outside the neighborhood or make it uncomfortable for Chinatown residents. He didn't tell people he was elevating, refining, or setting a new standard in Chinatown.
All he did was CLEAN THE COT DAMN RESTAURANT. There's nothing wrong with that. Really, "Asian People Who Don't Like Nom Wah", YOU ARE THE HIPSTERS! You are the ones who can't judge things on a case to case basis and instead rely on stigmas that good Chinese food is cheap, dirty, and served by gremlin keepers. One reason a lot of Chinese people in Chinatown are still broke and dirty is because you dumb asses perpetuate it. I bet half of you are yelping from cubicles because you have the luxury of "slumming" it. Get a life; Chinatown is not some poor laborer amusement park you come visit for fun.
It's really rare to see someone running their restaurant in a way that serves the current residents, respects the past, delivers quality, doesn't encourage displacement, while also drawing the next generation of customers. Wilson Tang hit the mother fucking trifecta and he should get a medal. End of story.
P.S. Not addressing "authenticity" here because we've done it numerous times before. Read old posts. Company line: Authenticity is an outdated filter for judging food, but it doesn't mean we can be irreverent about where things are from and how they're supposed to be done. It's fine to break the rules, but only if you're better. Creativity is not license to shit the bed. Like we learned in Major League 2, "If you can hit it, you can name it..." "I call it the masturbator."