Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Do Your Thing Wilson...

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."


15 comments:

  1. "He didn't tell people he was elevating, refining, or setting a new standard in Chinatown." MESSAGE (c) Keenan Ivory Wayans

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  2. Let the record show that I asked for XO sauce once and they said they don't give extra.

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    1. I went there and they gave my whole table extra XO sauce. They also have amazing hot sauce that they happily handed over. I've never been to a nicer restaurant and I am born and raised in Manhattan. Not that being nice really matters. The food is awesome and it's a fun spot.

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  3. i'm chinese, probably a hipster, and i don't give a fuck - NOM WAH is awesome & wilson is great. if you don't want to eat there because *GASP* white people are eating there, then fine, go somewhere else. more shrimp rice rolls (sans shrimp poop) for me.

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  4. I don't eat at Nom Wah cause the food is eh. Doesn't help that they have douche bag bars next door to them that cater to real hipster dbags littering the streets of Doyer. Back in the old days, the Pell St. boys woulda cracked some heads.

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  5. I've eaten at both the old and the new Nom Wah, and my hat is off to Wilson. He has preserved the very best of the place and improved all that needed improving.

    Well done, sir. Very well done.

    Bravo!

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  6. You kiss your mother with that mouth ??

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  7. All of the Chinese posting here, are either self-haters like the author, or white people perpetrating a fraud, pretending to be Chinese. LOL!!!

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  8. I'm not Chinese - not even close. As a kid I didn't want to eat anything that I couldn't identify; not picky, just a pain in the ass about food sometimes.

    In 1979 I went to Nom Wah for the first time - I was 10 and my parents were nervous that I wouldn't eat. We lived upstate and it would ahve been a long drive home with a cranky hungry me in the back seat being tormented by my older brother.

    Upon arriving at Nom Wah, we entered a warm, almost steamy room (it was January) that looked unchanged from when it had been built in the 20's. It smelled of good food and the room was abuzz with people speaking anything but English.

    Now, 33 years later I remember the moment well enough to say that I ate everyting I could get my hands on. My parents were agog.

    I've gone back to Nom Wah everytime I was in NY from then on - up to six years ago when visiting with my then very pregnant wife. After that trip I resolved not to return because the throwback charm had turned to not-so-benign neglect.

    I'm glad to know that Mr. Tang has poured his energy on this place. When next in NY, I will go back. Hipster or not, good food is good food. Authenticity is left for those steeped in that tradition to identify. You want to talk Matzo Ball Soup then I'm your boy. As to Dim Sum, I only know what I like, and for all of my life I have measured everything I'd had against Nom Wah. I'm glad to know I had a good benchmark...and that I have a great reason to go back and check it out again.

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  9. Clint from the EastwoodAugust 27, 2012 at 1:46 PM

    Well said, Huang. One of the few joints in Manhattan Chinatown that does dim sum right.

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  10. Trawling old posts I can't help but think you need to visit Toronto if you haven't already. Our Chinese game is dumb tight. I fully attribute this to the sheer abundance of Chinese (HK Cantonese, Mainlanders, Taiwanese, Hakka, Northerners, hell even Uyghur's - which is next level shit - that are here). Because of that, I've noticed that a lot of non-Chinese have a pretty acute and refined palette for the food. If it's good, it's good. Whether the place is a shithole or look's like a nouveau riche palace doesn't really matter. Very rarely does the word hipster ever enter the lexicon of Chinese food here which is pretty awesome IMO.

    Anyways, keep up the good work and take solace in the fact that there are Chinese around the world just like you (who grew up on a healthy dose of Mobb, Biggie and salted cuttle fish) that feel you.

    PS: I also feel that I have to disclaim that I'm Chinese Jamaican or else I'll get vilified by people on the internet that I don't know and don't care about. But whatevs.

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