With its soaring ceilings, massive open kitchen and multiple backlit bars, Midtown's China Grill is as much the showstopper today as when it first opened thirty years ago. The crown jewel in restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow's empire, the behemoth Asian fusion hotspot—the dining room occupies a full city block—is a testament to the enduring appeal of Chodorow’s philosophy of dining as entertainment. Before Top Chef combined showbiz and Shun knives, China Grill titillated power diners with ground-breaking flavors and eye-catching design.
Though fusion cuisine may seem quaint in today's culinary landscape, China Grill's ability to outlast fads proves the genre’s staying power when done well. The restaurant’s grilled garlic shrimp ($32) is a case in point. The large, pink prawns atop a striking bed of black rice are dressed tableside with a red curry–scented coconut cream. Cubes of mango tucked amid the earthy grains add an unexpected sweetness while a feathery garnish of bonito flakes lends a decidedly on-trend hit of fermented complexity. It’s the type of thoughtful fusion that pays homage to Asian flavors without being held captive to tradition.
Smaller dishes are just as likely to please. The spicy salmon tartare–topped crispy rice ($17) shows a passing deference to Japanese nigiri, trading in the soft package of vinegared rice for a deep-fried version. A light salve of whipped avocado binds the diced salmon in a flavorful embrace. The shimeji mushroom crispy rice ($15) is even better, pairing Japanese mushrooms with black truffle and ginger-scented cream. Beef dumplings ($15) run more traditional, but the flavor bomb of a soy and black vinegar sauce is one of the menu’s under the radar thrillers.
As with much else at this restaurant, portions are larger than life and dishes are meant to be shared. The groaning platter of lobster pancakes ($23) belies its placement among the small plates. Though wild mushrooms outstrip lobster in the crepe filling, the tobiko and velvety chili and coconut cream add more than enough luxury. Some indulgences can be overdone. The fatty dry-aged short rib ($48) with burnt orange sauce strains to appeal to our modern taste for richness, and the calamari salad ($15) goes all in with a funky miso and seaweed dressing that totally obscures the seafood. But such misses are few and far between.
At $63, the nine-dish tasting menu is an excellent value and a perfect way to sample the restaurant's classics. Be sure to save room for dessert—the box of caramel tuile stuffed with creamy banana pudding ($10) should not be missed.
BY COMMUNITY REVIEWER: OMAR TUNGEKAR
|Venue name:||China Grill|
60 W 53rd St
|Cross street:||between Fifth and Sixth Aves|
|Opening hours:||Mon 11:45am-10pm; Tues-Thurs 11:45am–10:30pm; Fri–Sat 11:45am–11:30pm; Sun 11:45am–10pm|
|Transport:||Subway: E, V to Fifth Ave–53rd St B,D,F,M to 47-50 Rockefeller Center|
|Price:||Average main course: $33. AmEx,MC, V|
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