That a restaurant called Chinese Tuxedo would be so concerned with style isn’t exactly surprising. Housed inside an old two-story opera house on Chinatown’s Doyers Street—a winding alley that looks so stereotypically “New York,” it might as well be a Hollywood back lot—the contemporary Chinese restaurant, from the Liberty’s former owner Eddy Buckingham and general contractor Jeff Lam, is fitted with a theatrical glamour. Black half-moon banquettes, towering tropical plants and plenty of burnished brass define the sprawling downstairs dining room, with intimate two-tops perched on the theater’s mezzanine level above for ample people-watching.
In another life, the clubby room could have served as the suave setting for a Scorsese mob epic—the original space, fittingly, was once the gang headquarters of the Hip Sing Tong, back when Doyers was known as the Bloody Angle. But instead of pinstripe-primped gangsters seated around its white-marble tables, you have leather-jacketed editors and long-haired downtown gents who you’ll have to look at twice to figure out if they’re that actor from that show. (They are.)
The modern Cantonese cooking served at Chinese Tuxedo, however, doesn’t share the sense of occasion that’s promised by the heavily stylized room or the restaurant’s name, a reference to a turn-of-the-20th-century fine-dining destination that was once located across the street. The kitchen is led by chef Paul Donnelly, a Scotsman who previously oversaw the East Asian fusion plates at Sydney’s Ms. G’s, and yields a less-fruitful take on the kind of pricey neo-Chinese that you can find at Mission Chinese Food and Fung Tu a mere few blocks away.
House dumplings ($16) cradle juicy pork, but it’s difficult to unearth that salty swine, thanks to a chewy, too-thick wrapper; it’s a particularly comic affront when you realize the dumpling great Nom Wah Tea Parlor is next door. More solid starters are the battered batons of crispy eggplant, sticky with peanut caramel and humming with Szechuan peppercorns ($14), and the roasted duck salad ($24), which pairs the supple slips of bird with ripe lychee and black vinegar.
Mains are less pow and more perfunctory. Honey-glazed char siu ($28) tastes exactly as it’s supposed to, as sweet and rosy as a blushed cheek, but picking it out of a lineup would be near impossible, and a stir fry of steamed chicken and tofu skin registers as pale and timid as it looks ($25). For all its style, you’d think Chinese Tuxedo would have more swagger.