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From the steaming rice-noodle bowls of the Yunnan province to the tear-jerking orders of spicy Szechuan dry pot, dining out in the East Village is a celebration of regional Chinese cuisine, and we’re here for it. Enter artist and Hunan native Chao Wang, who opened this slurp shop to bring a taste of his home to NYC.
The space is like the opposite of a mullet: party in the front and business in the back. When you enter the dining room, large communal tables drenched in natural light are bordered by wood beams that wrap around the walls and ceilings, giving off casual, no-fuss vibes. As you make your way toward the back, individual marble tables, illuminated by warm hanging light fixtures, create a more intimate and formal atmosphere.
Let it be known that the host seated me at a communal table before my dining companion arrived, bucking the militaristic protocol which dourly insists that said privilege must not be granted until the entire party is present.
The meal began with traditional cold plates of sweet-and-sour spare ribs and spicy braised chicken feet tossed in chili oil. While flavorful, both dishes yielded too little meat to satisfy, even considering that they’re bone-heavy cuts. And though I’m all for the primal experience of gnawing on bones, I’m civilized enough to have liked a bowl in which to dispose of the remains.
Shortly after our starters hit the table, the noodles arrived, allowing us to add to the symphony of slurping noises that could be heard in the dining room. The Hometown Lu Fen piled sliced beef, char siu pork and a jammy soft-boiled egg over tender rice noodles in a rich broth, all served with a fiery bowl of chili oil. In the Pepper and Pork number, stir-fried green peppers offered a hint of vegetal sweetness to balance the richness of the Berkshire pork.
Past the lovely bowls of noodles lies the true highlight of this meal: the cabbage. Tender but toothsome, and perfumed with sweet garlic and spicy chilies, it was everything I’ve ever wanted in a vegetable dish (though the fact that a bowl of cabbage outshined the noodles should be noted).
We left with full stomachs, burning mouths and outfits covered with chili oil splatter-stains —a small price to pay for the bowled and the beautiful.