chinese feast in nyc
Here on this blog, we tell big truths when it comes to traveling and this post is no exception. It’s probably no surprise that I love food. Whoever said nothing tastes as good as skinny feels has obviously never tasted a dense chocolate cake, freshly popped champagne or Da Dong’s whole branzino. When in New York, my mom and I were exhausted from a morning of running around and needed to get some food before we went to an afternoon show. On our way back from the New York City Public Library, we saw this tiny little courtyard and a sign for what we assumed was going to be your run-of-the-mill Americanized Chinese restaurant (think P.F. Chang’s), but we couldn’t have been more surprised.
Da Dong’s welcome committee sends you up the elevator to the second floor. Once the doors open, the super modern exterior of the building softens to a warm, clean interior that isn’t short on luxe touches like couches instead of booths and plenty of flowy curtains to provide privacy and help keep the noise levels in check.
Mom and I ordered some amazing shrimp and pork dumplings, crystal vegetable buns and a cucumber salad and it didn’t disappoint. Confession time: being from the Midwest, I had never had sincerely awesome Chinese food before. It’s all been the sticky-sweet, heavy, starchy takeout, so I was a little nervous about the menu items. But friends, I’m here to tell you that this blew my mind. The vegetable buns were stuffed full of greens, tender and salty and slightly bitter. The dumplings were mild and delicate and melted in your mouth. But it gets better. At that meal, we discovered that we LOVE chili oil and will dump it on everything to get that smoky, savory burn. Ask for it. You won't regret it.
And then we saw it. A whole fish, flash fried to crispy perfection and lightly coated in a beautiful crimson sauce. I looked at mom and we quickly cancelled our previous dinner plans in order to come back. You know a place is good if you use two of your limited meals there. We went off to see Aladdin, super excited for dinner.
After seeing yet another amazing show (Aladdin at the New Amsterdam: DO IT), we scurried a few blocks back to the restaurant. We were AMPED! When the elevator doors opened, I was surprised to see the place full, but I was not at all overwhelmed by the people. It’s laid out so well that we never felt crowded, rushed or in the way. The glowing lighting illuminated the art installation hanging from the ceiling and made the relatively large restaurant feel cozy and inviting. Our server, Raphael was personable and honest when recommending menu items and “got us” right away. His recommendations were spot on. The surprise champagne was bright and bubbly, the pork and shrimp buns for an appetizer were soft and delicious, but I really want to take a second to talk about the cocktail I ordered before our bubbly surprise. The Jet Black Dog was made with squid ink of all things and it was just as dark as the name implied. Fruity and light.
We were also surprised with these beautiful appetizers called duck treasures. Think a lettuce wrap on steroids. The duck was tender and moist and the crunchy potato nest was wrapped perfectly by lettuce cups (this was especially good for mom and me because we would have made a mess with the filling). We had pork and shrimp buns as well, which were comparable to the dumplings and buns we had for lunch. Already they were at a 15/10, so I couldn’t imagine it would get better.
Now we have to talk about the fish. Oh my gosh, the fish, y’all. It was easily the most mom and I have ever enjoyed a fish in our lives. And we eat a TON of fish on vacations. It was hot and fresh and smothered in the best sauce. You pick it apart with chopsticks because it’s scored (like a blooming onion, only a fish) and it melted in my mouth. If you go to Da Dong and only order one thing, order this fish. It was complemented well by the pea shoots we ordered-- which was a menu item we we loved for its simplicity and clean taste.
Our meal was punctuated by dessert. I almost forgot to tell you about the dessert! They served us a mango pudding wrapped in a mango ice ball. It was the perfect ending to the meal. It was cold and creamy, and somehow Mom and I made room for it! Also: be sure to ask Raphael for his wine pairing with this one. Whatever he did with this was magic.
Throughout our whole meal, we were blown away by the fantastic service. Along with Raphael the Rockstar, we had so many other people that checked in on us throughout the evening and we all had great conversations and they were sincerely so much fun. Stephen, one of the employees gave me some travel advice, "When I travel, I just drink a lot of champagne." Seems legit. I think I'll try it next time!
No detail was overlooked in our experience at Da Dong and I cannot recommend it enough. Whether you're going for a quick lunch, a lingering dinner or anything in between, you're in for a treat.