Save to foursquare
laohunan_teaser.jpg
Yet another regional restaurant from Tony Hu (Lao Sze Chuan, Lao Beijing, Lao Shanghai, Lao You Ju).

Our Review

Tony Hu knows that some might find the supersize image of the smiling, waving Mao Tse-tung that looms over the bright yellow dining room at Lao Hunan disquieting. But if you ask him about it, he'll explain that Maostalgia is currently very "hip" in the PRC, most Chinese viewing the Chairman not as the ruthless dictator who starved millions of his own people, but the national hero largely responsible for the country's current ascendance. Hu, as you might know, is the chef-entrepreneur behind Lao Sze Chuan, Lao Beijing, and Lao Shanghai, and the city's most prolific and passionate proponent of Chinese regional cuisine. If his gamble on this particular historical production rubs you the wrong way, I'm here to at least advocate for his successful exploitation of Mao's lifelong devotion to the simple peasant food of his southern home province. It has its own name—mao jia cai, "Mao's home-style cooking"—and is characterized by a liberal use of pickled vegetables, salty smoked meats, and lots of garlic, shallots, and chiles. To pull it off, he's recruited chef Jin Chang from New York City, a veteran of Hunanese hotel kitchens. The menu's filled with powerfully seasoned dishes you won't find anywhere else in town, beginning with a small selection of cold appetizers: dense slivers of tofu bathing in a subtly infused orange chile oil, or a mound of bracing, mouth-puckering tai gan-pickled green vegetables sprinkled with sesame seeds. Many of these dishes are loaded with a gradually ascending heat that may bring you to the edge of agony, but never so much that it imbalances the other flavors. The shining example of this is Famous Hunan Chile in Black Bean Sauce, a deceptively simple plate of two imported green chile varieties whose mounting intensity never obliterates the earthiness of the fermented beans. It's one of the most irresistible things I've eaten all year. But there are other contenders, such as ground pork with pickled vegetables, a mince of tangy greens, red peppers, and meat; it's a kind of Chinese giardiniera that should be applied straight to your rice. Or take the hard-fried nuggets of tilapia, a typically insipid fish redeemed by the peppery oil, blazing chiles, and chopped green onions. Sour, vinegary flavors or warm spices such as star anise and cinnamon play off the heat; the last two particularly evident in a set of mini hot pots filled with a minimal amount of liquid from which to pluck seasoned morsels of house-cured bacon; sweet, crunchy prawns; or bony bits of frog with wood-ear mushrooms. You can also sense this in the red-braised pork belly, said to be Mao's favorite dish, chunks of melting meat, slow cooked in cinnamon, ginger, and star anise. Read the full review >>

Mike Sula

Features: , , , , , ,

Price: $$
Payment Type: MasterCard, Visa, AmEx, Discover

Past Events

Related Stories

Reviews/comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a review


Roll over stars and click to rate.

Search for…

Map

Nearby

Friends

Become a Friend