The house-smoked Hunan bacon at Blue Willow, a new restaurant a brick’s toss from Trump Tower, is a true eye opener: glistening swatches of smoked pork stomach, something like a significantly less-sweet American bacon, stir-fried with scallions, slivered onions, environmentally friendly chiles, ripe bell peppers, and full cloves of garlic. It is like taking in breakfast, lunch, and supper all at when. In fact, 1 of the hallmarks of Hunan delicacies — which will come from a province of lowlands, rivers and lakes, and sprawling communal farms (though particular person plots are now labored by tenant farmers) — is food stuff preserved by smoking, drying, and pickling, lending the solid flavors of traditional farmhouse preservation.
Sichuan food items has turn into amazingly well-known in the metropolis over the previous few decades. But Hunan, a different Chinese cuisine regarded for its spiciness, has been steadily creeping up in prominence, by means of eating places in Flushing, the East Village, and the Higher West Side, between other spots. And just about every new opening ramps up our collective exhilaration about the cuisine.
Enter Blue Willow. The streets bordering the former president’s penthouse on West 56th Road are now a substantial dead zone, but this block even now exhibits a couple of lively places to eat with outdoor enclosures. Blue Willow is one particular, operated by Vincent Lin, who has owned several Hunan dining establishments more than the previous 10 years, which includes one known as Hunan Residence, the former occupant of this storefront.
Lin’s to start with Hunan cafe, also called Hunan Property, was situated on Northern Boulevard in Flushing I extolled it in 2011. Despite its substantial enhance of Hunan recipes, it also provided Cantonese, Sichuan, and Taiwanese fare, along with specialties more specially connected with Hong Kong and Shanghai. A decade ago, a regional Chinese restaurant was perfectly-encouraged to provide a broad range of other Chinese cuisines, along with a great deal of Chinese-American dishes, if it hoped to catch the attention of the widest audience.
I questioned Lin on the mobile phone not too long ago how Blue Willow differed from Hunan Property. “We felt like Hunan House was also common in its notion for a Chinese cafe,” he stated. “We wanted to alter the full atmosphere, form of service, and specifically the menu.” Indeed, the monthly bill of fare now concentrates much more exclusively on Hunan and Sichuan, which are beacons for lovers of highly seasoned food items. Chef Li Xiong hails from Hunan he has been with Lin from the commence.
Another intriguing illustration of the cuisine’s farmhouse preservation is Blue Willow’s “snow crimson greens,” brightly colored mustard leaves that have a peppery taste on their possess. Teeny crimson pickled peppers insert spicy and sour notes to the verdant haystack, which is offered on a plate that resembles a flower. Choice of china is a large deal at Blue Willow.
Ironically, Hunan’s most popular dish is not as remarkable at this place. Connected with Chairman Mao Zedong, the braised pork ($20) arrives in a funereal black crock. It’s an instance of the “red cooked” model, in which pork is sluggish-braised in specific soy sauce with other elements, imparting a attribute coloration and earthy, beany style. Lots of variations incorporate full chestnuts that attain a pleasantly fudgy texture, but not here. While the dish’s flavor profile is modest, it does give a mellow distinction to the menu’s far more intense things.
Even though Mao’s purple-cooked pork falls among the the chef’s specials heading (termed Hunan and Szechuan, even while the rest of the menu is also Hunan and Sichuan), there are good Hunan dishes sprinkled close to the relaxation of the menu, which also boasts sections of common dim sum, chile-oil-slicked Sichuan chilly plates, and dry sizzling pots, a modern day fad that originated in Hunan. Yellow beef ($21), marked on the menu with the most two crimson chiles for hotness, is a person of its concealed gems.
The dish is basically reddish, consisting of a simple stir-fry of tender julienne beef, designed scorching as hell with refreshing red and green chiles. I questioned Lin why they chose that title, considering that there’s very little yellow about the dish other than for probably the onions. He laughed and replied, “yellow beef is a particular selection of beef in Hunan, and when we translated the identify from Chinese, we didn’t know what else to simply call it.” Secret solved.
Another interesting Hunan dish I haven’t seen in other places is Changsha spiced hen ($17), named soon after the 3,000-year-previous cash of Hunan. The dish may possibly be a cousin of Chongqing hen — you know, the plate of chicken tidbits deposited in an not possible amount of dried and toasted crimson chiles. Right here, the rooster attains an ethereal and crunchy texture, like Taiwanese popcorn chicken with the electrical zap of Sichuan peppercorns.
But my favourite dish on the menu could be termed comfort and ease food items it felt like a variation on the baked custard my mom made use of to make for me. Farmhouse steamed egg ($16) is a wiggly lake of egg custard with a reservoir of ground bacon and pickled chiles in the heart, and you can quickly think about it remaining made on a farm with just-collected eggs. From the contemporary waterways of Hunan — conceptually, at least — arrives Xiang River fish, one more standout, a complete tilapia almost eclipsed by its large load of pickled chiles. At $34, it is the most costly issue on the menu, but it’s truly worth it for the appears on your guests’ faces when the creature swims in.
Neither really should you ignore the Sichuan dishes on the menu, these kinds of as mao xue wang. This seething chile-oil stew from Chongqing is almost never seen below, most likely because of its offal substances: blood cake, pig intestine, beef tripe, Spam, and beef aorta. If you haven’t however tasted aorta (hint: it could be mistaken for white polyethylene), order this coronary heart-warming dish and see what you think.
What about the identify Blue Willow? Lin was quite enthusiastic on that matter. Inside, his restaurant has been painstakingly decorated, clad in antique carved woods with hanging lamps, in a decor that recollects China in the 1920s. “Blue Willow is a china pattern consultant of that era,” he tells me. It was designed in 1780 by English engraver Thomas Minton applying his interpretation of Chinese attractive features, element of an art movement recognized as chinoiserie. And this merging of European and Chinese designs, demonstrating a tranquil lifetime between pagodas, lakes, and soaring birds, types a little something of a leitmotif for the cafe. But right up until indoor eating returns, you’ll have to peer in by the home windows to get pleasure from it.