Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Deconstruction New York Entry #18

Many small American cities would be pleased to have a satisfying Chinese restaurant and a satisfying Indian restaurant side-by-side. What makes New York a chowist paradise is that one need not traipse next door. Tonight I visited Chinese Mirch on Curry Hill, known for its row of inexpensive Indian restaurants.

The New York Times is quoted as announcing that Chinese Mirch is "the first Manhattan restaurant to serve this strange but satisfying hybrid of two of the cities favorite cuisines." I neither doubt the claim of priority or critic's judgement. Chinese Mirch uses traditional Indian ingredients, including a set of spices as Indian as Chinese, but with preparations that owe more to Chinese cuisine. I applaud the conception of the dishes (what literary scholars might label their hybridity), although the execution - with a single exception - was only adequate.

For much of what follows, I give great credit to my dining partner, who posts as "Hammer" on the grand LTHforum Chicago board. Hammer has an ability that I do not fully share of not only tasting the dishes placed before her, but as a skilled cook herself, she is able to deconstruct the dish into its components, revealing how it was prepared. She tastes the process; I taste the product.

Our superior dish, and a dish for which I would gladly return was "Gobi Manchurian," cauliflower florets tossed in fresh ginger, garlic and onions. The cauliflower was first quickly deep fried before being sauteed with ginger, white pepper, onion, garlic, and green pepper. The florets retained some of their crunch, while absorbing the pungency of the other ingredients. The Gobi has some heat, but will be satisfying to those who avoid peppers. This is a remarkable vegetable dish.

The second appetizer, one for which Chinese Mirch is known, was "Chicken Lollipops," spicy wings with the meat pulled back and fried to force a lollipop shape. This dish had more heat than the Gobi, and was pleasant for that, if not terribly complex. It was more a starter than a fully conceived dish. The spices included Chinese pepper, touched perhaps with curry-based spices. It was satisfying, if not memorable.

Less successful were our two entrees. The Crispy Szechuan Lamb was twice cooked meat, but unfortunately it had been coated with flour (and/or cornstarch), without the flour fully cooked, giving the dish a somewhat pasty taste. The lamb and the Chinese and Indian spices mixed well, but the dish was not as compelling as it might have been had the lamb been fried naked.

Our second entree was a disappointment: Chicken Coriander, diced chicken in a coriander sauce. Its texture with heavy notes of lemon reminded one of any inauthentic Americanized Chinese restaurant. It was more glop than glisten. The chicken sank under the weight of the sauce. The coriander, used with an intensity owing more to Indian cuisine than Chinese, could have, in the right hands, provided a memorable cross-cultural excursion.

Much on the menu of Chinese Mirch is intriguing, and the chef knows his spice rack. However, with the exception of the Gobi Manchurian the restaurant avoids the lightness of preparation that would transform dinner from an interesting experiment to a compelling example of culinary deconstruction.

Chinese Mirch
120 Lexington Avenue
Manhattan (Murray Hill)

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