La Chine at the Waldorf Review - Upscale Chinese

I got lost on my way to La Chine, a new restaurant at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.  It’s easy to do in a hotel that takes up a full square city block, and has a maze of hallways and doors to somewhere. During my trek, I passed through one of its great restaurants, the Bull and the Bear, where someone put me on the right path.

 

La Chine mural

I’ve always enjoyed the Bull and the Bear for its solidity and its look of permanence, as if has been pleasing guests since Day One.  Diners and people at the bar were seriously enjoying themselves.    

 

Actually, I could have avoided trekking through those confusing, ornately decorated and royally carpeted halls if I had bypassed the Park Avenue side of the hotel and entered at the less glamorous Lexington Avenue doorway.

  

La-Chine- a special room

When I finally arrived inside, I felt a different mood. Here people seemed to be making an effort to be pleased in a new temple of Oriental haute cuisine. There is a subdued aura in the room, perhaps serenity, perhaps caution in exploring unfamiliar dishes.  The large dining room is plush and attractive, decorated in black and gold, a plenitude of banquettes and black marble bar and, fortunately, great space between tables so that one can carry on a hushed conversation. It is well lit, perhaps too sharply illuminated, but the glitz is part of the package.

  

La Chine

The La in La Chine suggest France, but this is definitely a palace of Chinese cuisine, from menu choices to the huge, dramatic wall painting in Chinse style, but actually done by the young American artist Tony Baskin. The Waldorf, a historic institution where presidents and emperors and Holly wood royalty have bedded down, was acquired by a Chinese insurance firm in 2014. Hilton continues to manage the property and has worked with its owners to create one of the few posh Chinese restaurants in New York City, perhaps the poshest of the posh.

  

Wok Fried Maine Lobster

The menu is hardly as lengthy as the menus found is far less costly restaurants in Chinatown in Manhattan, but is stacked with offerings seldom seen on mainland USA. Take one of the starters, fluke which arrives raw at the table.  A waiter raises a saucepan of hot oil made from the crushed seeds of peony flowers and pours it over the fish.  There’s a hissing sound, some smoke and a lovely floral aroma envelops the table. The finished product is somewhere between raw and rare, but is pleasing to the palate. There’s another starter new to this observer, a tartare of tuna, dressed with sesame seeds, baby tomatoes and bits of caviar.  More familiar to a Chinatown regular would be the very eggy “Eight Hour Golden Broth,” made special by the addition of crabmeat and lobster.

  

Yellow Tail Szechuan Pepper Oil

 We looked around, saw several guests downing spare ribs, so we did the “I’ll have what he’s having” routine.  These were Taiwanese style, served on the bone with a coating of kumquat glaze. Sticky hands and all, we put the ribs away quickly and happily, along with wok-fried beans with minced pork. Staying on the porcine path, we also enjoyed a barbecued collar of Berkshire pork, smoking hot from the iron grill set into our table, and flavored with honey which, we were told, came from bee hives on the roof of the hotel., Reverting to what we know best, we ordered La Chine’s version of chicken with cashews, served with flavorful sweet and sour kung-pal style sauce.

       

Fluke

What you get at La Chine is a very sophisticated approach to some familiar dishes. There’s fried jasmine rice, elevated by touches of crab meat and flying fish roe, crispy Spanish mackerel with pickled Napa cabbage, its flavors heightened by smoked soy, or lobster tail with black bean, Chinese radish and citrus flavored by an exotic variety of soy or beef tongue dressed with lotus root and bits of celery.  This is an exciting menu that demands a second visit, preferably with a large group sharing around the table.

  

Star_Anise_and Soy Flavored Foie Gras Cherries

I definitely would come back to do full study of the dessert list  which is a far cry from any Chinese menu I have come across. I opted for a coconut tapioca soup and my partner came up the winner for the evening, a molten sesame ganache with ginger ice cream. Limited menu, yes, but challenging and exotic and  it is  definitely worth taking that challenge.

  

Coconut_Tapioca_Soup Dragon Fruit Mango and Horned Melon

Address: 540 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10022

Phone:(212) 872-4913

 

Dinner, Tuesday to Saurday.

Prices: Appetizers, $9 to $20: entrees $26 to $70; Chef’s Tasting Menu is $98.

 

More information about La Chine

 

Photos: Courtesy of Waldorf Astoria New York

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