“La Chine” is the French term for China, which should give you a good idea of what to expect when the restaurant with that name, which will be located inside the Waldorf-Astoria in the space formerly occupied by Oscar’s American Brasserie, opens this week. During a press preview last week, Waldorf culinary director David Garcelon and executive chef Kong Khai Meng showcased a handful of dishes from the menu, and they’re unlike any that are being served at any Chinese restaurant in the city.
First of all, the dining room itself is stunning, even moreso when you learn that it was constructed from start to finish in less than two months (Garcelon told us that they began removing lighting fixtures while Oscar’s final customer was paying his bill). The room is all black and ivory, with a dramatic chandelier as its centerpiece and a mural of horses on the back wall. There are both Art Deco and Chinese-inspired touches, and the overall impression is very much in line with the Waldorf aesthetic. The tables are well-spaced and the chairs are velvet and comfortable.
The chefs here are clearly taking some risks with the food, going for big flavors and bold presentations; due to the large number of Chinese guests that stay at the hotel, they had to make sure that each dish would be recognized as authentically Chinese but still appeal to the American palate, and in the process they’ve created something that’s quite exceptional.
Star anise and soy foie gras cherries are balls of umami-rich foie gras mousse dipped in cherry gelee and styled to look like cherries, and they’re a must-order to share with the table. Spanish mackerel is smoked and crisped and served with pickled napa cabbage under a smoke-filled glass cloche, and is rich but balanced. The raw bar, inspired by the raw seafood eaten in traditional Zhejiang cuisine, is perhaps the most show-stopping part of the menu: options include rare Maine lobster tail with black bean, winter melon, and citrus soy; Long Island fluke with chinkiang vinegar and smoking-hot peony oil (which you won’t find at any other restaurant on the Eastern seaboard); and a stunning big eye tuna tartare with caviar, tomato, and soy vinegar, arguably the highlight of the entire menu. Soups include a rich and comforting chicken consommé (which is made in the less time-intensive Chinese style). Barbecue dishes include Berkshire pork collar glazed with Waldorf rooftop honey and bruleed before being doused with liquid nitrogen to create a crispy, luscious play on char siu. Sea bass is cooked sous vide and glazed with a sauce of honey, soy, and black pepper, and is light, delicate, and very flavorful. Chunks of perfectly medium rare wok-seared lamb rubbed with cumin and shallot round out the meat selection. Vegetable dishes include tender sautéed snow pea shoots, and soft homemade carrot tofu with honshimeji mushroom and broccoli is delicate and refined. Noodle dishes include toothsome buckwheat noodles with barbeque pork and shrimp, full of flavor and not greasy at all. Desserts include fromage blanc polochon with earl grey tea and berry granite; and coconut tapioca soup with dragon fruit, mango, and horned melon. They’re very refined and artistically plated, and are probably the most “fusion” section of the menu with plenty of French influence apparent.
It’s no question that La Chine immediately enters the conversation about the finest high-end Chinese restaurants in New York City, and possibly the country. The market for this type of restaurant isn’t as built-in as, say, the one for a high-end Japanese restaurant, but once words gets out, I have a feeling that a loyal clientele come out of the woodwork.