New York Times Critic Pete Wells Goes to Chinatown

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The restaurant reviewer of record is a fan of Chinese Tuxedo

Yes, the squab is served with the head on the plate.

Doyers Street in Chinatown is well on its way to becoming the hottest real estate in Manhattan. Long the home of the original Nom Wah Tea Parlor, the curved road then sprouted cocktail den Apoteke and underground jazz clubs. Now there’s Chinese Tuxedo, the latest restaurant to get a review from the New York Times’ Pete Wells. It’s a big change from the street’s past as the killing ground for Chinese gangs.

On some nights, the crowd is a mix of white people here simply because it’s new, and Chinese families tentatively poking at the fried eggplant and pork dumplings topped with flying fish roe. They look as if they are trying to decide whether this is really Chinese food.

The answer is an unequivocal “sort of.” The chef, Paul Donnelly, is a Scot. Until recently, he ran the kitchen at Ms. G’s in Sydney, Australia, which specializes in entertainingly mongrelized dishes like cheeseburger spring rolls and masala fried rice.

Mr. Donnelly has called his menu at Chinese Tuxedo “fusion.” That dreaded word deserves two qualifications. First, he doesn’t tend to handcuff together unrelated cuisines that have nothing in common except a continent; most of his dishes have discernibly Chinese antecedents. Second, there is dumb fusion and there is smart fusion, and Mr. Donnelly practices the smart kind.

Wells finds favorites on the menu, particularly the Cantonese-inspired items: the fried eggplant with a delicate addition of Sichuan peppercorns in the sauce; a fried pork cheek in what he begrudgingly calls sweet-and-sour sauce; honey-glazed pork; and whole squab (head included). The “Asian-inspired” items (think fish-sauce-infused steak tartar) also catch his eye.

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What holds the spot back is the service. There can be long waits to order, receive food, or have plates cleared, depending on the night. Reservations are a must but only accepted for parties of four or more. Despite the missteps, Chinese Tuxedo walks off with two stars.