When Worlds Collide
With the East Village rolling rapidly south and Chinatown plowing north, it was only a matter of time before they collided. The point of impact is Funky Broome. The waiters dress head-to-toe in black, and, contrary to what you'd expect in a Chinese restaurant, the decor features spindly iron chairs with zebra-striped cushions, wildly colored Plexiglas panels, and fake roses and calla lilies spilling white onto the window sills. With tables jammed close together, the noise level makes you long for quiet haunts like CBGB.
The food, too, is way off centergrounded in the eclectic approach of modern Hong Kong cooks, taking Cantonese as a point of departure, then piling on Japanese, European, and Southeast Asian influences. As a friend blurted, "It smells like a Vietnamese restaurant in here." The 249-item menu moves effortlessly from such commonplaces as cold sesame noodles, chicken lo mein, and congee to conceptual stretches like seafood paella, beef stew, and diced beef with apple and macadamia nuts, turned out in uniformly artistic presentations with stunning rapidity. Indeed, you are well advised to order in increments, or risk having everything thrown on your table at once.
The menu is organized according to presentation gimmicks. Malaysian-style, a series of rice dishes is shrouded in lidded bamboo logs ($6.50), turning you into a pirate prying open a treasure chest. The ingredients are heaped atop the rice, the gravy trickles down, and trapped steam diffuses the flavormaking the rice the best part. Every dish I've ordered this way has been good, including little bony nuggets of chicken cooked with black mushrooms, sausages combining duck liver and pork, and, funkiest of all, dried duck and pickled vegetables in culinary hand-to-hand combat.
Another shtick is the miniwok, which cradles stir-fries that feature more than the usual amount of sauce. Funky Broome's best dish, pork-stuffed lotus ($10.95), is found in this section, a gloppy mess of cloud-ear 'shrooms, lily buds, napa cabbage, intricately carved carrots, and dried red dates swarming around slices of lotus root sandwiching a savory meat stuffing. Less successful is "Baked Portuguese stuffed tofu wok," wherein bean curd boats listing with shrimp paste sail aimlessly in a thick sauce that would be a dead ringer for canned chicken gravy if it didn't taste like peanuts. Portuguese? Magellan would turn over in his watery grave.
A few of the purely Hong Kong stylings also bomb. Though it sounded promising, sizzling short ribs with black pepper turned out to be thin, overmarinated chops bubbling laconically in a lake of grease. Sizzling prawns with garlic fares far better, as does a sizzling trio of tofu, eggplant, and bell peppers stuffed with shrimp paste.
The live seafood tanks in one corner are less occluded by algae than most, and the creatures inside looked lively and well cared for. The two-foot eels are particularly nifty, especially when served "BFT" ($18.25, market price)turned inside out so the crisp skin's inside, battered and fried, then sprinkled with a confetti of salt, garlic, red and green bell pepper, and jalapeño, like Chinese New Year's on a plate. Or maybe like a Tompkins Square riot.
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