The “chives pancake” (it’s really more of an empanada, and yes, there are plural chives in there) at Mei Yu Spring, a new restaurant on Catherine Street. Shown broken open with a dab of Sriracha
Fifteen years ago new places like Fried Dumpling on Allen Street and Vanessa’s on Forsyth revolutionized the world of Chinatown cheap eats. No longer were the best deals to be found at Cantonese coffee houses, serving a menu of congees and over-rice charcuterie, but at places that sold five Northern Chinese pot stickers bulging with pork and scallions for an almost ridiculous $1. Added to this was a perfunctory menu of hot-and-sour soup and pie-wedge-shaped sandwiches made with a homemade sesame bread that seemed nearly Arabic. Gradually, these dumpling stalls have become more like restaurants, with an extended menu of Northern Chinese, Fujianese, and even Sichuan fare, and Mei Yu Spring is a new place on the edge of Chinatown in the vanguard of that trend.
“Stir White Noodle,” which sounds like a command, is a huge plate of very soft spaghetti napped in a fantastic sesame-soy dressing, which must be continually stirred up into the noodles. A free bowl of consomme comes alongside.
Mei Yu Spring, whose marquee says only Spring Restaurant, is in the newest part of Chinatown, which has been slipping downhill toward the East River along Catherine Street, so that now the last block just before the FDR is a mosaic of Chinese, Italian, and Dominican businesses.
Mei Yu has a big dining room of perhaps 12 tables (compared with none — except a counter stool or two — at the old dumpling stalls) arranged around a counter that looks about 80 years old. Warm pastries are displayed to one side; to the other are glass cases filled with steamed dumplings, large and small.
One of the pastries is “chives pancake” ($1.25), a turnover with a pastry more cakey than crumbly. In L.A. it’s referred to as a “chive box,” and that pretty much describes the function: a boxy package to hold a warm salad of chopped chives, bean-thread vermicelli, and scrambled egg. Add some Sriracha and you’re in business!
In addition to the usual pot stickers and sesame sandwiches, Mei Yu has noodles in several variations, in soups and dry, with fish balls and without.
Another great pastry is the sesame pancake ($0.75), which is filled with black bean paste and makes one hell of a breakfast.
Mei Yu Spring Restaurant
29 Catherine Street
The sesame pancakes have a sweet black-bean filling.
The banner-festooned facade of Mei Yu Spring