“Back with a vengeance.” That’s how a friend described the new Mission Chinese Food (171 East Broadway), which Danny Bowien opened on East Broadway last week following a quick revamp of a bi-level space that has, in recent years, been a bit of a rotating door for concepts like Rosette and LTO, a pop-up similar to City Grit. Sashay through the door under the large red awning and you’ll find yourself in the front bar, which opens to a lively red banquette-lined dining room with space for about seventy to seventy-five.
It’s an upgrade from the cramped clubhouse-like lair that was the original Mission; Bowien was forced to close that address a year ago after realizing that it would be impossible to properly renovate it to deal with health department violations.
That restaurant was much smaller, and you’d often find groups congregating outside, faced with an hours-long wait. That hasn’t exactly changed — though there’s more space here, you’ll wait two or three hours for a table, unless you get in line right at 5:30, when the doors open. And be forewarned that the waitlist closes down at some point in the night — and it’s often earlier than the 9 p.m. cutoff touted on the restaurant’s website.
The good news is you can now wait indoors, either at that front bar or, if that space is full, downstairs at the service bar, a hidden cubby that has its walls and ceiling covered with Mylar. (Bowien says the artist who did it had to rappel from the walls, and it was such hard work that he’d often come in to find her napping on the roof.) Nostalgic types will also dig the fact that the original menu board hangs here.
The bad news is you can’t order food while you wait, though the crew says that will soon change.
You should explore the expanded drinks list instead, and get into one of the unusual cocktails. Try the Tom Khallins, which blends Old Tom gin with coconut milk, kaffir lime, lemongrass, ginger, chile, and sesame oil. It drinks like a sweet, cold, refreshing curry. Or order the General Tso’s Old Fashioned, which our bartender described as “liquid Cracker Jack.” And indeed, its roasted peanut flavor comes to the forefront, blending with rye whiskey, super-savory Maggi, ginger, and chiles.
Once you are finally seated, you’ll note that the menu has expanded significantly — our server told us 40 or so of the dishes are new. That includes raw bar items like oysters and crab claws, an age dashi turnip cake Bowien says was inspired by the turnip cakes you find in dim sum restaurants, a couple of whole-fish preparations, a bunch of noodle dishes (like a green tea lo mein and oat noodles), and, oddly, a pizza. Turn to the back page of your menu, and you’ll find large-format dishes that are served family-style, as well as a couple of different tasting menus.
Those who have been missing their classic Mission fix will be pleased to see that classics like the thrice-cooked bacon and the mapo tofu remain virtually unchanged; the mapo still has enough Sichuan heat to just about melt your face. Based on our early bites, we recommend the stir-fried celery; a light but very savory pile of stalks comes strewn with hazelnuts and lily bulbs. And don’t miss the Chongqing chicken wings if you’re into mouth-numbing heat — the crispy bird is coated in tingling pepper.