Chat: Han Dynasty's cold reception in N.Y.C.
Here is an excerpt of Craig LaBan's online chat:
Craig LaBan: In case you missed it, Han Dynasty's East Village location in NYC finally got its review moment in the New York Times . . . and it did not go well. As in "no stars/satisfactory" not well. While HanDy had scored well in its earlier round of New York reviews, including Top Ten Best New Restaurant kudos from NY Mag's Adam Platt, the Times' Pete Wells groused that Han's Sichuan fare had a thick "American accent" with occasional bouts of too much sweetness and "slashing doses" of MSG that were not worth the 45-minute line. That kind of "ouch" does not come from Sichuan chiles.
Reader: I'm getting really tired of Wells. Han Dynasty is one of the best Asian-style meals I've had in the city. Do you agree with his assessment? I think he's off base.
C.L.: I wouldn't call Han Dynasty "Asian-style." It's very Asian and fairly authentic Sichuan as far as I can tell. Which, I think, was really the big surprise with this review, as Pete basically said the East Village version of HanDy was an overhyped, Americanized, takeout-grade joint gone mad with MSG. I don't doubt that Pete had a bad meal. I know him to be a serious eater who's well-informed. But I did find the review surprising: the descriptions starkly contrasted with my meals at pretty much every other Han Dynasty in the Philly area (except for Manayunk, which, catering to Main Line tastes, is my nomination for his local weak link.) Wells' description of the cumin lamb as "anemic" and "syrupy" is particularly off from my experiences - it's really a signature dish. Of course, I haven't been to the NYC HanDy, and I didn't eat with Pete. So I can't say if I disagree with him.
Reader: Is it valid to downgrade a review based on lines and wait? I hate waiting - and though they have no actual bearing on the food - a long wait certainly makes me expect my food to be even better - stellar, even.
C.L.: I think that was really the point - that the lines amped expectations, and they weren't met at all. Pete had plenty of very specific comments on the food to justify his downer attitude about Han's - the line only added some extra punch to the theme.
Reader: Love all of the stuff you've written about at Dim Sum Garden, the soup dumplings, brisket noodles, chicken on a stick. Anything else from their menu that may get overlooked?
C.L.: Two things I really like are the sui mei dumplings stuffed with sticky rice (look like hourglasses) and the Shanghai mock duck. With so few C-town vegetarian places worth going to (typically so gloppy) this is one of my favorite mock meats.
Reader: What's the next great restaurant to open in the city?
C.L.: I'm sure that will be the next big surprise, right? Two good possibilities that I'm looking forward to when they finally do open: Volver, Garces' new showcase in the Kimmel Center, and Brigantessa, the second project from le Virtu's Joe Cicala on E. Passyunk, which will be dedicated to the cooking of southern Italy. Oh, and what will the Vedge crew create when they finally open their little boite of a veggie tasting counter just north of Rittenhouse Square? And what of George Sabatino's forthcoming Aldine? We've got a lot of good stuff in store, but already so much to digest. It's going to be a very busy spring.