Red Egg202 Center St, 212-966-1123 Price range: $28-$38 Rating: 4L's
Red Egg, a new Chinese-Peruvian venture from Darren Wan, whose dad was involved in Shun Lee’s glory days, is just steps north of Canal but miles apart in concept. The room looks like a set piece from a big-budget remake of Barbarella: white faux-snakeskin, inset silver-and-pink panels, two extraordinary competing lighting schemes — one featuring 88 Edison bulbs set in a slatted-wood ceiling, the other shimmering globes descending from a chrome firmament — and circular leather banquettes. Though it all feels a little crammed in the mid-sized space, it’s a shock to see a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown go to such great lengths with décor, and that focus continues with the food.
Lest you be scared away by imaginings of Sino-Peruvian fusion monstrosities, the cuisines are kept separate, and the Peruvian offerings are relegated to the appetizer menu. While our cold mussels ($5), topped with tomato, corn and hot pepper, were reminiscent of good ceviche, they nevertheless seemed an afterthought, a gift to the owner’s Peruvian mother. We stayed with Chinese — from the à la carte menu instead of the dim sum menu — the rest of the night and were not disappointed. Shanghai steamed juicy dumplings ($5) were fresh and soupy, but suffered slightly from uneven dough.
Our mains were better still. Peking duck sliders were pricey at $20; I imagined a hoisin-glazed duck patty, but something far more wonderful came out. They brought out half a Peking duck and carved off all of the bronze lacquered skin tableside, with only hints of meat on the crisp, fatty slices. These were stacked on soft, steamed Chinese buns, slathered with hoisin and accented with cucumber sticks and green onion. Then the naked duck returned to the kitchen, presumably to be used in some other dish. This was a modern yet classic service of this beloved duck dish, as in China the meat is often eaten separately.
After heaping helpings of skin and fat, our next dish of tofu and mixed mushrooms ($12) was a healthy respite that tasted no less sinful. The tofu was seared yet nearly melting inside, while dark, meaty mushrooms and a gelatinous soy-based sauce made an incomparably rich complement. Sated (stuffed), we pressed on, intrigued by a coconut pudding cooked and served in a whole coconut ($7). A tremendously smooth, sweet, tropical end to a surprising meal. Unlike nearly every other restaurant in Chinatown, where no matter how good the food may be, there’s always something you have to overlook — nasty décor, ugly plating, rude waitstaff, poor pacing or a huge yet useless menu — at Red Egg they’re bringing New York restaurant standards to Chinatown. Finally.