Go East, Young Man: East Wind Snack Shop

03/11/2015 6:46 AM |

East Wind Snack Shop
471 16th Street, Windsor Terrace

4 Ls

Chris Cheung has been a fixture in New York’s restaurant scene for many years now, serving on the opening staff of both Nobu and Jean-Georges, heading up the kitchens at Ruby Foo’s and the Monkey Bar, and racking up a number of stars and glowing accolades along the way. So it’s easy enough to forgive a more recent string of misfires, including stints at the Brooklyn and Staten Island branches of Fushimi, and the launches of the short-lived Walle, a “Chinoiserie chic” lounge in Midtown, as well as Cherrywood Kitchen in sparsely trafficked Hudson Square, which ended up closing after only six months.

A doll-sized dumpling counter may seem an odd next step for a chef that notably cut his teeth in the elite world of fine dining, but East Wind Snack Shop is actually the ideal stage for a triumphant career comeback. Instead of signing on to run someone else’s glitzy pan-Asian palace, the self-owned eatery allows Cheung to lend his considerable culinary talents to his very own restaurant-deprived community of Windsor Terrace, all while paying loving homage to his Toishan heritage, emulating the petite coffee shops that used to dot Chinatown.

So many worthy establishments have closed recently, due to (amongst other things) a failure to read the needs of their neighborhood; East Wind Snack Shop might be just what the doctor ordered for casual, family-focused Windsor Terrace. In fact, the instantly mobbed shop actually ran out of food during opening weekend, causing it to close well before the originally advertised 9pm. But what’s especially impressive is that Cheung managed to turn the supply and demand problem around within 24 hours, so that when we squeezed in at 7pm the following Monday, the entire menu was still available to a consistently packed house.

Even on a frigid February evening, the constant opening and closing of doors (East Wind is already doing a brisk takeaway business) barely registers in the tiny room, which, backed up against Cheung’s impossibly diminutive kitchen, remains as fragrant and steamy as a soup dumpling. Somehow they’ve managed to squeeze four small tables into the space, but those are likely to remain commandeered by kids, relegating adults to the teetering stools lining the polished wooden counters. While we reject such cramped quarters when it comes to eating, say, steak, we’re more than happy to perch for soy and sriracha-sluiced potstickers, especially when it allows us a front row seat to Cheung’s impressive one man show, as he scoops rice, stir-fries oyster mushrooms and steams buns, in one endless, fluid motion.

Since five-for-a-dollar dumplings are one of NYC’s go-to budget feeds, it’s imperative for chefs to raise the stakes if they want to raise the prices. Happily, Cheung has delivered on the former without doing much of the latter — for only $50, you can try every last subtly gourmetized dish. Each element is made in house, including the charmingly irregular bao (places like Momofuku actually buy theirs frozen), which Cheung wraps around red-rimmed rectangles of pork belly, glazed with hoisin and crispy garlic. He also hand-grinds pork daily for his most traditional offering—fluted, pan-fried dumplings—but it’s worth shelling out an extra $2 for the walnut-shaped potstickers, concealing musky wads of 28-day dry-aged beef.

Cabbage, sweet potatoes and mushrooms, though just a touch greasy, retain their individual integrity inside salt and pepper spring rolls instead of dissolving into indistinguishable vegetal mush, and slow-cooked chili ribs fall apart on contact as promised, facilitating the perfect bite of honeyed meat, briny pickle, and sticky jasmine rice. The guaranteed attention getter, foie gras bao, proved the only overreach—the small smear of funky liver was effectively sublimated by the snowball of steamed bread. It’s almost sweet enough to be dessert, but cap off your meal with traditional Hong Kong hot cakes instead, made from eggy, pancake-like batter poured into a two-sided, multi-welled mold, heated over a burner, and served with a dusting of melting powdered sugar. It’s a fun-to-eat treat that Windsor Terrace kiddies (and their dry-aged-beef-potsticker loving parents), are sure to regularly descend upon East Wind Snack Shop for.
Sarah Zorn

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