These days I may be keen on jetting off to Shanghai or finding Chinatown hideaways, but admittedly my affinity for Chinese cuisine started at a shopping center restaurant on Long Island. I can't remember the name of the spot to save my life, but it was a moderately grand affair painted in ruby red, sporting a indoor pond full of koi. There, I learned to enjoy classics like Beef and Broccoli, Shrimp with Lobster Sauce and Pork Fried Rice. I may have moved beyond those timeworn dishes to new favorites like Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf and Duck Soup with Dumplings and Duck Feet, but there is still something about textbook Chinese food and bit of grandeur that I find rather soothing, if not downright delightful.
So, needless to say, I was ecstatic when a colleague recently invited a group of us to join him at Tse Yang, an upscale Midtown Chinese stalwart complete with formal white table cloth seating, massive fish tanks and intricate wooden carvings of Oriental landscapes. I knew the place was costly, so I was equally appreciative that my colleague, a loyal Tse Yang devotee, invited us as his personal guests and insisted on picking up the tab.
Walking into the iconic 51st street restaurant, I spied several well-heeled Scotch-drinking execs at the bar, seated next to a sizable statue of a beaming Buddha. The veteran coat check woman seemed knowing -- if only I could speak Cantonese and wheedle a few tales out of her. (Did the gents at the bar offer her stock tips along with fivers as they retrieved their coats?) The dining room was filled with staid, prosperous-looking customers. Moving about the room, the grey-haired waiters, dressed in red Mao jackets, had clearly worked at the restaurant for 20 years or more.
As the food arrived, I realized that part of the place's charm was that the menu hadn't changed for more than 20 years either. All the quintessential dishes were had: Baby Spareribs, Spring Rolls, Fried Rice with Crabmeat, and Peking Duck.
It may not have been Duck Feet, but that wasn't really what I had been hoping for that evening. I'd been seeking old-school Chinese comfort food made complete with a hefty dose of New York sheen and polish -- and I got it.
Sadly though, our host revealed that this Manhattan mainstay is going to have to shut its doors in January. Their building is being demolished to make way for something modern and new. The owners are searching for a nearby location to reestablish Tse Yang, but have yet to find a spot that is close enough to the original address to keep their regulars from wandering off to find something closer at hand; potentially something modern and new.
I left the restaurant hoping that the new year finds them in a new location, but that the old traditions, high-priced Scotch, their knowing coat check lady, the gargantuan aquariums, Peking Duck and happy Buddha statue are all part of the move. Tse Yang wouldn't be the same without them.