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A Last Supper at Mission Chinese in Manhattan

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It was 2010 when my daughter, who was 25 and working as an electrical engineer in Silicon Valley, clued me to a hamburger pop-up in a bodega in San Francisco’s Mission District. Soon thereafter it morphed into another pop-up, a Chinese one this time. Called Mission Chinese, it was housed in Lung Shan, a timeworn Cantonese restaurant. I excitedly stopped by when I visited her not long thereafter.

The chef was Danny Bowien, born in South Korea and raised in Oklahoma. When the pop-up became permanent, he’d retained the restaurant’s cooks — reputedly able to stand much higher wok temperatures than the average line cooks — and kept much of the paper-lantern decor, with paneled wainscoting and striped yellow wallpaper, along with diner-style tables that seated about 40. But he’d turned the menu to a quirky and sometimes challenging rendition of Sichuan food.

A typical old Chinese restaurant called Lung Shan with a yellow awning.
The original Mission Chinese in San Francisco

A few fried chicken wings heaped with dried red peppers.
The dish first become known as “chicken wings with explosive chili pepper.”

That menu showed wild improvisation, filled with ingredients timid-tongued diners might deplore, including beef tripe, heart, and tongue. Nor did it stint on dried red chiles and Sichuan peppercorns, the latter used by the fistful. A couple of dishes I was drawn to were to become Mission Chinese classics. A plate of fried chicken wings, whose fate might have been to end up as a ho-hum bar snack, was nearly eclipsed by a heap of red chiles. As if that weren’t fiery enough, the coating of sweet spices was laced with Sichuan peppercorns, for which a cooling drink of water provided no remedy.

A low ceilinged room with an orange cast and paper dragons hanging from the ceiling and diners at rows of tables.
First Lower East Side branch of Mission Chinese
A pink plate of stir fried vegetables dotted with cubes of pastrami.
The legendary kung pao pastrami on Orchard Street

A version of Sichuan classic kung pao chicken, with the pork replaced by pastrami, also blew my mind. As a New Yorker, I was amazed at this repurposing of a cherished meat. Even more off the wall were pig tails braised in root beer and a phantasmagorical version of chawanmushi improved with puddles of green oil, chopped aromatics, and multiple glands of orange uni. I emerged onto a crowded Mission Street in a daze. And eager for a second visit. Some of the dishes I’d tried had Korean, Japanese, and American elements, but how to label this entirely new type of dining experience?

So I got another chance when it was announced that an offshoot would dock in New York City, with much of the original menu intact and Bowien at its helm. Was he actually moving here? Apparently so. Riding a wave of hype, the original Lower East Side branch debuted in late spring, 2012 in an abject location — a walk-down, nearly windowless storefront on Orchard Street that would be closed the next year by the Board of Health due to rodent infestation. But it hit New York City like a ton of bricks, generating long lines eager for salt cod fried rice, chicken hearts in Sichuan chile oil, and Mongolian long beans flavored with chiles, fried garlic, and grated horseradish.

Yet, despite its lack of longevity, for a season the lively subterranean space was the place to be, and I remember going several times and always scrambling to secure a seat. The interior was kitschier than the original; famously, there was a photo of Twin Peaks character Laura Palmer in the bathroom, where the spooky theme music of the show continuously looped.

After its closure, an expanded Mission Chinese opened on East Broadway in the last weeks of 2014. One year earlier, though, Bowien had opened Mission Cantina at the corner of Stanton and Orchard as a sort of bridge institution, although it quickly became much more. Increasingly during its three-year life span, as Angela Dimayuga took over many of the chef responsibilities at the new Mission Chinese, Bowien used Mission Cantina as a laboratory, going there early every morning to experiment, creating dishes that would sometimes end up at the larger restaurant, like the ma po burrito.

A gloved hand holds a bowl fill of tofu over a flour tortilla.
Making the ma po burrito

A bowl of soup with fresh herbs arrayed on the table beside it.
Mission Cantina’s revolutionary lamb pho

The second New York iteration of Mission Chinese quickly gained traction after it finally opened on East Broadway. But some barely recognized the new place. It was bigger and much more luxurious than previous incarnations in San Francisco and on Orchard Street, with a bar in front and a wood-burning oven turning out Neapolitan pizzas and Middle Eastern flatbreads. A humongous dining room dangled light fixtures like novae in the night sky, and featured lushly upholstered booths with a wall of crumpled tin foil as its quizzical focal point. Downstairs in the back, there was a semi-secret lair with a limited menu for cognoscenti, where the explosive chicken wings and other Mission Chinese classics could be washed down with a high-octane cocktail.

The new place was pricier, with large-format dishes such as prime rib with snow crab legs and a beggars duck with caviar sauce that arrived imprisoned in clay; both featured ostentatious tableside service. The duck was freed with a metal hammer, sending shards of pottery flying. Other newfangled dishes included bright green matcha noodles and lettuce cups brimming with beef tartare and orange caviar.

Sliced red meat underneath, crab legs on top.
Prime rib and snow crab legs
Robert Sietsema/Eater

A puffy round flatbread with four dips.
Flatbread plus dips

A dining room with plush banquettes, hanging light fixture, and tin foil at the rear of the room.
The East Broadway interior

The public loved the new restaurant. Habitues from earlier versions of the restaurant could enjoy the old dishes, as well as less expensive Middle Eastern and Italian food on an increasingly eclectic menu. But the core ethos of Mission Chinese remained, inflected with humor and culinary adventurism.

A darkened white storefront with lots of windows and colorful neon in blue and red.
The Bushwick Mission Chinese, third incarnation of the restaurant.

Perhaps inevitably, near the end of 2018 a branch opened in Bushwick, and Bowien’s focus shifted there. Bushwick seemed more like the Mission District than the Lower East Side had been, and in line with the chef’s burgeoning modeling career, there was an enhanced interest in decor. For one thing, the interior lighting was a shifting rainbow of colors, and the kitchen was like a proscenium stage with a play presented by the kitchen workers to be enjoyed by the diners. The aesthetic might be called Blockhouse Moderne, but the food still tended toward the whimsical and experimental.

With the advent of the Bushwick branch, the East Broadway establishment slipped from view, its energy gone. And in recent years, a series of allegations against (and between) both Bowien and Dimayuga, including a 2018 racial discrimination lawsuit by four former employees, have complicated the restaurant’s place in the city’s dining scene. But when I heard it would be closing September 30, I wanted to pay a final visit. The coronavirus had not been kind to this Mission Chinese. It was slow to reopen, and then with a truncated menu and a half-hearted sidewalk presence that included only six tables. While the restaurant had once roared, it now whimpered. In advance of the closing, many of the decorative items had been auctioned off, so as I stood at the order counter that now blocked the front door, I could glimpse a yawning space with only a few dusty stacked items remaining, a sad sight.

Yet the 12-item menu offered a pleasing synopsis of some historic dishes I was eager to retry. Even better, Bowien was downstairs cooking in the kitchen, according to the employee who took my order. Of the once-glimmering cocktail list, only a couple of bottled versions were available. The service system now required an order be placed at the counter, a wait of 10 or 15 minutes for the bagged food to arrive, then another wait for a table, which in a companion’s and my case proved to be 45 minutes, for a total wait of an hour.

A white plastic bowl of chicken wings and McDonald’s style french fries.
The explosive chicken wings now contained french fries.

A bowl with red smeared slice of bacon and tubular rice cakes.
The thrice-cooked bacon, a dish from the earliest days of Mission Chinese, now featured Korean rice cakes.

Finally seated, we dug into a version of explosive chicken wings that now comprised five wings and some french fries in a heap of dried red chiles, an interesting variation among the historic evocations of the dish, some of which had involved beef tripe. It was probably the 15th time I’d eaten the dish in one form or another. The kung pao pastrami was up to par, with slightly bigger cubes of the pink meat and a pleasing saltiness, while the potatoes that had characterized the indoor version before the pandemic were largely absent.

We especially enjoyed the thrice-cooked bacon, featuring thinly sliced pork belly and the tubular rice cakes native to Korea, rather than the flat frisbees of Shanghai it had once deployed. And did the dish now taste slightly of kimchi? Whatever the intention of the chef, it was a pleasant riff on a specialty that had been familiar to me for nearly a decade. After plowing through six dishes, including garlic fried rice and a lovely pickled vegetable salad, we concluded with a panna cotta, expertly turned out with no excess of gelatin. It arrived smothered in a number of toppings, both savory and sweet, and why was I not surprised to find out that one of the ingredients was Pop Rocks?

Accounting for the various twists and turns of the Mission Chinese chain is a bit like studying Delmonico’s in its 19th-century heyday. Both empires had incalculable influence on the city’s dining scene, and both ramped up public expectations for restaurant dining in general. While Delmonico’s moved gradually uptown, Mission Chinese migrated from west to east, always seeking new audiences for its innovative cooking, or perhaps trying to find a less gentrified neighborhood, though it was itself a harbinger of gentrification.

Mission Chinese’s departure from Manhattan was inevitable, I suppose, as was its abandonment of the luxury pretense it had established at its East Broadway branch. I will miss this last Manhattan location for its long and mind-boggling menu, the scale and exuberance of its dining rooms, and the indecision about ordering that it always engendered in me. But, like its previous incarnations, Mission Chinese’s time as an opulent downtown establishment turned out to be another temporary guise.

The exterior of Mission Chinese by night, with a red awning glowing.

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The Eater Guide on How to Help During the Crisis

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Not all that long ago it seemed like if the pandemic weren’t exactly over by now, then at least the worst of it would be. But the summer didn’t make things any simpler. Cases continued to spread, and fires and hurricanes ravaged the West and Gulf Coast. As the weather turned colder, more states began allowing indoor activities and face-to-face school. As a result, the virus appears to be surging once more. It is increasingly clear that not only will thousands more Americans likely die as a direct result of COVID-19 by the end of 2020, but the mass misery of the economic devastation it has unleashed — suffering disproportionately endured by Black and Latinx communities — will not lift anytime soon. 

Benefits like the federal $600 a week unemployment expansion ran out or contracted for more than 25 million Americans in July and the federal government has failed to agree on the terms of a new aid package. Organizations that provide food and housing assistance to low-income people across the country, already strained by the last several months of the pandemic and the government’s appallingly incompetent — and at times malevolent — response, are scrambling to meet a tidal wave of need. As roughly 40 percent of restaurants on the brink of closing forever, programs that aid people in the food industry are also seeking further support so they can continue to provide assistance to worker who remain unemployed or underemployed. Groups representing Indigenous communities, undocumented immigrants, farmworkers, and people of color are also mobilizing to get assistance to marginalized people and lay a foundation for a more resilient food system — because while it’s an extraordinary time of need, it’s also not new. 

Hunger and poverty have always been the U.S.’s most shameful open secrets. Despite being the wealthiest country in the world, as of 2018 more than 13 percent of people in the U.S. lived below the poverty level, according to the Census Bureau, while a full 78 percent of U.S. workers lived paycheck to paycheck. The pandemic and its economic fallout have put those statistics into ever starker relief, as the nation’s working class and its poorest residents have faced the largest health burden from the virus. Several studies have estimated that pandemic-related job losses and increased food costs have roughly doubled food insecurity in the U.S., and No Kid Hungry estimates that one quarter of children around the country could face food insecurity in 2020 due to the novel coronavirus. 

In this guide, Eater has identified a range of programs, organizations, and charities fighting hunger, developing sustainable food networks, and providing support to the roughly 31 million people who are unemployed or are working less than they’d like to be due to this global medical disaster. These are places that are stepping in to do work in their communities where governments and elected officials have left people behind. Collected here are opportunities for giving and volunteering in and around the United States and its territories, at both the national and the local level, as well as in the U.K. Editors have done their best to vet the charities included here, but it’s always important to make sure when you give money or time that the organization you’re supporting aligns with your values and has a transparent, proven track record. If you only have time or resources to give, give it, but monetary donations — especially those offered over an extended period — can be even more impactful because charities tend to know where the greatest need is. If you’ve chosen a group and aren’t sure what’s the best way to help, it’s worth reaching out and asking.

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Trump Teases an ‘EPIC’ Election Night Party at His D.C. Hotel Despite Capacity Limits

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Despite D.C.’s ongoing COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings, President Donald Trump’s campaign has teased plans to host a party for election night on Tuesday, November 3, at the Trump International Hotel downtown. Fundraising emails from Donald Trump Jr. include details on a “sweepstakes” to fly a supporter to D.C. for a party described in all-caps as “EPIC,” “ELECTRIC,” and “INCREDIBLE.”

Under D.C.’s Phase 2 reopening restrictions, mass gatherings are capped at a maximum capacity of 50 people. Restaurants are still limited to half-capacity seating with no standing and no countertop service from bartenders. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser says she wasn’t aware of plans for the party until Monday, October 26, Washingtonian reports.

The location of the election night party is unclear, but the opulent hotel has multiple ballrooms and event spaces. The hotel includes a location of celebrity chef David Burke’s BLT Prime steakhouse. Lobby-level bar Benjamin serves $23 glasses of sangria and $120 seafood towers. Nearby, more affordable pub Harry’s has already seen pro-Trump crowds openly flouting mask requirements and other protocols meant to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. Trump has consistently downplayed the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. After he survived a case, Trump told Americans, “Don’t let it dominate your life.”

On election night four years ago, the recently opened hotel was the site of an impromptu and raucous gathering for supporters watching the numbers roll in on large TVs framing its gold bar. The controversial Pennsylvania Avenue hotel near the White House has been sold out for weeks on and around Election Day at rates going for $1,200 a night, the Associated Press reports.

The fine print in the sweepstakes notes the campaign can move the date of the trip and the location of the hotel stay at its discretion. The prize also includes a photo op with Trump. The supposedly randomly chosen winner, who is subject to a background check, will be responsible for all ground transportation, meals, and all other expenses during the duration of the trip.

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Eater Staffers Pick Their Favorite Instant Pot Recipes

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Now that we are over the sourdough-and-regrowing-scallions part of the pandemic, but in no way over the actual pandemic, we must prepare for The Hunkering. Every winter is a time for stews, roasts, and hearty pasta bakes, but this winter it feels extra important, both because most of us are going to be indoors way more than any previous season, and have completely lost the energy to do anything but throw a bunch of stuff in a pot. Which obviously means it’s time to break out the Instant Pots.

A few years ago it seemed like electric multicookers, especially the Instant Pot, may have just been a fad. But the fact that in one appliance you can cook anything from soup to pudding to bread makes it pretty ideal for cooking during quarantine fatigue. Eater’s staffers rounded up our favorite go-to Instant Pot recipes, perfect for the many nights when you’re in the mood for something delicious, but you know, wanting to do as little as possible to make it happen. And as Eater Dallas and Eater Houston editor Amy McCarthy noted, you could always go with “just some fucking chicken breasts,” and let the machine do the rest.


Beef barley soup: This is the first that comes to mind. It’s basically a textbook version of this classic soup, and perfect for chilly weather. It’s low-lift, reasonably quick to put together, and freezes well. — Missy Frederick, cities director

Dakbokkeumtang: I make this recipe when I’m craving a savory chicken dish with the volume turned up. All that delicious flavor comes from the sauce. It’s a perfect balance of sweet and spicy from gochujang and sugar. Doenjang and oyster sauce adds another layer of depth. Typically to make this Korean comfort dish, you would need to watch over the pot, making sure that the chicken pieces are soaking up the sauce. But everything is done in the Instant Pot, so the result is fall-off-the-bone, tender chicken with potatoes that just break apart with no effort at all. Also, who doesn’t love a dump-everything-and-press-the-button recipe?! — James Park, social media manager

Mac and cheese: I make this one once a week when I’m lazy and cooking sounds hard. I use whatever cheese is in the fridge, add a little brown mustard to the mix, and usually skip the milk or add it at the very end. Would suggest you grate the mozzarella or it becomes a blob. — Brenna Houck, editor at Eater Detroit

Chinese poached whole chicken: Basically, I get a whole chicken every week, and I got tired of roasting it. This recipe is a really easy — not entirely foolproof, but a good enough way to poach a chicken whole in about 40 to 50 minutes, with not too much work on my part. You can use it specifically as white-cut chicken over rice with, say, a ginger scallion sauce, but just as often I pull the meat off the carcass and use it for meals throughout the week. Two caveats: You really do need an instant-read thermometer to tell when it’s done, and I find it’s much better to salt the chicken 24 hours in advance (I use the method in Salt Fat Acid Heat), so it has enough taste. And after poaching the chicken and pulling off the meat, I often toss the carcass right back into its cooking liquid, cook it on manual for another 60 minutes, and end up with a bunch of chicken stock. — Meghan McCarron, special correspondent

Kosha mangsho: This is a traditional Bengali goat or lamb stew in a heavily spiced, yogurt gravy, and it’s intensely rich and comforting. This recipe uses a pressure cooker to save time, but on the offchance you landed on this page and don’t have an Instant Pot or the like, you can still just simmer it in a large pot. — Jaya Saxena, staff writer

Lemongrass coconut chicken: The sauce is unbelievably tasty for just a few ingredients and it comes together so quickly. The labor to flavor ratio makes it one of my go-tos when I get bored with cooking or can’t be bothered to put in much effort. It’s also great over rice or any other grain. — Brittanie Shey, Eater Houston and Eater Dallas associate editor

Basic chicken noodle soup: I make a basic chicken noodle soup in the Instant Pot probably every week in the winter: The base recipe is two chicken breasts, a carton and a half of broth, a few cups (I eyeball it) roughly chopped diced celery, carrot, and onion, and whatever spices you want. Cook everything together on high pressure for 25 mins. You can quick-release the pressure and remove the chicken breasts, and shred them — while you’re shredding, set the pot’s saute function so the broth remains boiling and add egg noodles. Once the noodles are cooked, dump the shredded chicken back in and you’re done! This is perfect because frozen chicken works just as well (and at the same cook time), and you can experiment with any leafy greens at the end (throw them in when you add the noodles) and any noodle types you want. — Erin DeJesus, lead editor, Eater.com

Pork chile verde: This recipe is very good; I found it last year when I had a truckload of tomatillos from my garden. It is a great comfort food and works well as stew or tacos. — Brenna Houck, Editor at Eater Detroit

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