It's said that one can get just about any cuisine in the world in New York City whether its made from the hands of those who originate from that particular region or not. I mean who hasn't, on a tipsy weekend night, stumbled into a Chinese take-out place and ordered a taco platter or popped into a Greek diner at 4am for a Tex-Mex burger with all the trimmings? Cultures can celebrate and interpret other cultures which is ideally what happens in a melting pot. Otherwise the city wouldn't be called as such, but more like a city with hundreds of different burners going for hundreds of different pots to create only singular flavors.
This is precisely why I was very drawn to the idea of Hakka Chinese Cuisine. While the idea of the American cultural melting pot is a great premise, it's not only American. This is what intrigued me about this cuisine in that how, unless you visit a global locale, you are sometimes unaware of the influences border-sharing, trade and migration have had from countries in closer proximity. These characteristics can and have shaped cultures and created distinct styles, flavors and techniques that have made for inventive and distinctive culinary offerings.
Chef Salil Mehta and Stacey Lo
Such is the case with Hakka Chinese Cuisine. Without going into a grand history lesson, just consider the very close proximities of China and India and the fact that people of ideas just don't stay put. Hakka Cuisine in a nut shell is taking Indian flavors, spices and ingredients and preparing them with Chinese techniques. The food is vibrant and fresh and to those like myself who had the pleasure of first experiencing it last week Wednesday at The Chinese Club in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, parts familiar and parts astounding.
What's interesting about Hakka Cuisine is that I found myself playing detective to figure out if a dish was more Indian flavor or Chinese technique. As explained by the head chef and owner Salil Mehta, the restaurant offers up completely fresh modern interpretations of both cultures which he feels are dying culinary art-forms in the age of 'fast-everything'. He is absolutely correct since what was offered up at The Chinese Club had no nods to pre-packaged, processed fast foods. Myself and the other guests were treated to a wonderful culinary sampling served family style and we were bombarded with freshness and flavors as each dish was ready to be served to ensure never an empty plate or palette.
The cleansing white wine along with eye-opening starters Left To Right: 1)Lightly crisp and satisfying Organic Salt & Pepper Mushrooms that had a perfect light freshness of a tender whitefish, 2) spicy Aloo Chaat with Fried Noodles, a dish with potatoes, crispy noodles, fried lotus flower, pomegranates and tamarind that was verdant and tart, 3) crunchy chili-blasted Lollipop Chicken with a Spicy Mayo for a cool heat
The satisfying walks through flavor and texture Left To Right: 1) The delightful remixed Indian street snack of Chinese Bhel Salad with puffed rice, avocado, pomegranates, cilantro, chiles & fried noodles served with a chutney sauce made of chilis, garlic, lime juice and honey, 2) smoky, spicy and fragrant Hakka Chili Chicken that had a delicate citrus flavor to balance off the comforting earthiness of the chicken, 3) a texturally lovely Vegetable Manchurian Paneer that was both crispy from the breading and creamy from the middle with an almost hoisin-like depth
Wonderful entree sides that could stand strong on their own Clockwise from Left To Right: 1-3) Brown, Jasmine and Cumin Rices of which the cumin was my favorite with a sweet depth created by the presence of fresh cloves, 4) garden fresh and deliciously spicy Chili Garlic Noodles that could most definitely be a vegetarian's dream dish, 5) spicy Hakka Noodles that had an almost iron-rich sharp depth, 6) The Fillet of Fish in Hot Garlic Sauce was an excellent way to serve the always delicate flounder as it had a soft flaky crust and a zesty bright earthy garlicky sauce
There had to be room for this kind of dessert Left To Right: 1) this deceptive -looking Fried Ice-Cream With Noodles took softly sweet coconut ice-cream and expertly replaced the fried tempura batter coating with fried coiled noodles; the slivers of green onion look questionable but offer a pop of peppery balance to the earthiness and sweetness of the dish 2) breakfast for dessert came in the form of the Fortune Cookie Waffle Cake with its tooth fruity toppings atop a soft comforting chewy waffle pastry served with a delicately lovely sweet ice-cream, 3) this appropriately-named fresh, crisp and fruity cocktail was truly a Big Boss as it featured three sakis, mango pulp and mango pop bubbles nestled in the base of the glass
Chef Mehta, who operates The Chinese Club along with his wife Stacey Lo, believes that modernity done with a fast food mentality make people forget that good food is worth sitting down and enjoying instead of just being inhaled. Your senses, not just your appetite, feel satisfied after a well-prepared meal made with everything fresh when you order it. This is a labor of love for this cuisine and a respect for treasured foods from Mehta and Lo. This idea in a world of 'I needed it yesterday' needs the sensual-appeal of food to endure. Food should be a celebration and when it's done too fast, well, who wants to rush a celebration?
The Chinese Club is located at 208 Grand Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211 (718)487-4756 and is open daily for lunch and dinner and includes meat, seafood, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. An innovative wine, sake and beer menu accompanies the restaurant's cuisine.