We admit that we never made it to Mission Chinese Food during it’s brief but celebrated run in the East Village. But the unexpected, ongoing pop-up in the shed behind Frankie’s 457 Spuntino has brought Danny Bowien’s Chongqing chicken wings a whole lot closer to home turf. Add in an unprecedented $35 price tag (for more than eight courses, mind you), and a recently employed reservations system (when’s the last time you actually had a table WAITING for you at a buzzy Brooklyn restaurant?) and we finally felt ready to drink the Sichuan peppercorn-spiked Kool-Aid.
You’ll need to pay for everything you imbibe in cash and up front, so be sure to stuff your wallet with plenty of green if you plan to grab a bottle of Bell’s Oberon Ale from Frankie’s makeshift bar, or order one of the supplemental dishes the host is likely to suggest if your party exceeds 3. You won’t regret getting those salt and pepper king crab legs or killer pork belly pancakes no matter what, but even shared with a large group, there’s enough food on hand to choke a Chinese dragon (there’s one strung from the ceiling of the shack, by the way), and solo diners will surely find themselves feasting on leftover fried rice for a week.
Each patron will start with a bowl of Westlake Rice Porridge with sunflower seeds and catfish, eminently craveable even during the recent string of especially steamy evenings (an accompanying, cold assortment of smashed cucumbers, Sichuan giardiniera and charred eggplant helps mitigate the heat). After that, overflowing platters begin to pile up at a fast and furious pace, each more delicious than the last, but too much for even a quartet of ravenous, seasoned eaters to make a dent in. There’s a tureen of Mapo Tofu, which pairs quivering globs of compressed soy with shitake mushrooms and pork, in a mellow, fermented bean paste-based sauce. There’s a creamy, multi-textured Salt Fish Fried Rice, dotted with Chinese sausage, shreds of crunchy lettuce and bits of egg, and a duo of kitchen ‘freebies’ (TEN dishes for $35!), including a coil of thick, black sesame noodles, and an addictive red cabbage and beet salad, intriguingly sprinkled with nubbins of toasted buckwheat. Yes, the set meal includes Bowien’s famous Kung Pao Pastrami, but we were even more entranced by the Tennessee Bacon n’ Rice Cakes, a savory slurry of tender, glutinous coins, chewy pork matchsticks, and half moons of bitter melon. And while even heat seekers have made mention of Bowien’s penchant towards aggressive, palate-obliterating spice, the cumin-scented Chicken Wings (inarguably the most fiery item on the menu), merely contribute a pleasurable zap to the sinuses, with a signature numbing zing that quickly abates. The final dish to hit the table, Market Greens drizzled with oyster sauce and Frankie’s olive oil, draped dramatically over a dome of shaved ice, is every bit as refreshing an end to dinner as the requisite wedges of orange and plastic-wrapped fortune cookies that follow.
Our dining companions, who were fortunate enough to have tried out the original Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco, its Manhattan outpost, and the Mexican-styled Mission Cantina besides, insisted that these were some of the best dishes they’ve ever had from the mini franchise, and although we had no real point of reference, we second another critic’s assessment that this was, undoubtedly, one of the best meals we’ve had all year. Something tells us this is only the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Brooklyn and Danny Bowien.
Frankies; 457 Court Street, Carroll Gardens missionchinesefood.com