The Chinese Club
208 Grand Street, Williamsburg
The Chinese Club wasn’t established in 1914. Not the one headquartered on Grand Street, anyway, surrounded by vintage boutiques, running gear stores, and European kitchenware shops—no matter what its yellow and red signage says. The real date is circa March 2016, although to be fair, you could probably tack on a year or two for its tenure as the critically admired (although, regrettably, not frequently enough patronized) Pasar Malam.
Its progenitor, on the other hand, does go back that far; it was a Darjeeling-based social club founded by Lo Fung Shu, as a cultural refuge for beleaguered immigrants. And his great-granddaughter Stacey Lo (together with chef/husband, Salil Mehta) is behind Williamsburg’s present-day iteration, which—just as with their previous project—uniquely examines the widespread, culinary causatum of the Chinese diaspora.
But while the former specialized in South East Asian hawker fare, from Indonesian satay to Haianese chicken rice and Malaysian roti canai, the latter celebrates the influence of the Hakka Chinese on the Indian capital of Kolkata, resulting in a singular fusion of sweet and hot chili, curry and cumin, sambal and soy. And while the earlier incarnation was outfitted with golden elephants, benevolent Buddhas and floral garlands, a crew of welcoming cats now wave in tandem from above the curved bar, a corpulent lucky piggy bank peers out into the lantern-bedecked room, and a mylar whale drifts belly-up along the ceiling, like some forgotten remnant from a rowdy family banquet.
Ushered in on flat platters, the extravagant hiss of sizzling stir-fries frequently drowns out the high-pitched warble of the background soundtrack; but don’t let them distract you from so-called “signature” items, helpfully denoted on the menu. There’s highly traditional Hakka Chili Chicken of course—which reads remarkably like nuggets of fashionable, Nashville-style bird—although instead of cayenne and hot sauce, the fire comes from the scorching flesh of tiny bird’s eye peppers. Of the dim sum, don’t miss the Chinese Bhel, a toss of crisped noodles and chutneys, unexpectedly dotted with creamy lobes of avocado; and while it’s unlikely to set Instagram aflutter, the Manchurian Vegetable—a host of cornflour-bound fritters, speckled with cabbage and carrot and set afloat in a murky sea of ginger-galvanized sauce—is as “truly special” as promised. Though we’re loathe to admit it, we abandoned our rice and transferred it bowl-to-mouth with a serving spoon. Here’s hoping it’s not the kind of behavior that’ll get us kicked out of the club.