Monday, March 19, 2012

Lotus Blue Review

Lotus Blue is a new restaurant in Tribeca serving food influenced by the Yunnan region of China. A Chinese restaurant in this neighborhood, and an upscale one, is already likely to rouse the skeptics; its chosen region of influence, rarely seen in New York, will have them throwing mud over its authenticity.

Lotus Blue's Web site provides this introduction:
Yunnan province is located in the extreme southwest corner of China. It borders Burma, Laos and Vietnam on the south and abuts Tibet in the northwest and has one of the most diverse population in the country. As such the cuisine is influenced by cooking traditions from the tropical country to frozen highland. Lemongrass, mint, purple basil and cilantro are common herbs, and fresh fruits and flowers are regularly used in the cooking of the south. Cured beef, ham and mushrooms on the other hand are staples of the north.
I cannot speak to the authenticity after my recent meal there, but I can say that the restaurant is serving some interesting Chinese food that makes use of ingredient and spice combinations I have not seen elsewhere, and it is doing a pretty good job of it.

On the day I was there, the restaurant had a happy hour that lasted until 8 p.m. — two free glasses of wine with each entree and all other drinks were half off.

I liked the Pu-er tea-flavored slices of potted beef shank that we started with. Pu-er is the kind of tea my family always drank at home and in Chinese restaurants, so I may have a bias toward the flavor. The flavor doesn't overwhelm the meat, served cold, but gives it just the Chinese treatment it needs. The quail eggs were also braised in tea.

The second dish may look just like a bunch of wild greens, and well, it kind of is — the spicy chrysanthemum greens salad. The gently aromatic and lightly floral essence of the greens are offset by a fiery red spicy garlic and Chinese black vinegar dressing in the bottom of the bowl. The tossing is left to diners, thankfully, so you can control the spiciness. Warning: the dressing is as hot as it looks.

The bowl of steamed pork belly came in a broth slightly sweetened by Yunnan candied plums. It was a delicious combination, though I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who feels squeamish about eating fatty meat.

This fried rice was a beautiful mixture of ground pork, Yunnan pickled turnip, red sweet pepper, green chile, garlic chives, mint, basil, and cilantro. I loved the fresh flavors and the bit of crunchiness it had.

I hope to come back to try some of the other interesting dishes on the menu. I won't knock it for a lack of authenticity, instead, I applaud it for broadening the options of Chinese food here. There's more than enough room for that in New York City.

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