Chinatown is a magical place. It’s full of mysterious smells (some enticing, some revolting…) and on almost every corner there is a hidden gem; an unassuming front with culinary masterpieces hiding behind its neon signs and linoleum floors.
A Wah, on Catherine Street, is one of those places.
The interior is nothing special–plain tables and drab lighting, with whole roasted ducks hanging in the window from their necks, heads still attached for the world to see. The servers aren’t all that accommodating, the acoustics are poor, the air is stale and it’s not particularly warm.
But, the food, oh baby, the food…
My friend and I ordered three dishes to share. Speaking in terms of portions, it was certainly enough to fill us up, though I wished we had chosen just one more small dish, so that I could have tasted a little more variety.
First, I insisted we get the Peking Duck Buns. My friend told me that she had never tried Peking Duck, and I mean never, which in my eyes is a total affront. The classic combination of sweet hoisin sauce, savory crispy-skinned duck, partially spicy scallion, and crunchy fresh cucumber all working together inside of a perfect little bun or flat pancake is one of the true genius. These little buns did the trick.
For something green, we chose Chinese Broccoli, sautéed with garlic. And I mean, lots of garlic. The veggie was perfectly cooked, enhanced exponentially by the buttery goodness it was cooked in.
Our final dish was the Lobster and Ginger Clay Pot Casserole: the clay pot is one of the specialties of the restaurant, available with just about whatever you can imagine wanting on top (squid, duck, pork, mushrooms, and the list goes on…). The casserole pot itself is hot, so the rice that touches the outer regions continues to cook as it sits at your table, and develops that scrumptious crunchy burnt rice exterior that one can’t help but munch on. This is the very best part.
The lobster was delicate and the ginger prominent. My only complaint, and it’s a minor one, is that the lobster meat was not the most easily accessible, and we didn’t have utensils to crack the shells. Shamelessly, I picked up the claws and sucked the meat out, and eventually got every last bit.
If you find yourself in the nether-regions of Manhattan’s chinatown, it’s hard to go wrong. There really is something yummy to munch on on every corner. But, if you’d rather take my word for it than aimlessly explore, check out A Wah. Trust me.