Monday, February 21, 2011

4 5 6: The Next Generation

Back in the 1970s I used to go to a Chinatown restaurant called 4 5 6, on Chatham Square. It was one of the first Shanghai-style restaurants in Chinatown, and I went sometimes with my older brothers, sometimes with friends. The restaurant closed sometime in the late-70s, I'd guess. For some reason the restaurant name was also given in Romanized Cantonese on their sign: Say Eng Lok.

Not too long ago I saw a new restaurant on Mott Street called 4 5 6. I wondered if it had anything to do with the Chinatown original. I decided I'd plan my next Chinatown group dinner there. There were seven of us, enough to get a good sense of the menu.

I learned from one of the waiters at the new 4 5 6 that the chef/owner is the grandson of the original owner. I guess the 4 5 6 gene skips a generation.

As I usually do at Shanghainese restaurants, I ordered a mix of dumplings and appetizers, cold dishes, something noodly, and hot main courses.

I don't remember having xiaolongbao (soup dumplings) at the original 4 5 6--I think the first place I tried them was at Little Shanghai, on East Broadway. The ones at the new 4 5 6 (we had the pork and crabmeat version) were very good, though I found them rather short on the soup. Nonetheless, Bob H. declared them better than those at the much vaunted Joe's Shanghai.

I do remember the fried dumplings (pot stickers) at the original 4 5 6. They were big and hearty, with a somewhat thick skin. The grandson's dumplings are much smaller, lighter and more delicate, closer to Japanese gyoza (which get their name from the Chinese jiaozi, by the way).

The beef pancake with egg met with approval from most of the crowd, but I found it disappointing. It was rather bland and dry, and could have been improved by a thin layer of hoisin sauce that some places use in the preparation. The turnip pastries, little pies with shredded turnip, met with universal approval.

Our two cold dishes were both good, though I can't say I've ever had a bad rendition of either. The kau fu (gluten puffs with black mushroom) was a little less sweet, a little less aromatic than many. This version included peanuts, which I don't believe are standard issue.

The seaweed salad was refreshing and well-balanced (some versions have an overwhelming garlic presence).

Main courses included Ning Bo fried two delights (shown at top), which consisted of yellow fish prepared two ways: wrapped in bean curd skin, and in a breading with seaweed. Everybody agreed that the ones in bean curd skin were wonderful, but that the breaded version was too heavy and greasy.

Though in the heavy department it's hard to beat the pork shoulder in honey sauce, and I mean that in a good way. It's a big hunk of boned shoulder meat with a fatty layer of skin sitting on top. Peter W., who loves pork as only a Jew can, said it reminded him of the German dish eisbein (though that is made with pickled hocks). Though called a honey sauce, it wasn't overly sweet. This is the kind of dish that you need a large group for, it's so rich.

If I had known the pork shoulder came with bai choi (aka Shanghai bok choy), I might have ordered a vegetable dish other than the black mushroom with bai choi; still it was a hit at the table.

I found the seafood rice cakes (nian gow) a bit disappointing: softer and less bouncy than I prefer, and wetter than I like, with a bit of a white sauce. But nian gow, like jiaozi, is a lucky New Year's dish, and we went in the middle of the Chinese New Year period, so wish me luck.

4 5 6
69 Mott Street (between Bayard and Canal)
Chinatown, NYC


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the 411 on 456.

9:44 PM  
Anonymous Andrew R said...

Wow! My family used to take me and my brother to 456 in the late 60's early 70's frequently, I think there were 2 of them, we went to theone which I think had an upstairs. The Hot and sour soup and lo mein were amazing, I have had nothing like them since. That place got me into chinese food, which today remains my favorite.

10:03 AM  

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