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A bartender mixes a cocktail at Decoy beneath a row of duck decoys on display.
Duck Dynastyby Gael Greene | Photography by Dominic Perri | Manhattan magazine | December 29, 2013
Obsessed eaters already addicted to the bold, playful “inauthentic” Chinese cooking at RedFarm in the West Village couldn’t wait for partners Eddie “Red Glasses” Schoenfeld and dim-sum virtuoso Joe Ng to clone the notion uptown. Demanding Upper West Siders—me among them, living just blocks away—brooded over delays. Then a friend called to tell me that Schoenfeld had quietly opened the new RedFarm for lunch and she’d meet me there. Given the no-reservation edict and downtown history, I figured this might be the last moment I’d see an empty table.
We had to have our downtown favorites: bruschetta of smoked salmon on eggplant crisps; shrimp and snow-pea leaf dumpling; and the exuberantly eclectic RedFarm chicken salad. And then, what’s new? Lush chunks of raw tuna with noodles and blueberries; shrimp and mango wonton critters with beady black eyes; and a stunning new notion, five-flavor chicken dumplings, oversize and not easily balanced on chopsticks. For the nondrinking lunchers, a tart, refreshing new mocktail: blackberry-ginger lime soda and Thai basil lemonade.
Fans who’ve willingly enjoyed the intimacy (or suffered the claustrophobia) of RedFarm’s cramped and ancient West Village townhouse on Hudson Street are happily finding that the same plumping pipes and red-and-white-checked booths uptown look freshly painted. And there are 82 seats—with 15 for eating at the bar—in 3,000 square feet.
What was Schoenfeld waiting for uptown, refusing to open for dinner? Fire power, water power, staff power; chef Ng to deliver a good mix of old and new dishes so no one could ever find everything they hunger for at one address. That’s why he wouldn’t open Decoy, his temple of Peking duck (reservations taken) in the lower level of the Hudson Street RedFarm until its Broadway outpost was running smoothly. And he hopes easing Decoy into a late-night bar at 9:30pm each night, with handcrafted cocktails (some with an Asian twist, some from their own aging barrels), will draw night owls till 1:45am. (There will be a menu of snacks too.)
I’m still exploring uptown’s new dinner notions. I know chef Ng has 1,000 dim sum recipes in his repertoire, so he’s just begun to show off. Meanwhile, there are bok choy dumplings; savory vegetable pancakes; barbecue pork belly with shishitos; and shrimp with Korean rice cake. Prices have crept up a bit from RedFarm downtown, I notice. Still, starters and salads begin at $7; dim sum dishes are $12 and $14; and two or three or four can share wide rice noodles with marvelous barbecued duck breast. I urge newcomers to focus on the chef’s genius. If you haven’t tasted the Katz’s pastrami egg roll, that’s a must. The mushroom and vegetable spring rolls with swirls of pastry come two to a plate.
Downtown regulars can’t imagine dinner without spicy, crispy beef, but for me, I’ll take the lamb shooters;
Pac-Man shrimp dumplings with a disc of shrimp toasts to dunk in guacamole; and crunchy vegetable-and-peanut dumplings. I always order the pork and crab soup dumplings, and show my friends how to get them to your mouth without dipping the noodle and losing the sublime nectar (half the time accidentally ripping my own, forcing me to slurp fast).
There are entrees, of course. If you insist, there’s marinated and grilled salmon steak. It will be carefully cooked, but why order salmon here? Some regulars insist on the marinated prime Creekstone rib steak for the table or, at lunch, silken, marinated and grilled skirt steak with asparagus and leeks. One friend shocked us all by ordering mussels with eggplant and okra, a new, inauthentically Chinese dish. I couldn’t imagine it would be that savory. Sauteed snow pea leaves with garlic are the obligatory veggie.
If you don’t see it on the menu, ask for the shrimp-stuffed chicken, my new absolute must. It’s often a special. You’re likely to become addicted to the rich nuttiness in this padded mattress of amazing flavor, judiciously sliced. If my friends leave any behind, I’ll take a few slices home for breakfast. But then, we must leave room for grilled lemongrass pork chops with shishito peppers. That’s three silken chops, thin and juicy—divide with friends so you have room to taste more—and don’t be surprised if all the shishito peppers are suddenly fiery hot. Yes, I know they say only one in seven is torrid. We were all ambushed.
There’s a motley crew of servers here, all sizes and shapes but mostly all in a good mood. I guess you don’t mind running ragged knowing you’re making most people happy. If you’ve been on the waiting list too long, by all rights—your pedigree, your academic ranking, your capped teeth, even your natural beauty or your Amazon ranking—let them bring you a drink and a bruschetta for each of you, fast. Next, send him or her off for your chosen dim sum while you argue over how many more you can’t live without.
By now I don’t want to think of dessert, but we listen. The waiter seems to believe the Key lime pie is a champion. It’s just Key lime pie. But some can’t resist chocolate pudding. The fact that it’s advertised as 76 percent cocoa gets a nod from some. I’ve had marvelous berries at RedFarm downtown, but that was summer. I remember how some of chef Ng’s sweet dim sum tasted long ago, before Schoenfeld spirited him away from Chinese restaurants in Brooklyn—a few of those dessert bundles were typically beany in the Chinese way; a few of them, brilliant. One of these days when the team catches up with openings, and Ng catches up on his sleep, he might whip up a few for us, just to try.
2170 Broadway, between 77th and 78th streets,
Lunch: Mon.-Fri., 11:30am-3pm
Brunch: Sat., Sun. and holidays, 10am-3pm
Dinner: Mon.-Thur., 4:45-11pm, Fri. and Sat., 4:45-11:45pm, Sun., 4:45-10:30pm
529½ Hudson St.
between 10th and Charles streets,