Two Restaurants Whose Names Begin With “Ch” But That Otherwise Have Little In Common
(Cha Chan Tang’s chandelier. Photo by Adam Kuban.)
1. Cha Chan Tang (45 Mott St.)
In Cantonese, “cha chan teng” is the generic name for the East-meets-West diners indigenous to Hong Kong. This year-old café gets the transliteration a bit wrong, but the execution mostly right.
Cha Chan Tang is a real treat for Hong Kong nostalgists. Four mock windows–that is, flat-screen TVs with shutters–look out onto looping footage of Hong Kong at sunset. (I assumed at first that they were webcam feeds, but the time difference didn’t add up). The central light fixture is a chandelier made from Vitasoy bottles. And Hong Kong’s iconic iced milk tea is treated here with almost comical reverence: no ice is added to the tea itself, for fear of diluting the precious elixir; instead, each order comes nestled in its own ice bucket.
There are other restaurants in the area operating in the Canto-Western idiom, but Cha Chan Tang is both the sleekest and the most focused. Unlike its competitors (I’m looking at you, Hon Café, with your billboard touting “Sichuan Home Cooking”), Cha Chan Tang doesn’t try to be all things to all tourists. It sticks to the canonical items: crustless toast with condensed milk, ketchupy rice casseroles, beet-free Cantonese borscht. It does this pretty well, and it does it at prices that, even for Chinatown, are remarkably low.
2. Chuko (552 Vanderbilt Ave., Brooklyn)
I’m going to try not to lash out at Chuko, the new ramen restaurant in Prospect Heights. It’s just that I was so looking forward to this addition to my neighborhood’s grim Asian-dining landscape.
(Artist’s impression of the Fort Greene/Prospect Heights Asian-dining landscape.)
It hasn’t delivered.
The good: the noodles are fine, the eggs are great. But Chuko’s pork-broth ramen is very, very rich, and not in a pleasant way. I have had Thai coconut curries thinner than this broth. It actually feels emulsified, almost fluffy on the tongue. And there’s no sharp or pickled element to relieve the palate. The mustard green topping was probably intended to fulfill this role, but it doesn’t. This ramen is exhausting to eat.
I noticed a lot of customers leaving with plastic tublets of left-over broth. Maybe the cooks are congratulating themselves on this imagined coup: “Oh, they love it so much they’re taking it home with them.” But if I were working in that kitchen, I’d be asking myself, “Why are we serving ramen so rich that a diner can’t finish it in a single sitting?”