Go to most Chinese restaurants in the U.S., and you’ll find slight variations on the old standbys. (How many different ways can someone interpret chicken and broccoli? Turns out, not a lot.) But with a new batch of chefs giving a modern spin to dishes we’re used to consuming on our couches, it’s looking like General Tso’s reign may soon be over.
Jonathan Wu, who runs the hot spot Fung Tu (FungTu.com) in New York City’s Lower East Side, serves a menu he describes as “seasonal American Chinese.” He makes tired staples fresh by channeling his upbringing. “It’s an expression of my identity, my heritage, and Chinese culture, but I’m most definitely an American,” he says of his egg roll stuffed with succulent pork belly, one of Fung Tu’s signatures.
More than anything, it’s Wu’s time spent in the kitchens of restaurant royalty like Blue Hill and Per Se that allows his cross-cultural vision to succeed on the plate. The young talent coming out of lauded venues like these is the driving force behind Chinese cuisine’s renaissance. “There’s a generation of chefs who’ve worked around fine dining, gained experience with techniques, and now have the opportunity to open their own places,” says Wu.
That means the fried chicken at San Antonio’s Hot Joy (HotJoySA.com) is spiked with Sichuan peppercorns and chili oil; the dumplings at Mimi Cheng’s (MimiChengs.com) in Manhattan come filled with local baby bok choy; and the lines are out the door for the Kung Pao Pastrami at Mission Chinese Food (MissionChineseFood.com) in San Fran and New York.
Sure, specials like Fung Tu’s ricotta gnocchi (yes, gnocchi) are tasty. However, Wu thinks the major reason the New Chinese trend will soon make its way into takeout containers around the country is simple: It preserves old traditions while inventing new ones. “I didn’t create it just to create it,” Wu says of the menu at Fung Tu. “It’s at once original and soulful. There are stories and connections throughout the cuisine.”