Long before he came to The General, Hung Huynh was one of America’s most promising culinary stars. Now he’s hawking General Tso’s chicken on the Bowery.
It’s a curious career choice for the former executive sous chef at Guy Savoy in Las Vegas and winner of the third season of Bravo’s Top Chef.
Yes, Huynh’s Tso is better than $12 versions that are mainstays of take-out joints.
The sweet-spicy fried chicken bites are tasty, in a one- note, Wendy’s (WEN:US) chicken nuggets kind of way -- except here you’re paying $21.
Hunan shrimp ($22), which ought to be as incendiary as that province’s iconic dishes, barely register on the capsicum scale. The shellfish themselves are flavorless.
There’s nothing wrong with ambitious chefs like Danny Bowien or Alex Stupak elevating and refining food more commonly eaten from microwave-ready containers. But the 244-seat General offers diluted flavors that never reach beyond pan-Asian party fare begging to be paired with $16 Scotch cocktails.
At least they’re great drinks.
This is about what we’d expect from EMM Group (Abe & Arthur’s, Catch), a less-bad version of Lavo Group (Tao). EMM sells a style of guys-or-girls-night-out dining where the line between brasserie and after-hours hotspot is a thin one.
Stilettos and suits pack the bar room, which glows red from neon-lit Chinese characters. Restroom attendants proffer mouthwash from crystal decanters.
Food comes out fast; efficient servers provide fresh share plates with regularity. The menu offers more than 60 items, ranging from awesome to awful.
Avoid beef, for the most part.
American Wagyu at The General is ordinary. The starters, available cold and seared ($21) or hot and grilled ($33), taste like any average steak. Crispy fried beef ($24) tastes less like the strip loin it is than fried cardboard coated in syrup.
The exception is short ribs braised in red wine, cinnamon and cloves until they’re soft and heady ($41).
Black truffles almost rescue corn on the cob, bland, not surprisingly, since you’re eating it in the dead of winter ($10). Better are boneless pork ribs ($17), a staple of Chinese- American menus. There’s no trademark “Red No. 40” glow here, just expertly rendered fat and silky meat.
Huynh nails a few updated twists on take-out dishes: al dente lo mein, wok-fried in pork fat ($14); just-greasy-enough Reuben spring rolls packed with corned beef, kimchi and provolone.
Pair the hot and sour soup with Hitachino white ale ($12) for a soul-warming winter snack.
I doubt that any other high-end chef is doing less interesting things with fowl.
Sichuan chicken ($21), a study in crispy wing meat and face-numbing spiciness at, say, Mission Chinese, here is as bland as the breast meat it’s served with. Remove that pinch of spice and you have yourself miso-eggplant chicken ($13), another snoozer.
The Vietnamese-born chef shows off some technical skills with Peking duck ($69). Super-musky slabs of meat emerge from skin that crackles the burnt sugar on crème brulee. Too bad it tastes as if no salt was applied during the cooking or aging process; it’s almost completely unseasoned.
So stick with such fish as robata-grilled lobster tail ($21), packed with maritime flavor, or slow-cooked Chatham cod with a tart tamarind-tomato sauce.
Desserts are great if you yearn for Klondike bars with chocolate cake or cheesecake spring rolls. Huynh should be aiming higher.
The Bloomberg Questions
Price: Most dishes under $30.
Sound Level: Sometimes over 85 decibels when crowded.
Date Place: Pickup place.
Special Feature: With 300 seats, walk-ins are rarely a problem.
Inside Tip: Refined wine service; try the dry Gewurtztraminer ($15).
Back on My Own Dime: Late at night for the lo mein.
The General is at 199 Bowery. Information: +1-212-271-7101; http://emmgrp.com/restaurants/the-general.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience. *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor
Sound-Level (in decibels): 51 to 55: Quiet enough to converse. 56 to 60: Speak up. 61 to 65: Lean in if you want to hear your date. 66 to 70: You’re reading one another’s lips. 71 to 75: You’re yelling. 76 to 85: Ear-splitting din.
(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Tumblr at www.thepricehike.com or www.thebaddeal.com)
Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater and Katya Kazakina on art.
To contact the writer of this column: Ryan Sutton in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org or qualityrye on http://twitter.com/qualityrye
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.