On most Monday evenings, one could find my late wife and me seated at table A1—in the corner, by the window—at Mr. Tang's in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. We had been regulars at the Chinese mainstay on Third Avenue long before the emergence of the Chinatown in nearby Sunset Park. As the foregoing community grew, it siphoned away many of the old customers. Nevertheless, our loyalties remained steadfastly with Mr. Tang. We had found a good thing, and we stuck with it.
Having tried a number of items on the menu over the years, we refined our selection to the point at which we'd simply order "the usual." Our preferences were well-known and required no explanation—favorite munchies and condiments arrived automatically, as did our drinks and dishes. On the Ides of March last year, however, all that came to an end. New building ownership and the ensuing rent hike led to the dining room's shuttering, leaving behind only the take-out fragment of this once large and bustling Bay Ridge institution.
Fortunately, Mr. Tang had opened a branch in Manhattan's "Old Chinatown" several years earlier. Initially, the restaurant de-emphasized the Mr. Tang brand in favor of its address: 50 Mott Street. Over time, however, the name evolved to Mr. Tang of Mott Street, its present designation. It's nearly impossible to recapture the enchantment of our Monday evenings in Bay Ridge—the present dining room is less cozy; the longtime, familiar staff is absent; and alcoholic beverages are limited to beer and wine. Though my Zombie (a potent concoction of various rums and fruit juices) is no longer available, I can still enjoy, mirabile dictu, "the usual."
The meal begins with Mustard Green Soup with pork and tofu ($8.95 for two). The server always remembers to ask the kitchen to add extra scallions, garlic, and ginger. It's a very tasty and healthful soup. Interestingly, it was introduced to us during an early visit to Mott Street, when my wife was under the weather. Our waiter recommended the soup as being restorative and easily digested. We enjoyed it so much that we incorporated it into our Monday menu in Brooklyn.
On a recent visit, I was presented with a sample of the House soup—a broth with slivers of beef and a slice of lotus root. The lotus added an unmistakable hint of sweetness. It's not bad, but not compelling enough to displace the Mustard Green soup.
The soup is followed by Chinese Spinach with Minced Garlic ($7.95). The infusion of garlic complements the vegetable's flavors perfectly. This dish is best enjoyed over rice, which absorbs the juices of the garlicky spinach nicely.
And then comes the pièce de résistance: Crispy Fried Chicken, Cantonese style ($10.95 half; $21.90 whole). I have a passion for exceptional fried chicken. Sure, there's Charles Gabriel's delicious Southern-style, or Forte Baden Baden's and Bon Chon's tong dak. But when Mr. Tang gets it right, there's none better. Served (upon request) with jiao yen (literally, "spiced salt," a blend of salt and Sichuan pepper) and a garlic-ginger dipping oil, the moist, golden-brown, crispy-skinned bird is a taste of fried chicken nirvana. Chicken prepared in this fashion is rare outside Chinatown.
Our "usual" was enough to sate the two of us. The meal typically concluded with both almond and fortune cookies, as well as orange wedges. On my most recent visit, Mr. Tang added a nice touch: a slice of moon cake to celebrate the Mid-Autumn, or Moon, Festival.
While Mr. Tang of Mott Street can never equal the memories of Monday evenings in Bay Ridge, I'm delighted that it's a place where I can still savor my old favorites.
Mr. Tang of Mott Street
50 Mott Street (SE corner Bayard St), Chinatown, Manhattan
By train: J,M,Z,N,Q,R,W (BMT),6 (IRT) to Canal Street
By bus: M1, M103, B51