I was thrilled to be able to visit the much-talked-about Red Peony Restaurant last week–I love its unique decor that kind of mixes Old Shanghai circa 1910 with what I could only call “urban chic.” There is a lively atmosphere and you can see people from all walks of life sharing the large plates of food served family style. But what really opened my eyes at this restaurant that serves Shanghainese, Cantonese and Sichuan cuisine is that the menu has nearly 150 items to offer if you tally up appetizers, entrees, dim sum and desserts. If you can’t find something great to eat here, you won’t find it anywhere!
The first item that my dining partner and I shared was the Turnip Short Cakes. The name intrigued me and my dining partner assured me that they were great. The golden exterior of these little gems were crunchy with a “bird’s nest” texture and the inside was soft, warm and sweet. The filling is a simple turnip mashed and lightly sweetened. I strongly recommend this as a starter. It’s something I have never seen on a Chinese menu before and turnips are very underrated in general. This was filling but not overly so.
Next up for us was something I can never go into a Chinese restaurant without ordering: Scallion Pancakes. This is served in two layers and cut into six pieces. They are made hot and fresh and take about fifteen minutes to make. They are warm and crispy with fresh scallion pieces. I defy you to find better Scallion Pancakes anywhere–I could probably live on these, LOL!
Next up, we got an order of Steamed Vegetable Dumplings and they were extra large with a tender outer shell and a juicy assortment of vegetables inside including finely chopped carrots and cabbage. Red Peony gets these right; many restaurants can’t get the “skins” thin enough and don’t use a big enough variety of vegetables. These are simply perfect! The inside oozes juice when you bite in two!
I adore any Chinese string bean dish and have never had a bad one–so we ordered String Beans With Minced Pork as one of our entrees. I have to say that the beans were lightly sautéed to the perfect point of tenderness–not too firm and not to soft. The tender pieces of pork made for a dynamite paring. I added a little soy sauce and hot oil and was in heaven (I like my string beans on the spicy side). I would definitely go back and order this dish again!
Chicken With Chinese Vegetables is done simply but perfectly at Red Peony. The white meat chicken is lightly floured then stir fried with broccoli that is kept on the firm side. The Red Peony’s brown sauce is the best out there. I could not figure out what the secret ingredient is but this sauce is slightly sweet–I suspect that a touch of honey might have been added. This is a huge portion; two people could share this and an appetizer and be super satiated.
Outside of ice cream and mocha, all of the desserts at Red Peony are truly unusual for a New York-based Chinese is eatery. I had never seen any of them before on menu here which to me proves their authenticity. We decided to go for the two piece serving of Red Bean Short Cake and it had the same outer shell as the aforementioned Red Bean Short Cake but also featured a lovely coating of sesame seeds. The red bean paste inside is sweet and satisfying–and you can tell it was freshly made that day.
We then ordered the Almond Bean Curd. It might look like a simple old-school fruit cup in the photo above but do not be fooled–underneath all that fruit is delicious cubes of almond goodness that are tender and cold. If you love anything almond flavored or containing almonds like I do, this is a “must try”! Also, I must add that the fruit on top was super juicy and sweet. This is a large size dessert that two people can share.
You will see families dining right next to executives who work in midtown and although Red Peony is considered upscale, it is unpretentious. You can get takeout and they have an incredible $13.95 lunch that includes a vegetable spring roll, choice of two soups and three types of rice as well as an entree. I will be checking that out the next time that I am in midtown between 11:30 AM and 4 PM. Red Peony is located at 24 West 56th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and their phone number is 212-380-8883. The official website is www.redpeonyrestaurant.com. Reservations are recommended but not necessary. I would say that this 75-seat two level cozy resto is the perfect place to take a “pit stop” during shopping along Fifth Avenue in the 50s. You will really feel relaxed at Red Peony and be delighted that the waitstaff is attentive and knows the menu inside and out.