Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Canteen 82

Pork & Crab Soup Dumplings are back on the Upper West Side
With Canteen 82, a mostly Chinese Asian restaurant on the Upper West Side, perhaps a third time's a charm?  This restaurant has had a tortured history over the last two years. It opened in March 2010 to decent reviews. I went there a few times and enjoyed the soup dumplings and peking duck buns immensely. I also enjoyed their accomodating BYOB policy.

Curry Chicken Salad
Other things were odd, like their bizarre breakfast menu of poorly made omelets and "Texas" French toast (whatever that means? I was afraid to find out). They also had a full espresso bar in the front. I challenge the reader to find another Asian restaurant that can serve you a latte with your dumplings. Needless to say the dumpling-espresso bar concept didn't work out and Canteen 82 closed after about 9 months and was replaced by a middling Italian restaurant called Nucci from the same owners, which lasted less than 2 months. That was replaced by a horrible fusion restaurant called Blue Caravan (different ownership), whose chef boasted that it served "an eclectic mix of different cuisines" and definitely not "fusion" (It was fusion.  And terrible). That lasted through the end of 2011.

Then just two months ago I was walking down Columbus Avenue and noticed a sign for Canteen 82. Turns out I wasn't dreaming nor did I step through the time machine in my closet again. Canteen 82 is back!

This time they ditched the BYOB policy and now have a full bar with a large selection of beers -- probably too large. Guinness with Chinese food? Though the corkage fee is only $10. The menu is more focused. The soup dumplings are back, in vegetable, pork or pork & crab varieties and are excellent. The only downside to these juicy buns is that they cause an alarm clock to go off in the open kitchen every 6 minutes or so (the amount of time it takes them to steam). That gets annoying after a while if you are sitting in the part of the restaurant nearest to the kitchen. I recommend they employ a silent alarm or perhaps hire an assistant sous chef to manually count it out.

The peking duck buns are also back and they are also excellent.  The buns are similar to baos but not too heavy and the duck is mixed with a tangy hoisin.  Shouldn't be missed.

Peking Duck Buns
Surprisingly the salads are quite good as well, especially the curry chicken avocado salad.  The chicken is mixed in a light curry sauce and settled on top of half an avocado.  Actually fairly refreshing.

The main courses aren't as good as the starters, however.  A Cantonese scallop dish with black bean sauce, onions, asparagus, red peppers, and mushrooms had overcooked scallops, though the vegetables were well-cooked and without the usual filler vegetables you're likely to find at some other Asian restaurants.  This dish would perhaps be better with a different protein; fortunately you could choose chicken, beef, pork, or tofu as well.  The Sichuan peppercorn chicken also had the same nice vegetables and the chicken was decent, but there were no mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns in sight.  Perhaps they meant Sichuan-style chicken with regular pepper.  A mystery.

Sichuan Peppercorn Chicken -- see if you can find a peppercorn!
The service was weird and at times unprofessional.  As we finished each course, the waiter kept asking us, "Are you done?"  While I appreciate the directness, it came off as rude.  In addition, there's a barrier separating an aisle near the kitchen and the tables. It seemed each time a waiter approached he or she was unsure whether to serve us over the barrier or to walk around to our table. They should walk around. It's not too far.

Service and alarm clock issues aside, I'm happy Canteen 82 is back and hope they succeed in their latest reincarnation.  Finally soup dumplings on the Upper West Side!

Recommended Dishes: Scallion Pancakes ($4.50), Soup Dumplings ($7.50 - $8.50), Peking Duck Bun ($6.50), Shangdong Dumplings ($7.50), Curry Chicken Salad ($10), Soups ($11 - $14).

Canteen 82
467 Columbus Avenue  (b/t 82nd and 83rd)
New York NY 10024
(212) 595-4300
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