Thrice Cooked Criticism

Touchy Foodies Turn on Mission Chinese Food

The rise-and-fall of Mission Chinese Food sure has been a fast one.  Opening in 2010, the neighborhood was quick to heap praise on the fledging restaurant that spiced up Chinese dive dishes.  And the food really was that good.

Deservedly, the Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer soon declared it to be “the poster child for alternative dining scenarios.”  So it was no surprise that within two years of opening, MCF chef Danny Bowien was living the alt-list celeb life with Vice and Anthony Bourdain, and shoved off to New York to open two restaurants in the city’s post-gritty neighborhoods.

But all the hype seems to have poisoned the very magic that the restaurant once had.  Even the formerly celebratory Bauer has fallen out of love. “I learned on a revisit this week that without [Bowien] in the kitchen,” he wrote in last week’s one-and-a-half star re-review, “the San Francisco Mission Chinese is simply a dive, without the charm his inventive and soulful food gave it.”

It gets worse:

My all-time favorite dish - salt-cod fried rice ($12) with Chinese sausage and confit mackerel - shows how the cooking has devolved. On my recent visit it was as dry as sawdust, although there were glimmers of what I had loved in the interplay between land and sea.

Another favorite, ma po tofu ($12), which used to be thick with ground pork, seems to have been reformulated. It now has a greasy broth with too-large cubes of tofu and a one-dimensional heat that masked the earthy shiitake and aged chile sauce.

I’m not sure what “one-dimensional heat” means, but it sure does sound bad!  Bauer laments the “fading vision” and declares that the “surroundings are still rickety.”  To him, Mission Chinese has become “nothing more than a greasy spoon.”

And he’s the not the only one.  The idiot hive mind over at Yelp frequently slaps the place with one, two, and three star reviews, using words like “overrated” and “let down” to describe the experience.

Of course, the restaurant is hardly at death’s door—there are still lines out the door almost nightly.  But it sounds like waiting hours for questionably tolerable food at Mission Chinese has become quite the sucker’s bet.

[Photo: Nicole Wong]

Comments (10)

This article shifts in tone a lot, I can’t follow it.

But this line you speak of doesn’t exist anymore, you can get in on any really any night no problem.  And theres nothing wrong with appreciating food, especially what used to be highly interesting food priced at $12 or less.  I mean, this place when it opened to me, and before with their pop-ups, was just something I loved about the Mission.  Great food without the excess, just a shitty chinese joint making something awesome by weird people with ample creativity.

That said, the food quality has dropped dramatically, yelp reviewers and Bauer are not incorrect.  I don’t know the cause of it, but last time I went when some friends from Seattle were in town, it was bad. 

I realize this is a sarcastic hipster blog, but going to establishments that take pride in what they do is not something to be shunned.  You can go to all the mediocre mexican shitholes you want in the Mission, I’ll stick to espiga de oro, la oaxacaquenapalma, and other places that care about what they do.  And not feel anything when the mediocre ones shutter.

You can read our past pieces on MCF and see we’ve quite enjoyed that pride and effort they put into the dishes.  But if a place sacrifices quality and taste for celebrity and brand building, that doesn’t deserve accolades.

Fair enough, I couldn’t tell what the article was going for really.  But as per that article, I don’t ever remember just being able to walk up and sit down, even from the very beginning.

In 2010, mission chinese food was mission street food and the latter was doing wonderful “homage dinners” to chefs like Bras, Barbot, Escoffier, Redzepi, DaCosta, and other (for 10 weeks I believe) for cheap.  That was fucking epic.  

Yea no doubt.  I remember missionmission being all about that, those were fun times in the culinary world here.  There are still some interesting pop ups, for instance in the lower haight, and occasionally in the mission, but in generally it seems like they’re all quite expensive now.  I guess they always kind of were for the most part however.  Actually Im just remembering this through rose colored glasses, it was exactly the same except I just particularly liked what those guys were doing.

I wonder what he’s up to now?  His newest restaurant in new york got panned by the nytimes, mission chinese over there is closed currently, and now the original is decaying.  I’d assume he’ll correct all of this, but maybe not, who knows.

There are always interesting chefs coming through sf (bay area) doing collobaration dinners. MCF’s sister restaturant Commonwealth had two really good dinners last year (Blanie Wetzel and the guys from Contra).  Both were pricey but worth the money if you are into spluring on food.  

Beard’s rising star is a kingmaker.  Not always (see nate appleman) but usually.  He’ll have plenty of people with $$$ ready to invest in whatever he wants to do next.   

That all being said, I don’t think anyone is doing the same quality/price ratio MSF/MCF was pulling off in their heyday.  People like Manny Torres at the Palace don’t hold a candle.  

Since when is Mapo Tofu supposed to be ‘thick with ground pork’?  Never thick just a little bit for flavoring the sauce.

I saw a half naked lady run in there once at lunch!

The same Toadies that created it are now tearing it down. If the business model is a reliance upon Twitter hype and faux-snob/food intellectual bloggism this should be expected. Icarus and his wings and whatnot. 

The food was always shitty there. This is not new.

I wonder what the next hip food bandwagon will be. Something with squid ink I hope.