“We are definitely a neighborhood restaurant — a place for New Yorkers to come and have a good meal.” The staff at Shun Lee Palace have been working there for some twenty to thirty years. They have watched the restaurant evolve over time, but according to them, not much has changed since the beginning. It opened as Shun Lee Dynasty on 49th Street. When they moved to their current address in 1971, they changed their name. Michael Tong, the original owner, sold the business to a gentleman in 2005 who resides in China. For the most part, it is the dedicated staff that runs this establishment.
Alex Low climbed every rung on the restaurant ladder before becoming a partner at Peking Duck House. Upon leaving Malaysia, he began as a dishwasher in New Jersey, did food prep and delivery orders, and then worked his way into the dining room. “I wanted to learn how to cook, but they kicked me out of the kitchen,” he joked. Yet he has no regrets, as he joined Peking Duck as a waiter in 1980 and was named a partial owner fifteen years later. He is now satisfied with his position at the front of the house. “You get to meet a lot of people. Customers have become friends, and everybody who comes in knows me very well.”Alex runs Peking Duck with Wun Wu, who trained at a hotel restaurant in Hong Kong before coming to the States to open a business of his own — one in Chinatown and then a second in Midtown a year later. When asked about their most popular item, the answer is in the name: “Everyone remembers us for our Peking duck, first and foremost.” However, Alex urges customers to sample other dishes that the restaurant has perfected, which draw inspiration from Beijing, Shanghai, and Szechuan. He laments that the art of Chinese cooking may soon be lost in the U.S., as there is a dearth of young chefs who are willing to come to America and be restaurateurs. As such, he believes it makes the places that have endured all the more precious.
The specialty at Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns is not the Japanese ramen with which most people are familiar. Peter Song, the chef at Kung Fu, is best known for la mian, a hand-pulled noodle from China that is considered the ancestor of broth bathed noodles. The noodles are also what keep him on his feet: “This is real Chinese food. Real home food,” said Chef Song.Peter excitedly showed me to the kitchen, put his cap on backwards, and prepared to demonstrate the art of making la mian. He slammed, slapped, stretched and even swung dough like a jumping rope before twisting and pulling delicate strings of noodle from the mound. Not only does it look impressive; the taste is what keeps bringing regulars back to the restaurant. “I come in here every day. I am not kidding. The flavor of the noodles is nothing like I have ever had, they are a lot thicker," said Ali, a local businessman and one of Kung Fu’s frequent visitors.At twenty-three years old, Peter immigrated to New York City with little money but a big dream: to own a restaurant that had true cultural Chinese food. Against his mother’s wishes to use the money he had towards an education at NYU, Peter started work at Lan Zhou Handmade Noodle in Flushing, Queens. His boss, Mr. Liu, helped Peter gain traction in the restaurant business and eventually became his financial partner when he established Kung Fu. “I bring 'home' to my restaurant. My mom understood it was my dream, but I had to work hard.” Peter, originally from Fushun in northeastern China, returns to China once a year to brush up on the process of making la mian. He is well-known there, having performed on a few national Chinese broadcasts as an actor and comedian before coming to New York. In 2013, he returned to China to study under a noodle master, documenting his process in a humorous short film that customers can view on the flat screen TV placed in a corner of the dining room. But his biggest teacher was sitting in the restaurant with us. “I brought her with me to the US, she is here!” he said, pointing to his mother, whom he thinks makes the best dumplings. She smiled back, her mother's pride clear on her face.Having completed his dream, Peter has started to expand. His fourth restaurant is opening soon on 39th street. “It is the best compliment to know people love my food,” Peter said. Sporting an amazing Chef with an amazing journey, this is one Chinese food treasure that New Yorkers should not miss.
The delectable assortment of French pastries was only the beginning of the excitement for me when I first visited Eclair Bakery. Getting to observe and speak with owner Stephane Pourrez, as he was preparing pastries, macarons, croissants and, of course, a variety of eclairs made the experience very special. An alumnus of Ferrandi, the French School of Culinary Arts in Paris, Pourrez worked in New York for a year as a pastry chef before he fulfilled his "childhood dream" of opening his own bakery. No matter what time I chose to pop in, I always found others sipping on their cafe au lait, and mingling with fellow French natives.
Lyn Trotman describes Quest as “a peaceful sanctuary in the heart of midtown.” President of the New York Theosophical Society, which studies the wisdom behind various world religions, Lyn also operates the Society’s book shop, Quest. The store is a pleasantly-scented oasis, with a section devoted to incense, candles, and gemstones. People interested in esoteric studies and rituals can browse through books on every conceivable spiritual tradition, from Kabbalah, to Sufism, to Buddhism, and all things in between. “A lot of other metaphysical bookstores are gone. We are the oldest one left.”