There's that saying, that you should never judge a book by it's cover. Like Twilight... which has a stupid-ass cover, but holds the depths of literary achievement like the world has never seen or experienced before. Kidding... or am I? Anyway, I generally feel like if an Asian restaurant is being frequented by a plurality of non-Asian folk, I should probably mosey the fuck on outta there. Not that I don't like a good serving of General Tso's chicken - I just don't want that when I'm seeking on legit homestyle shiz. Now, I realize this isn't really a fair generalization (when are generalizations ever fair anyway?), as there are a handfull of non-Asian food bloggers who clearly know their shit when it comes to cuisine from the Far East, but this as a general rule is pretty good to follow. Sometimes... there are exceptions. Nom Wah is truly a case where the number of white people isn't indicative of how authentic the food actually is.
Just a few years ago, Nom Wah was a true hole-in-the-wall type dim sum joint where the old guy in the back cared more about playing mahjong than service. By no means am I suggesting this is an awesome customer service model, but goddamn it was some OG cuisine. I knew whatever that bro pimped from his kitchen would be delicious and of questionable preparation methods. That's the kind of place I'm all about. Turns out... not everyone likes that style of management. The original establishment basically ran itself into the ground. In order to stay afloat, some random young guy stepped in and breathed new life into Nom Wah i.e. it "sold out" and transformed into a hip English-friendly establishment. I should be outraged... I mean, this place traded Asian street cred on account of greed! Yet I'm not. Why?
Because some of their food is actually pretty dope.
At first glance these might appear to be normal beef meatballs, but if you thought that... then you've been Chuck Testa'd. These are some next-level shit meatballs with a tofu skin wrapping. I've never understood why, but dim sum meatballs all have a certain citrusy flavor infused. Anyway, their version were decent - and I did enjoy how elastic and chewy these were - but we didn't order them. Not sure if someone fucked up, but we didn't get our order of beef cheung-fun. I would be pretty pissed if these weren't ape-shit delicious.
And some of these! I don't think anything I say about scallion pancakes is actually worth a fart (I guess you could argue that about anything I've written on my blog), but theirs weren't fantastic. It's not that they tasted bad or anything - they were hot, crispy, and as my ass-clown Korean friend in LA would say "it tastes like scallions" - they were just really generic. Almost like the ones you get from frozen packaging. To be fair, I ate most of them, probably with a shit-eating grin on my face the entire time, but I wasn't wowed. Let's put it this way... I could've stood up while wearing sweatpants because there'd be no boner to hide.
Their egg rolls are supposedly their signature dish... and I'd be lying if I said they didn't taste good. The problem here is honestly that I have no fucking clue what's inside of them. If you're expecting the "traditional" egg roll from an Americanized take-out joint - roast pork, lots of cabbage, lots of bean sprouts, and carrots - your mouth is going to hate you. I think there was hints of tofu, more than a couple slivers of mushroom, and possibly even egg (cray, I know), but I might be making that all up. The mish-mash of flavors simply works even if it is unmemorable as a whole. If you like knowing what you're putting in your mouth, then you should probably steer clear. If you're a tastebud slut who'd swallow anything without question - it's actually worth a try. Uh, for people who don't fall into either of those categories... you're on your own.
As an aside, do you know why I hate writing about dim sum? Never mind the fact that "all dim sum is good dim sum" to me. Look at the turnip cake above. Looks delicious right? Fuck yeah it does. All crispy and Maillard reaction'd up. The problem is, it's the same as every other dim sum place. It's a block of gelatinous turnip that's pan fried. No one can screw that up. No one. Not even me. I've made that shit before and it was premium. You wouldn't it was from Nom Wah if it weren't for that tacky-ass table spread. Whatever, end rant. Their turnip cake was good.
Not sure why we bought a giant plate of fried meat, but you really don't need a good reason to ever do that. Nom Wah's deep-fried rib tips are confusing to me. Most spare-rib tips are drenched in a sauce comprised of soy, honey, and maltose syrup - so their unadulterated offering just feels... wrong? But it's not. It's eerily reminiscent of salt & pepper chicken (if you're Taiwanese, you know what I mean, otherwise - think of popcorn chicken that's seasoned with pepper beyond belief), and offers up a reasonably flavorful bite of fat and crispy pork. None of that sounds bad. Unless you're vegetarian, you should at least try it.
Oh look, it's sticky rice with strips of egg. I don't like ordering this shit at dim sum. You know why? Two reasons... I always feel like my OG grandmother could make a better version at home and in larger quantity, and also because I feel like it's a waste of carb real estate that can be saved for better things. Better things like...
Giant buns of roast pork. If I were in charge of the cafeteria at my office, every meal would begin, and end, with a roast pork bun. While I can safely say nothing else at Nom Wah truly makes me 'moist,' they fuckin' kill it on this one. Considering how many places you can get this shit, that's high praise. Their offering is a huge bitch - with a bun the size of a small plate and stuffed to the gills with deliciously fatty cancer pork. Also, it's pretty cheap... so my two real scoring criteria are both fulfilled.
I feel like I've come full circle with this post. I can't find it now... but I vaguely writing a post in which I basically said that an Asian restaurant full of white people was the ultimate red flag in bootleg. That it basically meant I should run far and fast away from the land of lo mein and egg rolls. With Nom Wah - while it's certainly not the pinnacle of... well, anything - I've realized that isn't 100% canon. There are lots of non-Asians inside, and their food is actually pretty decent. Where am I going with this? I'm not sure. I should probably stop being prejudiced now.
tl;dr - Nom Wah sold out big time, now caters to tourists and non-Asians. Someone made me go, and I've seen the light. Their food is not bad. Their roast pork bun is arguably great. I'd go back, but probably not make it a destination.
13 Doyers Street, New York, NY 10013