In 2003, I moved to Eastern Parkway. “Near Tom’s,” people would say. Tom’s is a Greek diner that gives you coffee and orange slices while you wait for a table. People said “Near Tom’s” because they thought it was the only place to eat nearby, and maybe because they knew that local residents protected Tom’s during the rioting that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Tom’s service charmed me more than its menu, but there was also The Islands, a West Indian place that’s worth the wait if you have time, and Gen, a Japanese place on Washington and St. Marks that is tasty, elegant, and, we discovered, welcoming to babies. As for Chinese food, there was a takeout joint next to The Islands that also sells chicken wings.
It’s now 2012. We still have Tom’s and the Islands and Gen–and a whole lot more. Cheryl Smith opened her place on Underhill. Washington Commons has a great beer selection. On Classon, Glass Shop and fancy pizza. Worthy Indian food on Franklin. Several praiseworthy Mexican options nearby. Fancy ice cream at Blue Marble, on Underhill, and better ice cream at Ample Hills, on Vanderbilt. Food trucks park at Grand Army Plaza once a month when the weather is warm. Around the corner, there is now Bar Corvo, an outpost of Al Di La, with waits like Al Di La.
And next door to Bar Corvo, Colala, a place serving “Chinese/Japanese cuisine”, opened right next door at around the same time. Colala also sells chicken wings. There is no bulletproof glass between the kitchen and the customers, but in other ways it underestimates its clientele just as much as places that do. Colala has two and a half stars on Yelp and, based on the one time we ordered in, I could not argue that it should have more. I’ve spoken with other Chinese food-loving Prospect Heights residents whose hopes were raised by the arrival of a new Chinese restaurant and dashed by one meal at Colala.
Until recently, I worked in Times Square. Midtown is traditionally not a bastion of Chinese cooking, but I was more than able to meet my needs there. First we started going to Szechuan Gourmet on 39th Street. Then Francis Lam introduced me to Lan Sheng, where you didn’t have to wait. Now you have to wait at Lan Sheng, too.
One Prospect Heights merchant says that there are 26 vacant storefronts on Washington Avenue alone, according to a recent report in the local Patch. If the owners of Szechuan Gourmet or Lan Sheng opened an outpost on Washington Avenue, they would have people queuing up to eat cumin lamb or crispy cucumber. Or would the Grand Sichuan or Xi’an Famous Foods chains would come to Vanderbilt? Amazing 66, how about an Amazing Underhill? It is my fervent hope that some enterprising chef will read this post and learn that there is an audience for distinctive Chinese food in Brooklyn before you get to Sunset Park.
If you open a better Chinese restaurant in Prospect Heights, consider this a reservation on opening night.
And if you live in the neighborhood, add your name to show that you want better Chinese food in Prospect Heights. Unless you opt out, I will hand over the addresses of those who signed the petition to better Chinese restaurants when they open, so they can connect with a hungry clientele.