Better Meets Leaner

Better Chinese Food

Ty Ahmad-Taylor invited me to present Better Chinese Food in the context of the lean startup movement at his latest conference on digital product development. My talk, “Optimizing for Better Chinese Food in Prospect Heights Using Lean Techniques,” was in Ignite format: 20 slides that advance automatically after 15 seconds, for a total of five minutes.

The slides have no bullet points, so they may be hard to decipher without a soundtrack; I will post the video when it becomes available. For now, know that the fellow in the center of slide 16 is Jonathan Wu, a Per Se veteran whose better Chinese food draws on his own family’s cooking. Not long after I posted the petition, Wayne Surber of Lonestar Taco introduced me to Jonathan, who invited me over for a tasting. The first course was a savory île flottante with leaves from a toon tree that his grandmother planted in Yonkers. We ate the toon cloud with a sparkling rosé, a heavenly start to a transcendent meal.

On his way to opening a restaurant, Jonathan has held pop-up meals in Fort Greene and Williamsburg. Perhaps one day he will bring his fava tofu (slide 17) to Prospect Heights.

Better Chinese Food: Frequently Asked Questions

Better Chinese Food

A little more than a month ago, I posted my plea for better Chinese food for Prospect Heights. So far, a hundred of you have lent your name to this noble cause. Maybe you heard about the campaign on Patch, Edible Brooklyn, or the New York Post, which dubbed me a “gourmand grouser,” then went looking for someone who didn’t work for Rupert Murdoch to criticize me and this campaign. It had little success, even among local Chinese-restaurant owners—and the Post reporter, who told me she lives nearby, signed the petition. For those of you who read Chinese, a mainland news site picked up the essence of the Post story, but not its tabloid edge. “To those who love authentic Chinese food, sesame chicken and General Tso’s are no longer cutting it.” (Translation courtesy Jiayang Fan.)

I’ve been asked a number of questions since posting the petition, and would like to answer them here.

Why a petition? Who are you submitting it to?

Better Chinese Food: The Road Ahead

Better Chinese Food

A few strategies for bringing better Chinese food to Prospect Heights:

  • Print campaign. Press coverage and online social media have been useful in enlisting support, but these methods can not compete with face-to-face interaction. Friends and strangers alike are most likely to sign the petition when I talk to them for a while, ascertain that they are also excited about Chinese food, ask them for their e-mail address, and e-mail them a link to the petition. I suspect that handing out a flyer or business card with a short URL will also be effective in generating signatures. And I would like to test that theory: If you would like to design a handout. let me know.

  • Chef outreach. Now that we have broken into triple digits, I have some to present to a restaurant owner. Let me know if there’s someone you think we should approach.

  • Sunday supper. My kitchen cabinet proposed a family-friendly, late-afternoon pop-up meal to introduce a chef to the neighborhood. Invitations will be sent to signatories, tickets sold in advance. If it goes well, we’d turn it into a regular supper club. If you’d like to open your home, bar, church, or school to such an event, don’t be shy.

  • Kickstarter. A good idea, but we’ll need something more specific to kickstart first.

  • The stadium. Better Chinese food may be the rare issue that Develop Don’t Destroy and Brooklyn Nets supporters can see eye-to-eye on. If you hear rumors that the Nets want to re-sign Stephon Marbury or Yi Jianlian, or if you know what Mikhail Prokohorov’s favorite dish is, you know where to find me.

Do you have other ideas? Let me know. Questions? Read the FAQ. Want to help? Sign the petition.

Prospect Heights Deserves Better Chinese Food

Better Chinese Food

Sign up to bring Chinese food to Prospect Heights

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.

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