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Sunny East (New York City NY)
||21 West 39th Street,|
New York City, NY
Reviewed by: Judy Ross
Winter Volume: 1995 Issue: 2(4) page: 14
Behind an unremarkable facade on a drab street in what is known as the garment district in Manhattan, Sunny East surprises savvy Chinese food fans with cuisine of rare refinement presented in a setting of elegant serenity. Softly cinnabar-colored walls displaying interesting ethnic copper frieze-reliefs enclose a sinuously narrow room. Polished wood dividers and a giant aquarium define intimate nooks where tables are laid with pink linens; a lazy-susan center facilitates the sharing of banquet dishes; the pretty chopstick-rests hint from the outset that this is a management conscious of every detail.
Early impressions were confirmed by the appetizer assortment selected for our party of four by owner Jason Mo. Although we were initially dismayed that the Crispy Shrimp Packs resembled two long eggrolls, our palates rejoiced at the eggy, chewy, fresh-tasting gelatin skin enclosing a well-seasoned forcemeat of shrimp dotted with crisp water chestnuts. This is the sort of cuisinary concept that French food snobs would call a seafood sausage, but the flavors were definitely Oriental. To add color, our very adept waiter deposited plump green steamed vegetable dumplings, the pasta crescents ideally "al dente," and tinted with pure spinach juice, and the centers perfumed with star-anise. Jason confided to us that the price of such purity is eternal vigilance. His chef once wanted to use food coloring because it is an 'easier' way to achieve the same effect. However, the House is dedicated to natural ingredients, and the subtle vegetable scent really makes a difference. The Vegetable Pie suggests a Vegetarian Peking Duck. The fragile deep-fried pastry leaves are swathed in hoisin sauce and then wrapped in handsome crepes. The contrast of soft crepe and crisp center is accented by piquant saucery--a titillating tastebud drama.
The soup course that followed was a classic. Minced squab came in individual bamboo tumblers. All benchmarks of this version of the cherished recipe reinforced its reputation among gourmets. The broth was deeply chicken-flavored and golden, the nubbins of dark meat were plentiful and juicy. The flavors were delicate and the texture seemed hearty.
A unique jewel of this kitchen, the Crunchy Royalty Chicken Noodles, is another adventure in textural contrast. Nests of crisp vermicelli embrace a toss of tender julienned chicken breast mingled with colorful accents of snowpea strips, red bell pepper, and dusky mushrooms. "All to be wrapped into soft crepe and eaten out of hand, like a taco," suggested our waiter. The ecumenical epicure appreciated the reference, but the purist should observe that every ingredient here is authentically and gratifyingly Eastern.
The briny succulence of giant prawns, lightly flour-crisped and perfumed with Grand Marnier is seconded by the crunch and verdant color a bouquet of barely par-boiled broccoli florets. Such admirable restraint with the natural juices of seafoods translates admirably to a spectacular flounder. Its bony skeleton is stripped of meat and batter fried so that bits can be broken off to crunch as one does potato chips. But before the indulgence, diners feast on squares of similarly batter-fried white flesh in a lovely glaze that is nominally sweet-sour but actually only faintly sweet and mostly piquant. These morsels are mounded in a crustacean cradle of the fish, topped off by curlicues of scallion--always the interaction of textures, flavors, vegetables, and meats in a triumph of the kitchen.
Strips of filet mignon with gingered green beans are of impressive buttery quality. Alongside, we enjoyed a distinctively hot Chinese 'salsa' of green and red chilies that we have encountered nowhere else in the city. Ask for it only if your palate likes it hotter that hot!
Even those who disdain fried rice will be gratified by the special Jade Fried Rice that is unique to this locale. The long-grained Thai rice infused with spinach juice is mingled with egg flowers, plump peas, diced ham, scallion rounds, and a plentitude of moist shrimp nubbins; a meal in itself and suitable to banquet-style dining despite the traditional skepticism that deems rice at banquets as indication of a host's failure to provide sufficient other foods. Sunny's East's Jade Rice is a gastronomic gift.
Tariffs are, as might be expected, higher than at your local resort--but quite modest in terms of midtown mecca or equivalent choices. Appetizers range from $2.25 to $7.95; entrees from $11.95 to $20.95. An elaborate seven-course Royalty Banquet Dinner for a minimum of two is $38.00 per person, and easily worth a special trip--as is all cuisine from this magnetic menu.