Connect me to:
Tindo (New York City NY)
|1 Eldridge Street,|
New York City, NY
Reviewed by: Jim Leff
Fall Volume: 1998 Issue: 5(3) page: 21 and 22
Love Me Tindo is among the offbeat undiscovered hyperdelicious eating places I like to frequent be it at 11:30 am when they open or 3:00 am when they close. When we think of quests requiring copious time and effort, ordeals such as finding an apartment, a job, or a mate come to mind. All these monumental pursuits are dwarfed, however, by the herculean strivings involved in finding a default Chinatown restaurant. I am not talking about places like Kam Chueh, or places very good for a dish or two but merely OK for the rest, like Excellent Dumpling. Not banquet places either such as The Nice that are too shmancy for a mere bite, but not charming/unsubtle hole-in-walls like Tin Yick, either. I love Joe's Shanghai, but soup dumplings are a special occasion thing, and my Joe's peak only monthly. The hot new places (Mandarin Court is one, at the moment), like the hot new movies, invariably leave me cold.
I believe that there is a tremendous difference between knowing certain joints for certain dishes and having 'Your Place.' For years, my heart belonged to Shing Kee at 42 Bowery south of Canal. It was reliably wonderful and I knew the menu by memory--so utterly hooked into the kitchen that I could detect even minute variations in the black bean sauce (Did the chef hurt his wrist? The sauce seems a bit thin, as if something was obstructing him from shaking in his usual dose of rice flour). In time, Shing Kee went the way of so many restaurants. First they became inconsistent, then they opened a separate establishment next door--for a while it was a game of 'who's got the chef?' There followed a long and painful decline, hitting rock bottom after Sam, the manager, got ill and passed away.
I never found an all-purpose hang that I could call my own until bassist Mark Dresser called to hip me to Tindo on Eldridge Street and that advice was stellar. I ate meals the likes of which I had scarcely fressed before. Nearly each dish set a new standard. Best of all, it was co-owned by the chef--a rare guarantee of kitchen continuity in the erratic world of Chinatown restaurants. Then one Black Wednesday I stopped by at 9 pm and found the gates down. The next day, I tried calling but found that the phone had been disconnected. Out of business. The phrase shudders with finality, evoking the morose helplessness with which one presses one's pining nose against locked gates and boarded windows. If only I had gone more often--if only I had sent more people. But such speculation is useless when doors have shut and the people that brought a favorite place to life have scattered to the four winds.
But sometimes--VERY rarely--reprieves are granted by the restaurant gods. Tindo has. It turned out, they had a policy of closing every Wednesday. And, they simply had been having trouble with their phone line. Like Warren Beatty in 'Heaven Can Wait,' I was given another chance; LOTS of chances--three meals a day for ever and ever (or at least until they blow it, ala Shing Kee).
The moral of this story, O vicarious armchair chowhounds, is: use it or lose it. Put down this article RIGHT NOW and high yourself to Tindo. Eat too much and pay too much, and scarf with passion and gratefulness. Because it is not closed. You can go to eat there; you can give them money, and not much, at that, and they'll cook you food--great food. Eat, then you'll shut your eyes and moan with pleasure. The universe is in a state of perpetual flux and we mustn't attach, but we CAN gorge on Salt-and-pepper Squid in a state of rarefied gourmand grace.
Tindo's Salt-and-pepper Squid is my favorite fried calamari, regardless of nationality; it never fails to elicit gasps of pleasure. There are some other must-eats, but first a word about the restaurant itself. This is a bright beacon in the drab area north of the Manhattan Bridge near East Broadway. The main room occupies a warm ultra-narrow triangular space, and there's a larger upstairs auxiliary dining room--accessible through an unmarked entrance around the corner, but it's flourescently lit, boxy and considerably less charming--though it does sport a picturesque view of subways ascending the bridge.
Their style is home-style Cantonese including some rare Hong Kong grandma dishes like off-menu Salted Thousand Year Egg with Dried Octopus, Chopped Water Chestnuts, and Minced Pork. It's a dead ringer for corned beef hash with fried egg; scoop chunks into your rice bowl. This snack is ubiquitous in Hong Kong, eaten several times per week. The egg's saltier than usual, but still the flavor is unbelievable; so soothing, so smoothly porcine. But their real specialty is Hot Pot cookery, both tradition stewy stuff and more thrown-in-last-minute fare. Three do-not-miss highlights: Baby Beef and Black Pepper, Baby Eggplant with Squid, and Ground Pork and Clams in Thailand Sauce. Other good stuff: Chives with Salt Fish, Steamed Oyster in Shell in cognac sauce, Fried Prawns topped with homemade mayonnaise and honey walnuts (even better than the classic version at The Nice, but this is a dish that for me had at least one off-night soooo, if you don't flip over it, do try again another time). Do not forget the above mentioned Scrambled Egg and Shrimp.
Some dishes (especially noodles and soups) on the regular menu are merely very good; stick with the specials menu or ask the owner (remember, she's a bespectacled woman, and she hangs downstairs) for advice. But beware of tips from the upstairs waiters. They may try to coax you into the more expensive dishes--though nothing's THAT expensive. Just GO, GO, GO--go often and enjoy.
Note: This review appeared in the column titled: Two on the Menu: Two Ways by Two Friends. Jim Leff is the author of the Eclectic Gourmet Guide to Greater New York City: The Undiscovered World of Hyperdelicious Offbeat Eating in All Five Boroughs (available this October by Menasha Ridge); and he runs a website for those who love to eat, Chinese and other (www.chowhound.com). The other review, by the editor, was of Susanna Foo's Chinese restaurant.