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Sammy's Noodle Shop and Grill (New York City NY)
||453-461 Sixth Avenue,|
New York City, NY
Reviewed by: Tim Shaw
Spring Volume: 2000 Issue: 7(1) page: 21
Of the many tables at Sammy's Noodle Shop and Grill (the name of the article in the hard copy of this issue)in Manhattan, they are still full at 2:30 one Thursday afternoon. Two in particular draw my eye. At one, two downtown-twenty-somethings dressed all in black, with various facial parts pierced and hair dyed white, sat in animated conversation. They struggle absentmindedly with chopsticks, shoveling down brown rice and occasionally skewering a piece of chicken, not picking it up with their chopsticks. Next to them sit two older Chinese ladies, also dressed in black with hair colored white by time rather than fashion, with no visible pierced anything. They sit quietly, not uttering a word as they deftly lifted white rice between chopsticks, never dropping a single grain. They are as calm as the other couple is manic.
This tableau is a perfect example of Sammy's Noodle Shop and Grille at the corner of 11th Street, in Manhattan. Young and old, Downtown and Chinatown, Chinese and American and everything in between, they all meet in a lively setting for some excellent Chinese food.
Occupying the old Jefferson Market building, Sammy's opened five years ago to a jaded village restaurant scene. Another Chinese restaurant is neither wanted nor immediately embraced by the neighborhood. Fortunately for them, they are not just 'another Chinese restaurant.'
During the renovations of the Jefferson Market space they occupy, the owners realize that they have a variety of different kitchens at their disposal so they incorporate three of them into the restaurant design. Upon entering the doors, guests immediately pass the Cantonese kitchen which features the usual Chinese roast meats so beautifully lacquered with sauces. They almost look plastic until you notice the little piles of juice accumulating under each one, be it whole bird, rack of ribs, or another meat.
Looking at them and watching the cook cut them into portions of crispy skin and juicy meat is a perfect way to get the appetite going while waiting to be escorted to your seat. These meats are reasonably priced be they a quarter chicken or the same amount of duck. If you are feeding four, or really, really hungry, whole birds are available as are spare ribs in small or large portions.
Cantonese Wonton Soup plain or as a great vehicle for the roasted meats easily feeds two filled with duck, chicken, pork, seafood, or a fish ball. The seafood is OK, but the meats really shine; their sauces mix with the broth. They are a great meal on a cold night.
Over to the side of the Cantonese kitchen is a space they call the Mandarin Kitchen. Specialties such as dumplings, scallion pancakes and Mandarin Noodle Soups are prepared here. Unfortunately, the dumpling appetizers are often a little doughy, but they are flavorful. The soups are more delicate in flavor than the stick to your ribs ingredients of the Cantonese soups. Curry Flavor Noodle Soup is a standout, satisfying without being too heady or spicy. Vegetarians have great choices from this kitchen because most soups can be had just with vegetables. The Cellophane Noodles with Braised Bean Curd and Mushrooms, and the Vegetable Noodle Soup hold their own against the heartier meat based soups. Even a die hard carnivore will not miss meat.
True to the name, if you are not coming here for the meats from the Cantonese 'grill,' you should be having the noodles, The Lo Meins and Mai Funs should be on everyone's 'must try' list. New York City Lo Mein can be limp and oily, a relic from days long past--a dish just coasting on reputation. But here a Sammy's Lo Mein is rediscovering how good this basic dish can be. Sturdy noodles, flavorful sauce, crisp vegetables, and moist meat all mixed together with each flavor remaining distinct. The Singapore Mai Fun with Curry Flavor is another dish found anywhere, however, here it is whipped back to life. Just the right amount of curry, crisp vegetables and snappy noodles combine to make a light but satisfying meal.
The third kitchen is for all items not made in the first two. This includes the Sichuan and Hunan standards you find at most Chinese restaurants. The General Tso's Chicken, Sweet and Sour Pork, Beef with Broccoli, Steamed or Sauteed Whole Fish are OK; but they do not stand tall as do the noodles and meats. Not to say they are not good, but truthfully, the majority of dishes are overshadowed by the excellent items already mentioned. When you go to a noodle shop and grill, go for the noodles or meats and you won't be disappointed.
If Dim Sum is what you want, the selection as Sammy's includes eighteen, most very good. Crystal Seafood Dumpling was the best dumpling I had. And of course, the Short Ribs are outstanding. Like most Chinese restaurants, a large portion of Sammy's business, dim sum or not, is take out. Of course you will miss the hip crowd, but you can have cocktails at home; that might be a bonus because Sammy's only serves wine and beer.
Like other New York City Chinese noodle and grill shops, Sammy's has a 'design your own dish' program. Select four vegetables and one sauce item and they will steam or stir-fry your choices. There is no delivery charge at Sammy's for those who live locally, and I have been amazed at the consistency in or out, no matter the day of the week. This is one restaurant where I do both; you can enjoy it either way, too.