Danny Bowien

Runway model. UNIQLO ambassador. TV star: Mission Chinese Food chef Danny Bowien wears many hats, but it’s his unique, Americanised brand of Chinese cooking that’s taken him around the world. His NYC dining recommendations are just as personal and eschew the hip and trendy in favour of Jewish delis, American-Italian restaurants and other classic New York eateries. “I like places that are kind of institutions,” says Bowien. “Maybe they’re not the best food or the hottest or coolest version of something, but they’re reliable and they’re always going to be there.”

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The Newcomer That New York Needs

Ernesto’s is a new Basque restaurant in Chinatown that’s just opened a few weeks ago and serves lots of small plates. The chef there is Ryan Bartlow who’s a really good guy from the Lower East Side that’s worked everywhere. He’s worked for ‘The Franks’ [Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli, owners of the Frankies Spuntino Group]. He was working for Riad [Nasr] and the guys at Frenchette. He lived and studied in Spain and he makes amazing Spanish food. All of his fish is incredible. He does a piece of hake with clams with green sauce that’s really good. He does a gilda that everyone does, but he does it really well with a little bit of tuna conserva. His shrimp toast is really good. His blood sausage is really good. There’s a plate of homemade potato chips with Iberico ham that everyone goes crazy for on Instagram. I thought his soup was incredible, he did this leek stew that was really nice.

Ernesto’s feels like what New York needs right now: it’s a straight forward restaurant. Like, it’s not a wine bar but they serve really great wine. The wine list is all Spanish but it’s not all-natural wines which is kind of nice to see. I’ve eaten there a couple of times since they’ve opened. In New York when something new opens, the city just descends on it.

My Favourite Pizza Place

One of my favourite pizza places is a spot called Scarr’s Pizza. The owner’s name is Scarr [Pimentel] and he’s a really good guy. Growing up, he worked in a lot of really famous pizzerias in Manhattan like Lombardi’s and Patsy’s. He had this idea that he really wanted to open up his own pizzeria. He doesn’t make a big deal about this, but he mills his own flours and he uses the best ingredients. But he doesn’t tell anyone that. At first glance, it just looks like a regular slice shop, but it’s definitely one of the most popular pizza spots right now in New York. It’s funny because when I go there now I see a lot of food writers and people in the industry eating and over-analysing certain aspects. I always see at least one person overthinking the pizza and looking at it and telling their friend about how he mills the flour in the basement, but there’s equally the same number of if not more people just there eating pizza. Skaters from downtown. People that live there. It’s a very cool spot. There’s always a line. I like the regular slice and I take my son there all the time. Scarr’s also does a vegan slice which is amazing and the Caesar salad is one of its best-selling things and it’s vegan as well.

Two Classic Jewish Delis In New York

When friends are visiting from out of town, I’d try to take them to Barney Greengrass in Upper Manhattan. I don’t go there very often – I always eat at Russ & Daughters on Orchard Street – but if it was a special occasion, I’d make the trip uptown. I love that restaurant. Barney’s is over a hundred years old and it’s a deli spot and known as the king of sturgeon. I love the potato pancake and my son loves the matzo ball soup: it’s actually his favourite place to go. It also does really great orange juice. I love the fact that you can go in there and it’s touristy, but it’s not too touristy. People who live in the neighbourhood have been going there forever. It’s a place that’s on everyone’s list, I think.

B&H Dairy is another place I go to. It’s a little Eastern European breakfast-lunch counter that’s amazing and serves whitefish. It makes homemade challah, their soups are really, really good and they make amazing borscht. I’ve been going to B&H forever. I like the matzo brei: it’s basically eggs that are cooked on a griddle with matzo meal – matzo crackers that have been reconstituted in a little warm water – and then then they whisk in a couple of eggs and make an omelette out of it. It’s super good and it’s cheap. So cheap. B&H is amazing and definitely an East Village staple.

Vegetarian Food At Any Hour Of The Day

There’s a Pakistani restaurant on the Lower East Side that I eat at a lot called Punjabi. [Food writer] Peter Meehan and I have a picture inside after we filmed my television show there. He told me about it when I moved here and said he had eaten there more than any other restaurant in New York. I know for sure that I’ve done the same thing. It’s a take-out spot that’s open 24 hours and it’s all vegetarian. I eat there… often. If they have the okra masala, I always get that but I usually get the three items over rice or with two roti. The two roti just changes everything. I always have the chickpeas and the spinach, but other than those, it always rotates. They usually have about eight to 10 items and little fried snacks too including the best samosas. I always get the samosa with chickpea and yoghurt.

My Late Night After-Service Treat

I still go to Balthazar a lot. I love it. Late at night after work, it’s still one of my favourite places to go. If I’m there late, my girlfriend and I will usually just go and get coffee and dessert after work. I used to go there to eat and I’d eat the dinner which was fine, but I’d do it just to eat the dessert. There’s this really classic caramelised banana tart with vanilla ice cream. I love having that in that room really late at night with a cup of coffee.

An Introduction To Italian-American Cooking

I like going to Emilio’s Ballato on Houston Street at the cusp of Little Italy. It’s not fancy at all but it’s a great spot for regular, Italian-American pasta. David Bowie used to eat there all the time and it’s where my son had his first meatball. My favourite dish there is this appetiser called trippa alla Romana (Roman-style tripe): it’s like a tomato-braised tripe dish that’s really good. I also like the pasta pommodoro. That’s my favourite. Just really good spaghetti, really good tomato sauce and no cheese. People go crazy over the ravioli and the linguini with clams. The tiramisu is amazing and there’s really good espresso, too. Very Italian. It’s really strong and really bitter and just so good.

Further Adventures In New York-Style Italian

I go to Bar Pitti in the West Village a lot. It’s a Southern Italian restaurant: Tuscan I believe. It’s a very fashion crowd. There’s a specials board written in Italian that they walk around to each table. I always get the puntarelle and anchovy salad, and the sautéed spinach with garlic which is so good. The panna cotta with chocolate sauce is really great for dessert. I like going there for lunch meetings. It’s really nice and it’s always really busy. These aren’t fancy places: just your regular New York restaurants. They’re cool because they’ve been around forever. I like places that are kind of institutions. Maybe they’re not the best food or the hottest or coolest version of something, but they’re reliable and they’re always going to be there.

Home-Style, Handmade Japanese

En Japanese Brasserie is another place that’s been there for a long time. The owners made their own tofu every couple of hours that so nice and chill. I always get this dish that’s literally just steamed vegetables in a bamboo steamer that’s served hot or cold. They’re just these amazing Japanese market vegetables served with a moromi miso which is a whole bean miso. It’s insane. So good. So simple. They do amazing sashimi as well.

I also like this Japanese restaurant in Soho called Omen Azen that’s also been around forever. Its tuna tartare is ridiculous and has these little Japanese rice cracker balls in it. They also make their own udon. It’s traditional home-style Japanese cooking and everything’s good.

Sushi At All Price Points

I don’t do omakase [tasting menu] as much as I used to. I can’t tell you the last time I had it. There was a time where I’d obsess over it but it’s not really cost-effective to live in New York and do omakase all the time. But if I were to have to choose a place, I would still say Sushi Yasuda is my favourite. It’s so special. I like the vibe at lunch, it’s faster. [Sushi hand roll restaurant] Kazunori has been really successful because it’s not super expensive. It’s not the best you’ll ever have, but it’s good, cheaper and it’s fast.

My Mission Chinese Statement

Mission Chinese Food is a community-based restaurant that speaks to people from different walks of life. In comparison to a traditional restaurant, it feels very unique, although we do follow a lot of the same narratives about what a good restaurant should be, like steps of service. But the food is very personal. It draws from a very personal place for me. I’m adopted, I grew up in Oklahoma, I lived in San Fran[cisco] for a good amount of time and now I live in New York. It’s very fusion. It’s a crossover of this and that, but I pay a lot of attention to the fundamentals of Chinese cooking: Sichuan and other regional food, specifically.

Our Manhattan restaurant is definitely a bigger and nicer restaurant, but a lot of it is tucked downstairs. The kitchen is in the basement. You don’t see the chefs. It’s kind of that classic downtown Manhattan restaurant where you have a big booth and have a night out with your friends. Our Bushwick [Brooklyn] restaurant is just over a year old and is a little more loose. It has a lot more vegan and vegetarian options to cater to the crowd there. Manhattan is still fun and pushes the boundaries of what a sit-down restaurant should feel and be like, but it’s a little more refined. In Bushwick, it definitely feels like you’re part of a club. You feel like you’re in a show.

Profile photography: courtesy of Leia Jospe.

Guide last updated January 2020

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Danny Bowien

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