Ever since I visited Taipei last summer to work on a film, I’ve been obsessed with Taiwanese food: a tasty amalgamation of flavors from the indigenous culture and those of the Japanese and Chinese who later ruled the island and influenced the cuisine. For ages, I’ve been on the hunt for authentic Taiwanese cuisine in New York and my searches have always come up short.
Whenever I tell anyone about my longing for Taiwanese food, people inevitably suggest going to Flushing, but I’m always disappointed at the offerings there. There’s always something missing, something not quite right… just different and not in a good way.
Then I heard about Eddie Huang of Bauhaus opening up a restaurant serving Taiwanese street food. Hooray! At first given the cheeky (if unfortunate) name Crackhaus (the community board didn’t like that one), it was eventually renamed Xiao Ye after a meal similar to what Americans might call a “midnight snack” except instead of sneaking down to the fridge in your bunny slippers, you take to the streets.
I wrote about one of Taiwan’s most famous night markets in Keelung here: https://joycewu.wordpress.com/2009/08/06/keelung-night-market/
The food blogosphere was abuzz with news of Huang’s adventures in Taiwan gathering inspiration from the culture and training with the locals at a culinary school. I kept tabs on his progress and the restaurant’s and was so excited when I saw a profile on NY Mag’s site proclaiming that it “Recently Opened!” A page also popped up on Yelp with only one review from someone who had tasted a dish that was being previewed at the Hester Street Fair.
I tweeted to Eater and asked if anyone had been to Xiao Ye and if they had any recommendations. No responses. And suspiciously, there was no phone number listed on the NY Mag profile or the Yelp review. There was only the address: 198 Orchard Street.
Last week Eater debuted the menu and re-posted a craigslist ad (which has since been flagged for removal) seeking employees:”Whatchu know about eating rappers for lunch and spittin’ out the chain? If you can cook and like the other other white meat, holla back.” Hilarious, I guess. But there was no mention of an actual opening date.
Back in April, NBC New York’s Feast blog reported a possible soft opening on May 13, but it was unclear as to whether or not that actually happened since more recent items were saying June. My intrepid foodie friends and I decided to meet there on Friday since we had at least one reasonably reliable source that said it had already opened.
We figured if NY Mag was wrong and NBC’s information wasn’t up to date and it was somehow still not open, we’d just go to one of the many other restaurants in the Lower East Side. When I got there, I was disappointed to see that Xiao Ye had, in fact, not opened. Blue Elm, the French-African fusion restaurant it was meant to take over, was still operating. (Though just barely. At 8:00 on a Friday night, there were maybe four people eating.)
So what’s the deal? If I were a real food journalist, I might have gone inside and asked. But I didn’t have the heart to go up to a waitress who was working at a restaurant that was so clearly on its last legs and ask when the place I really wanted was going to shut it down and replace it. And if I were a real food journalist, I might try to contact Eddie Huang, who has his own food blog, which is interesting, I suppose, if not terribly informative. Just tell me when the damn place is opening! Just tell me! When is it opening?!
On Sunday, when I was walking home, I saw a food truck parked outside the Chase bank at Astor Place serving not kebabs but Taiwanese dumplings and bubble tea. Maybe Eddie Huang has got it wrong. Maybe a food truck is more in the spirit of a Taiwanese night market. No fancy Niman Ranch pork or Angus beef, just food on the street at night, cheap and quick.
Oh, who am I kidding? Please, Eddie, please, Eddie, please! Just open up already! I can’t wait!