I’ve never been that big a fan of Chinese food. Except for a few Chinatown gems, I associate most Chinese in the city with greasy take-out and plastic-wrapped fortune cookies. Egg rolls and lo mein are not the type of fare you’d expect from a sexy, East Village restaurant/lounge, but this is what China 1 dishes up.
My boyfriend and I went to China 1 on a Friday night. The owner, Andrew Krauss, greeted us at the door, with a smile as wide as the Buddha’s. Andrew is no Buddha though; he’s a boyish thirty-something metrosexual success story. Gorgeous, stylish and seductive, just like his restaurant. He showed us to a table with a booth and sat down.
“You’re joining us?” I asked.
“It’s my birthday,” he said.
We toasted his birthday with cold Moriko Sake ($60 bottle). It was royally smooth and refined, living up to its Japanese name: “King of Mouri.” Andrew recommended the Drunken Egg Roll ($6) as an appetizer. This was no ordinary egg roll: three times the size of your average bland take-out version, filled with fresh scallions, carrots, shitake, pork and chicken and then drizzled with a slightly sweet brown sauce. Delicious. We also had the Steamed Shanghai Dumplings ($6) and Shrimp Dim-Sum Three-Some ($ 7), a sexier version of shumai. Roasted shallots and garlic make these melt in your mouth. As we were munching on the appetizers, Andrew’s Chinese girlfriend stopped by to give him a birthday kiss.
“Get the Cashew Chicken,” she said. “It’s sooo good.” The Cashew Chicken ($14) was sublime in a distinctive sweet and sour sauce. Andrew called one of the chefs to confirm the ingredients: tamarind and palm sugar.
Fresh, authentic ingredients seem even fresher with thoughtful presentation. Tomatoes are not typically used in Chinese cooking, but they were added to the spare ribs for color (not to mention taste). A white plate offsets the dark meat of the ribs and black is the complementary background for the pancakes with the tasty Peking Duck Roll ($15).
Nothing in China 1 is arbitrary. Detail-oriented diners will appreciate the kimono pattern on the booths, dragon masks and curio cabinets displaying Buddha figures and antique pots. It’s no surprise that Andrew picked out most of the decor in Southeast China.
Throughout the meal, several people stopped at our table to have a word with our host: hot women in slinky flesh-bearing tops, packs of metro guys and a couple of gay guys who were organizing that night’s event in the lounge: the first annual Dlist Film Festival, a gay pride celebration of kooky, sexy films, go-go dancing and burlesque. China 1 hosts all sorts of alternative parties and unusual performers/events—from Mongolian singers to Asian animated porn, as well as birthday parties and wedding receptions.
After sharing the decadent Banana Spring Rolls ($6) for dessert (prepared with banana liqueur, ginger ice cream and chocolate-coconut sauce), my boyfriend and I went downstairs. A guy wearing nothing but white Speedos was taking tickets for the film festival. We preferred to relax on the plush velvet seating in the lounge, where we could digest while gazing at the hypnotic aquarium. China 1 is a great place for a party. Where else in New York can you sink into an antique opium bed with a Lychee Martini ($9)?
Although the music in the dining areas can get a little loud, you can enjoy an intimate dinner without feeling overwhelmed by the social atmosphere. At the same time, China 1 has a scene that’s refreshingly unpretentious because it’s based on the sensual connection between food and sex—not high prices.
“You walk in here and you don’t know you’re in a Chinese restaurant,” Andrew said. No need for fortune cookies; we downed a couple of blowjob shots before heading out.China 1 Restaurant and Lounge
50 Avenue B (at 4th St.)