Day: February 1st, 2007

(New) Wonton Garden

Thursday, February 1st, 2007 | All Things, Eats

My new Thursday afternoon ritual: lunch in Chinatown. New Wonton Garden has been a fixture on Mott Street for over a quarter of a century. (I’ve heard rumors of some graduate students from New Jersey driving into the city just for those noodles in the 1980s.) A sign outside the restaurant touts their daily made wontons (natch) and dumplings as the best in town.

Wonton Garden Sign

I don’t recall if “New” was always part of the restaurant’s name; for as long as I can remember, it’s always been just “Wonton Garden” to me. In any case, there’s nothing particularly new about this utilitarian noodle shop: the bright fluorescent lighting, the perpetually steam-clouded windows, the close-set formica tables, all speak to a lack of concern for decor that you’ll find at just about any restaurant in Chinatown. The food is fresh, fast, cheap, and consistently good — what else do you need?

Most of the kitchen is in the front window — a stoveless area laden with tubs of hot broth, wire cages of noodles, and assorted soup fixins. It seems to be carved out of the dining area, which is comprised of an irreguarly-shaped room about the size of a Manhattan one bedroom apartment. There’s usually just one man working among the bowls piled high, waiting to be filled with noodles, wontons, dumplings and fishballs. Presumably there’s a full kitchen hidden away downstairs.

Wonton Garden Dumplings

Wonton Garden Kitchen

A recent article in the The Phoenix queried several Boston-area chefs about their “yardstick dish,” the single dish they use to guage a restaurant’s quality. The dish — or component of a dish– is usually rather simple to prepare, e.g., roast chicken, caesar salad, spaghetti with fresh clam sauce, which suggests a chef’s mastery of the basics. At Japanese restaurants: sushi rice. At Italian trattorias: the risotti. And at Chinese noodles shops, that dish could be the wonton noodle soup.

The wontons here at New Wonton Garden are delicate, flavorful, tender-skinned lumps of fresh shrimp, shiitake mushroom and pork. The thin, toothsome noodles arrive steaming hot, after being dunked in their broth just ten feet away. Simple. Perfect. Best in town? Quite possibly.

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