It used to be axiomatic that if you wanted good Chinese food in New York, you headed to Chinatown. Sadly, the neighborhood has become overrun in recent decades with tourist traps. But if think outside the box — that is, outside Chinatown proper — you can still eat well.
Walk three-fifths of a mile north of Chatham Square and you will come upon an unassuming storefront, wherein lies a treasure. This is two-year-old Bite of Hong Kong, and it is where locals go to eat out — often whole extended families who walk through the simply adorned narrow front room, past the tanks of fish (whose hours are numbered), to the more capacious and slightly dressier main area. Back here the tables are round and covered in crisp red linen.
Most of those groups start with the salt-baked silver fish, which despite the name seem to be fried: Slivers of a mild white fish in an uncompromisingly salty batter that balloons on contact with hot oil. The hot fish is dressed in a light, transparent sauce laced with threads of jalapeño, garnished with wisps of shaved carrot and lettuce. The dish, like others here, is generously apportioned and will easily appetize four.
Remaining with the seafood theme, move onward and upward to the house special lobster, large chunks of a two-pound crustacean buried in a hash of crumbled pork, fried egg, scallions, and an abundance of cilantro. The dish is notable for the care that went into the cooking of the lobster, which pulls away from its shell in sweet, tender, tufts with the slightest prodding from your chopsticks.
The house special sauce in the “crispy chicken in house special sauce” is a garlic lover’s dream. There are slivers of the bulb that have been cooked down to a near candy and fried crumbles in a smoky tea-scented broth. The bird, hacked into cross-sectional slabs still on the bone, is remarkably moist under its bronzed, parchment-crisp skin.
Another specialty is the braised oxtail in a whole pumpkin. The part of the pumpkin is played by a greenish-gray kabocha squash, baked till tender and creamy. The gourd reaches your table overflowing with a powerfully savory stew of the aforementioned meat and root vegetables in a rich, beefy gravy that cries out for rice. Be warned: Extracting the meat from the bone is work.
Price range: $5 to $14 for starters, $12 to $35 for main courses.
Bite of Hong Kong, 81 Chrystie Street (bet. Grand and Hester), New York, N.Y., 212-219-8868. Open seven days for lunch and dinner. Major credit cards are accepted.