Magazine article The New Yorker

Tables for Two: Shun Lee West

Magazine article The New Yorker

Tables for Two: Shun Lee West

Article excerpt

TABLES FOR TWO

SHUN LEE WEST

43 W. 65th St. (212-595-8895)

If movies, as Martin scorsese once put it, "fulfill a spiritual need that people have to share a common memory," so, too, do restaurants, especially when they manage to stick around for decades without changing much. Shun Lee West--the beloved Lincoln Center standby owned by Michael Tong, an early purveyor of "haute Chinese food"--underwent a renovation recently, shifting its color scheme from black, gold, and white to black, gold, and red, with new paint, carpeting, and napkins (still tucked into wineglasses, wedding-banquet style). The menu has been updated to include a gluten-free section (Chicken Soong in Lettuce Wrap, Heavenly Fish Filet). Otherwise, it doesn't feel very different from the way it was in the nineteen-eighties, when it opened: charmingly terrifying, fire-eyed alabaster monkeys hanging from the bar and around the host stand; majestic, glowing dragons circling the high-backed booths in the two-tiered dining room; seasoned, unflappable waiters in vests and ties.

If there's never been a better time to eat Chinese food in New York, there's never been a worse time to eat at Shun Lee, where the menu harks back to an era when Chinese restaurants pandered to timid American palates, and the prices are absurdly high. But there's something deeply comforting about starting a meal with Shun Lee's greasy, blistered version of the kind of crispy noodles that come in a wax-paper bag with Chinese takeout, dipped in little bowls of duck sauce and astringently hot mustard. …

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