National Chinese Restaurant Awards Ceremony Slights New York

This obscure restaurant near the corner of 16th Street and Seventh Avenue -- which advertises a combination of Sichuan and Vietnamese food -- was declared one of the best Chinese restaurants in the country in the inscrutable "Top Chefs & Owners" category.

This past Sunday, correspondent Bill Geist of CBS Sunday Morning did a segment on the seventh annual Top 100 Chinese Restaurants awards presentation. Oh boy! I rubbed my hands, wondering which of my favorite local restaurants would be in the Top 100. The answer: none. In between dumb jokes, Geist blathered that, with 45,000 Chinese restaurants in the U.S., this awards presentation is as big in its own way as the Golden Globes or the Oscars. Apparently trying to make fun of bad Chinese food, he joked, "Chop suey is the Spam of Chinese food." No, Bill, Spam is the Spam of Chinese food.

The ceremony was held at a San Francisco hotel, and involved hundreds of yards of red material, and celebrities like Martin Yan and Theresa Lin Cheng, described as "the Julia Child of Taiwan." But just how were the winners selected? I found it a bit odd that Yang Ming, a restaurant from Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, placed first in the nation. Not impossible, just odd, given the towering excellence of Chinese food in Flushing, the San Gabriel Valley, San Francisco, and South Bay.

I asked Fork in the Road San Francisco correspondent Tracy Van Dyk about the San Francisco restaurant that placed second nationally, and she replied by email, "The number two is Yank Sing, which is essentially fancy dim sum for white people, it's expensive and not very good. Sad, because it's conveniently located." I decided to go to the website of the restaurant awards and see what I thought about the other choices, especially those that might be located in the five boroughs.

It turns out that, out of 100, only three are situated in New York City. The highest ranked -- Szechuan Garden (No. 4) -- is in Flushing, not a bad place, but a little timid and old-fashioned when it comes to Sichuan food. It's been sadly outstripped by the slew of new Northern Chinese restaurants -- which do great versions of Sichuan dishes -- and the plenitude of newer Sichuan restaurants, too, like Spicy & Tasty and Little Pepper. Szechuan Garden is far from awful, but there's no way in Hades it's the fourth best Chinese restaurant in the entire country -- heck, I can think of four better ones within four blocks.

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