Navigating the Wonderful World of 99 Favor Taste
99 Favor Taste (285 Grand Street, 646-682-9122), recently opened on the edge of Chinatown, is a feastly orgy: trays heaped with raw meats and fishes, feathery greens and fungi, boiling and bubbling pots, and popping and sizzling meats top every table. Diners crowd around, heads-down, slurping noodles and soup with chopsticks, only looking up to tend the meat, cooking at arm's distance away. And it's all-you-can-eat.
All photos by Hannah Palmer Egan Hot pot city
It's a big restaurant -- two floors, thousands of square feet -- and even at 6 p.m. on a weeknight, a mass of people crowd the door waiting for a table.
Eating here is a culinary journey. For the uninitiated (the Chinatown location is the establishment's second; there's another spot in Sunset Park, Brooklyn), the menu may be daunting. The board deals in sides, curries, and other dishes, but hot pots (think: Chinese fondue) are the highlight. You'll find long lists of broths, meats, fish, and vegetables on the first page of the menu, but what to do with these isn't totally unclear.
On the next page, we give a visual walk-through of the process, but first, a few tips for getting the most out of your visit.
Make a reservation
If you don't, you'll wait, and you'll have to do it in the crowded entryway sans liquor; there's no bar. If you flake on reserving, opt for communal seating. The tables are big enough that you won't be squeezed in next to someone you don't know, and there's enough going on during the meal that it's not awkward to share a table with another party. On a recent visit, our neighbors spoke Chinese and helped communicate with the waitress when we had questions.
Make sure you BYOB
There's no booze on the menu here, and hot pots, especially the spicy ones, are most certainly drinking food. Also, unlike its Chinatown neighbors, 99 Favor Taste is an evening-length affair; which means you'll be here for at least two hours. You're going to want a beer or five.
This is a participatory dining experience
If you want to sit somewhere and have someone bring you food that's ready to eat, look elsewhere. If you go for the barbecue add-on (and you absolutely should), you'll cook it tabletop on a hot plate. Even if you don't make that addition, though, you'll boil your meat in the soup.
Go with a group
Everyone gets a hot pot, and everyone pays $18.99 ($25.99 for barbecue) for it, and once you commit to your choices, that's what you get. So dining with a group means everyone can order something different, but you can get more refills of whatever's most popular.
Or clothes you don't care about. Even with passable chopstick skills, it's a splattery affair, mostly because of the noodles, which are really long and floppy. They'll bring you scissors to cut them with, but you will get splashed.
Up next: a pictorial walk-through of what to expect.