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Eater Book Club: The Final Word on Wakiya

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A small scuffle broke out earlier this week at Eater HQ when a galley of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, a book by NYT scribe-cum-blogger Jennifer 8. Lee, arrived. We've been eagerly awaiting this one, and while the book—subtitled "Adventures in the World of Chinese Food"—isn't out in hardcover until March, it doesn't disappoint.

Among the highlights: a chapter titled The Greatest Chinese Restaurant in the World Outside Greater China in which Ms. Lee travels from Dubai to Vancouver to Brazil and many cities in between in search of exactly that. Her adventure concludes in New York City, which, it turns out, just doesn't stack up: "Truth be told, while New York has its share of authentic Chinese dives, there are really no standout fine Chinese restaurants in New York anymore." Ouch. Very ouch.

To wit:

So Schrager turned to Yuji Wakiya, the French-influenced Japanese-Chinese chef from Tokyo. I had been impressed with his food when I’d visited that city: a combination of the delicacy of Japanese cuisine, the presentation of French cuisine, and the rich flavors of Chinese cuisine. But would be deliver the same to New Yorkers?

Diners, critics, and myself were oddly perplexed by the high-end menu at Wakiya. It was not what I had experienced in Japan. I was trying to put my finger on what seemed off about the menu when a stray piece of broccoli caught my eye. Broccoli, which originally hails from Italy, is not a commonly used Chinese vegetable? Looking at the piece of broccoli, I realized what I found disconcerting: This was a Japanese chef’s perception of American-Chinese food. Among more authentic Chinese dishes were stereotypes of American Chinese food gone horribly awry on fancy leaf-shaped white plates. There was broccoli, sweet and sour, random cauliflower, deep-fried stuff, fried noodles, egg rolls.

Had American Chinese-food suffered so much that even a haute cuisine interpretation simply made it seem comic?

Very, very, very, ouch. And duly added to the Wakiya casefile, which is now best described as "bulging."
· The Fortune Cookie Chronicles [Official Site]
· Order The Fortune Cookie Chronicles [Amazon]

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