Is Danny Bowien trolling New Yorkers? The chef recently rolled out a new menu at both locations of his spicy hit Mission Chinese, and turns out one new appetizer called “iced Sichuan water pickles” is literally just ice sprinkled with spices.
The small dish costs a whopping $8, which feels insane because it is mostly composed of frozen water. According to the menu, additions to the crushed ice include smoked habanero, caraway, and hibiscus.
“It took me a while to realize what it was,” says critic Robert Sietsema, who dined at the new Bushwick location this week. “About two-thirds of the way through the meal, as it lay melting with neither of my guests touching it, it began to dawn on me, ‘Wait, this is just a bowl of ice.’”
Bowien tells Eater.com that the dish is supposed to be “an interpretation of water kimchi” with “Napa cabbage, radish, and hibiscus fermented in a water and salt brine, served with some of the pickling liquid and topped with pebble ice, tingling chili oil, and aloe salt.” But both Sietsema and former Eater staffer Kendra Vaculin only had bowls of ice, with no vegetable additions.
The same dish appears to be on the Lower East Side location of the restaurant, also on the appetizer section for $8. Sounds like at least one Yelper sampled it earlier this month and found some cabbage and seaweed, but still seemed to be confused: “The Szechuan pickles did a good job cleansing my palate too, but looked nothing like pickles. The bowl was full of what looked like peach-colored rock salt floating in magenta colored liquid. Where are the pickles???”
In an interview with Grub Street, celebrity chef Bowien said that he considers the new Bushwick location “definitely a return to form for Mission Chinese — to Sichuan food, stuff that’s not ultracomposed.” Indeed, ice is not known to be “ultracomposed.”
Bowien is, of course, a man who’s become famous for his idiosyncratic tendencies. Most of the dishes on his menu pull from Sichuan flavors but do not stick to tradition, like the famed kung pao pastrami. And in the three years he had Mission Cantina, he served everything from pumpkin congee and Vietnamese breakfast to fried chicken and burritos.
In that time, he’s also risen in fashion and art circles for his eclectic style — proving that apparently when people think you are cool, you can do anything, including charge $8 for a small bowl of ice.
Update: October 20, 2018, 8:04 a.m.: This article was updated to include comments from Danny Bowien.