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Hwa Yuan Revival Gets a Two-Star Thumbs Up From Pete Wells

Those famous cold sesame noodles have “a finely balanced tension,” he says

An exterior photo of Sichuan restaurant Hwa Yuan which shows a white stone exterior and a silver sign that bears the name. Photo by Gary He

This week Times critic Pete Wells heads to the comeback of Chinatown institution Hwa Yuan, where he happily munches on the cold sesame noodles invented at the original by chef Shorty Tang. At this revival from his son Chen Lieh Tang, Wells finds a “very good new restaurant,” heavy on nostalgia.

Besides the famed sesame noodles, the family-named dishes are the ones Wells recommends:

Tang’s Amazing Spicy Wine Chicken was a treat, very tender hunks of dark meat in a delicate sauce of Shaoxing rice wine, bean paste and chile oil. Tang’s Amazing Tofu was a minor discovery, seared squares of pressed tofu with fresh green chiles in a sauce that’s more interesting than you’d guess from its pale tan color ... And Whole Fish with Hot Bean Sauce, Tang Family Creation is a bona fide star, the dish I know I’ll order again even if I’m not in the mood for cold noodles. It had a devoted following at the original restaurant, where it was made with carp. Now it is barramundi, precisely cooked and resting in a rusty mash of chile oil, fermented soybeans and chopped scallions. It’s a forceful dish that’s still noteworthy for its balance.

It wasn’t all good news, though, with a “flabby” Peking duck and “tough“ dry-aged shell steak. But it’s certainly a validation for Lieh Tang, who opened the restaurant as a way to change perception of Chinese food. Two stars.

Hwa Yuan

42 East Broadway, New York, NY 10002