December 27, 2015
<Emma> Keen to grab dinner before the show? Andre and a couple of us are going to Mission Chinese.
<Mason> Sounds good, what time?
<Emma> Meet you there at 8
I hadn’t been down the Lower East Side for a while, Rivington Street was quiet, but as I got close I could see the crowd out front. A vintage shop next door was open late trying to capitalize, a large guy sat on a stool trying to start conversations with people with the hope of drawing in some trade. Emma was out front, groups of people walk up, check the wait time and then walk off. Emma’s friend Viv says she got here early to put the name down, she said that you normally need everyone there but she knows someone. Of course she does.
“These guys started in San Fran, Emma said, “they have a Burrito and Taco place out there and they actually opened the same thing in New York recently.”
“This place is like a funky American take on Chinese food. We have to get the chicken wings, they are amazing”.
“Slips has a restaurant in Williamsburg,” Emma said, looking down at the hostess.
Slips said that he was more of an investor, that a chef mate of his actually did most of it. I asked him what it was called, but I hadn’t heard of it, but nodded like I had, and said I would check it out. It was a take on New Orleans style soul food, him and his buddy had grown up there. I wondered what it would be like trying to run a business with one of my old friends.
“They said it shouldn’t be more than twenty minutes.” Viv says, “But we can grab a beer down here if you want?”
We dropped down into a tiny waiting area and pour ourselves plastic cups of beer from a keg sitting in a big plastic trash can. We have to jostle and move to dodge the delivery guys, staff and a bunch of other people.
The restaurant was simple, every table packed and spare chairs hanging from the rafters. It was a mix of young and old, suits, streetwear – the usual hot spot demographics.
We were given a table next to two well dressed French girls. Did they even have overweight women in France? The staff had that trending restaurant feel, busy but effortless and cool at the same time.
We ordered beers and looked over the menu. Andre and Viv looked to Emma who, it seemed, usually ordered for everyone. It was impressive when someone had the balls to take charge like this, maybe it meant she was good in bed, I guess as she was hosting us it was customary. I told her the Salty Porridge was meant to be good and she screwed up her face.
“Westlake Rice Porridge,” she said, reading over the menu and taking her job pretty seriously, “Really? Shrimp, salted beef and cilantro. Ummmm. I dunno”
“Hey. You gotta give him one.” Viv said, in a show of support.
“All right. It’s on you though.”
Slips seemed concerned when I mentioned we had met briefly at a party, all the potential scenarios flashing through his mind. He seemed like a solid dude, said he played a few of these events, good to drum up the sponsorship side of things. He told me how he recently flew with Afrojack from LA to Vegas in some casino’s private jet and the dude paid $20k just to be able to smoke. That was the de-odorizing cost or something.
The food started to roll out a couple dishes at a time, it seemed to make Emma comfortable now she could see it in front of us. She took multiple photos, finally posting one. I felt like she was watching me as I started to eat- there was something intriguing about her face, a cheekiness that would slip out if I held her eyes.
“Good huh,” she said, dishing and passing.
“The best.” Andre said. The flavors and spices were nothing like the Chinese food I was used too. I’m sure there were high end Chinese restaurants in the city, but I hadn’t been to them.
Viv had caught a chili the wrong way, screwing up her face and going for water. Women were fascinating creatures to watch eat – catch a few next time you’re at a restaurant, there are some that look horrible doing it, but there is a rare breed that can make it a huge turn-on. These two managed to pull it off, Viv even looked cute while her eyes watered and she fanned her face. I suspect Emma’s aptitude for composed consumption came from the range of high end restaurants that must inevitably come with attending an Ivy League college and looking like her. I had googled her enough to know her basic background.
We ordered more beers, Emma told us how she had ducked out of work to check out the Jeff Koon’s exhibition today, decided to walk and but arrived way too sweaty and embarrassed to go in – waiting in a Starbucks till she had cooled off a little and leaving her only ten minutes to have a look. Slips told us about a couple of European shows he was heading to play next week.
“So where are you from?” I asked Emma.
“Chiraq, yal.” she said. “It just became too small. I hate it now. But I still love it. You know how it is. Good when you visit though.”
We just sat there listening, her cue to go on.
“Growing up we had the run of the city, could pretty much get away with anything. Chicago can be raw, but it doesn’t have the unexpected influences of New York. It just got kind of boring. I came out here with a bunch of friends from back home, most of them are still here. We have drifted away a little though.”
“So you went to college out here?” I said. She told me she went to Columbia, which I said was fancy but she joked that her parents would have preferred Harvard. Instant intimidation.
Everyone seemed to like the rice porridge leaving only Emma to try it, we all watched as she ran the Chinese soup spoon under her nose then put the whole end in her mouth, once inside she pulled her lips back and forth while making confused looks before reluctantly nodding, cracking with a smile and a wide flash of her eyes.
“Pretty good Mason.” She said, “I’ll remember to trust your taste in future.”