For this week's New York Times restaurant review, Sam Sifton goes deep into the heart of Manhattan's Chinatown, emerging victoriously with something that's actually quite useful: 456 Shanghai Cuisine, a cheap, convenient Chinese place with solid, non-scary Shanghainese food.
Yes, Flushing has more foodie cred—more complex flavors, wilder offerings, and less tourists—and Sifton went there first, early in his tenure as critic. But 456 is the kind of place that New Yorkers need in their back pocket for out-of-town visitors and Sunday night cravings: it's a "dumpling heaven," with exceptional xiao long bao (soup dumplings) and fried tiny pork buns, and non-adventurous standbys like cold sesame noodles ("with a nice kick above their silkiness") and scallion pancakes are solid bets, too. That's the point of a restaurant like 456: to serve as a solid bet, a perfectly serviceable-if-not-too-exciting standby. It's safe, and occasionally even the most intrepid food explorers need a break from the challenging flavors and textures of the Asian cuisine on offer further afield.
Of course, by blowing up a local spot (see: last week's review), Sifton runs the risk of making 456 inaccessible to the Chinese customers who've been frequenting it since it steamed its first fish in the '70s. But with Manhattan Chinatown losing its Chinese edge to Flushing, Sunset Park and even Harlem, perhaps Sifton is just providing a service to another breed of Chinatown customer—new residents paying upwards of $6,500 a month rent to live in this exotic neighborhood, with a NY Times subscription as their guide.