I have to admit that I was pretty skeptical when this month’s random pick for dinner was Almond Flower Bistro. It sounds so… Chinese, and don’t get me wrong, I love a good dinner at a good Chinese restaurant any day, but that’s generally not what we aim for (although I’m not sure what we aim for anymore…). I have great Chinese dinners with my family, they know what to order. In any case, I was more perturbed when the location- Bowery, between Grand & Hester- was revealed. That’s the edge of Chinatown.
Almond Flower Bistro received good reviews from various sources that I generally trust, so some of the suspicions wore away (Chinatown dives don’t generally get reviewed by those publications- not during opening, anyway). I admit though I’m still a cynic at heart, so it was somewhat warily that I made my way to Chinatown on Monday night.
Apparently, the guy who opened AFB is also responsible for Little Bistro in Cobble Hill, so I guess he tried to move into the city without taking too large of a bite into rent money. In my opinion, terrible move, but you’ll see why in a little bit.
After having heard many comments that the cardamom dusted calamari was good, we opted to share this as our appetizer. It was good, but I detected no cardamom whatsoever. The underlying chili sauce is something I have in my fridge at home- Thai chili sauce, great to give a little sweet lift to many blander dishes, and the calamari dipped in it was yum. $8
My entree, miso sablefish with cauliflower&cheddar casserole and homemade BBQ sauce, was pretty good. I enjoyed the tender white fish, though it was a bit too mild on its own; swished in the BBQ sauce drizzled around the plate, it was delicious. The cauliflower casserole was also tasty, but had been cut into just-over bite-size pieces, so I found it a bit unwieldy to put in my mouth without looking like an ass, but they were just a bit too small to bite in half without also looking like an ass. The accompanying bunch of greens had been dressed and was also a nice touch. $22
StB’s pasta carbonara with prosciutto and clams garnered no complaints; I don’t believe she thought it was anything special, but wasn’t unhappy with it, either. As you can see, though, there aren’t any obvious Asian touches to this dish. $18
ShB’s pappardelle with short ribs in red wine cream sauce surprised us all with the short ribs being mixed in throughout. We’d assumed that it would come out on the bone, on top of the pasta, but this was a nice surprise, as it made it much easier to eat without making a mess, but on the flip side, this means less meat- but you could also take this as a less oversized portion, which is nice. The pappardelle, which I tried, was yummy, though I’ve no experience with pappardelle previously, it was a nice, thick noodle that reminded me of Asian noodles (ho fun), though StB assured me that pappardelle is usually like so. ShB commented that the short ribs were also very good, and encouraged me to try some, but I only tried a noodle. I should note here that she didn’t finish her dish- but she is also a very tiny girl. $18
HB ordered the massaman duck with baby vegetables and sweet potato croquettes. Since she doesn’t like sweet potatoes, these were offered up and I really liked them, despite not really liking sweet potatoes either (I insisted she try some when I discovered this, but she was still not a fan). I think I just like Japanese style croquettes- the super crispy exterior, the soft, warm interior and the flavors just blend very well. I heard no complaints about the duck, either. Curiously, since most Asian places won’t ask, the server also asked how she’d like the duck done (medium, but the picture it looks a touch pink). Either way, I’m positive HB liked her dish, and made short work of it. $21
Last but not least, though we were missing two members to studying obligations, we opted to order dessert anyway, though only one as opposed to our usual two. The lychee tart immediately caught our eyes, and we eagerly awaited its arrival. I liked how they bruleed the top of the tart- there was caramelized sugar on top, an almost crunchy top but not completely, but the lychee was chopped and sprinkled through a regular custard that didn’t smack of lychee flavor. I didn’t feel the lychee meshed well with the custard- the lychee has a soft, delicate floral taste about it, but the custard almost overwhelmed the lychee and didn’t enhance nor complement the flavor whatsoever. I was disappointed not just by this but also that the ice cream atop it was not only not very good quality vanilla, it wasn’t lychee ice cream (which is available, at the very least, at Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, a short walk away from Almond Flower Bistro). While pretty, the caramel drizzles didn’t enhance the tart and had there been more lychee, would have definitely taken over, as caramel tends towards the heavy, thick side. $7
Yvo says: Though I had a positive experience overall, and enjoyed nearly everything I tried, it was disorienting and upsetting to leave the restaurant and find myself … in Chinatown, facing the Manhattan bridge, and surrounded by plenty of better restaurants for much less money. My portion of the bill came to $32, with appetizer, entree and dessert (no drinks), for which I could have feasted like no other at any number of other restaurants in Chinatown. For different cuisine, yes, but I don’t go to Chinatown to eat at midscale/upscale restaurants- I go there for the real thing, because you can’t find it anywhere else in the city. Having said all that, the food was still pretty good. Take that as you will, and I leave the rating: