On a recent trip to New York City, I found that one of the Big Apple's marvels also just happens to be one of the city's little known hazards. While strolling on Manhattan's upper Westside on a late summer's eve, I frequently had to dodge bicycle riders, usually Chinese, precariously carrying large bags of steaming cartons filled with Chinese food.
Almost as daring and competitive as some of the pizza crews in other cities, these couriers of oriental cuisine have earned either the admiration or disdain of New Yorkers who even expect their home deliveries made with the same dash as their daily hectic pace. An article in the New York Times rated the fashionable neighborhood's top 25 Chinese restaurants, clocking their times down to the last second. The quality of the food was a secondary consideration.The menus of these restaurants are strewn about the lobbies of the apartment houses and tacked to the bulletin boards in laundromats and video rental stores. Word of mouth by helpful neighbors also spreads the news about the latest Szechuwan peanut chicken dish or which establishment has mastered the Con Edison repair obstacles.
Salt Lakers have to rely on more conventional methods for the home delivery of Chinese food. RickshawRun, located downtown, relies on an imported pickup truck rather than bicycles to deliver its fare to the area it serves, bounded by the Avenues, 7th West, 20th East and 21st South. Unfortunately, Rickshaw Run also offers a cuisine that is not only conventional, but, based on a sampling of six of their eight dishes, mediocre.
Their ads proclaim "all items prepared fresh daily." This was hype that was as hard to swallow as their egg roll. These were characterized by a high price ($1.88 each) and below-average quality. They were chewy, doughy, and tasteless. Other disappointments included the teriyaki chicken breast, small breaded chicken fingers served with a separate soy sauce dip. The $5.41 price includes chicken chow mein, white rice, and fortune cookies.
The sparse chunks of beef in the beef and broccoli with snow peas ($4.74) was tough and the sauce that saturated the teriyaki beef ($6) was sour, dominated by overcooked green peppers. The ample serving of ham fried rice ($2.35) was simple enough, bits of ham in white rice soaked with soy sauce.
The one dish that was reasonably appealing was the cashew chicken ($4.94), served with chicken chow mein, rice and a fortune cookie. For some reason the vegetables were not quite as overcooked and the chicken was tender. Other dishes on the meager take-out menu include fried shrimp, either $6 for the dinner or $1.18 for one side order, Szechuwan chicken ($5.41), sweet and sour pork ($4.94), teriyaki shrimp ($5.65).
Rickshaw Run does a brisk business, fulfilling more a need for a convenience than taste. Its logo, a stereotypical cartoon of a buck-toothed, slant-eyed man pulling a rickshaw, is reminiscent of the kind of narrow world view found in this country during World War II. The food we sampled also reflected a time before Oriental cuisine was treated with the care and respect it deserves.
Rickshaw Run, 368 E. First South, 531-1111, Take-out only. Open Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. till 11 p.m.; until midnight on Friday and Saturday. Free delivery. Checks with guarantee cards accepted. Minimum purchase of $10 for delivery during rush hours.