My Perfect Nice Day Order Includes, Uh, One of Everything

My Perfect Nice Day Order Includes, Uh, One of Everything

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I consider myself to be very easy-breezy when it comes to ordering takeout from new spots. I will say, “Surprise me!” to the voice on the line, then quickly clarify my preferences. This frustrating dance translates into: Feed me whatever you want…so long as it is also what I want. Like I said, easy-breezy!

The folks at Nice Day—a new Chinese American pop-up by Junzi Kitchen, which has been running out of its Bleecker Street location since August—handled this conundrum expertly. In addition to my very unsubtle pleas for mapo tofu, kung pao chicken, and beef chow mein (“Ha ha, oh, truly, whatever you recommend though!”), they added a surprise to my ticket: shake shake shrimp, a.k.a. an excellent take on the Chinese American classic orange shrimp.

Executive chef Lucas Sin’s goal is for the restaurant to carry on the legacies and techniques—like velveting and egg drop—developed by Chinese people living and cooking in the United States for over 150 years. In his mind, that is authentic. “It’s just authentic to a community and to a culture that isn’t in China itself,” he says. “Our job, opening a restaurant like this, is to stay faithful to our understanding of this regional cuisine.”

While conceived before the pandemic, Nice Day is certainly a child of our current crisis. According to Sin, many of the Chinese takeout joints across the U.S. lost business not just because of COVID-19 closures but because of the associated anti-Asian and anti-Chinese sentiments. Combine this with a wave of Chinese restaurant owners retiring and you have another crisis on your hands—a whole cuisine in mass decline. Sin hopes to “double-down” on making and serving Chinese American food “the way it’s supposed to be.” To the chef, that means a menu full of fresh takes on old favorites, perfected for this new era of takeout and delivery.

My chicken wings, an order ubiquitous to most Chinese restaurants across the country, arrived encased in an impossibly light batter. “It’s just salt, garlic, and onion,” says Sin, upon further interrogation. “No funny tricks here.” The kung pao chicken packed a perfectly spicy and peanutty punch. The beef chow mein was loaded with a rainbow of fresh bell peppers and bean sprouts and the chewiest egg noodles I’ve ever eaten. And the mapo tofu was rich, thick, and laced with tingly Sichuan peppercorns.

Then came the wildcard: shake shake shrimp. The crunchy little nuggets are fried in the same barely-there coating as the wings and delivered with a sauce—orange, General Tso’s, or sweet and sour—on the side. The idea, as you may have guessed, is that the sauce is poured on top of the piping shot shrimp and shaken up right before eating. Why? “Because I love when crispy food is delivered crispy,” Sin says, of America’s favorite texture.

As someone who is not only not-Chinese, but also not-American ( 🐨), what I can say is that everything at Nice Day is delicious. Towards the end of our meal, the friend I had over for my living room floor picnic eyed our almost-empty paper box of shrimp, looked back at me, and demanded: “How is this so good?” 

Sin is not only making exceptional food but honoring the generations before him while building a restaurant for the future. Starting a new restaurant in a pandemic may seem like a gamble, but maybe it’s for the best that sometimes the path chooses us. By which I mean: GET THE SHAKE SHAKE SHRIMP.


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