Greenpoint Cheap Eats Diaries Volume II: Chinese Musician
Last week Gina and I set out on a mission to find great local eats that would set us back no more than $7 per person. After kicking things off with a supremely wallet-friendly breakfast at Peter Pan’s, this week we decided to seek out a dirt-cheap lunching spot.
We got word that Chinese Musician (151 Greenpoint Avenue) does a lunch special for a mere $6.50. This allows you to choose a soup, a rice and an entrée from a list of 33 dishes (or 43 options if you’re feeling flush enough to spring an extra dollar). This was obviously a very exciting prospect for us.
On Saturday afternoon we slid into a sunny window booth and, before we’d even ordered, our hosts greeted us with iced water, a pot of green tea, a big bowl of savory bites and a sweet chili dipping-sauce. For free. We suspected we were onto a good thing.
What we had:
-Chicken with Broccoli
-Egg Drop Soup
-Tofu with Mixed Veg
$13 (excl. tax and tip)
Chinese Musician isn’t your average corner take-out place. We all know those nondescript semi-sketchy Chinese spots that somehow all have the same plastic tables and sun-faded food photos above the counter (not appetizing), paired with microwaved orange chicken. But the Musician (what instrument does he play?? a rhetorical question) feels more like a family-run restaurant. The dishes are nothing to rave about, but the interior has a certain kitschy coziness, with turquoise cushioned booths, hanging lanterns, and even a complimentary pot of hot tea, all of which make it a surprisingly comforting lunch spot.
Noon on a Saturday might not seem like an ideal time for Chinese, but while everyone else was waiting in line for brunch, Rosie and I had tea and snacks within 30 seconds of sitting down, although the wonton noodles and dipping sauce (definitely the kind from the plastic packets), was prettier than it tasted.
Now for the rest of the meal:
Wonton Soup: Pretty much your average take-out wonton soup. The broth had a nice onion-y MSG flavor but the pork wontons were actually tastier than expected.
I felt a little bad for convincing Rosie to try egg drop for the first time. She was not a fan. Also the egg broth was a little too yellow, like artificial yellow, and a bit glue-y in texture. So I think wonton is your the best bet here…
Chicken and Broccoli: The serving for this dish was so huge, that I had enough leftovers for second lunch– quite a deal for $6.50. Again, not the best Chinese food ever, but the broccoli was crisp and not overcooked and the chicken was…chicken. Both were doused in the ubiquitous “brown sauce,” which could have been a bit more flavorful, but it did the trick. Next time, I’d be curious to try the garlic sauce and see if it has a little more pizazz. I did sample Rosie’s tofu and mixed veg plate and it tasted fairly identical (same brown sauce, more veggies).
White Rice: Looks like rice. Tastes like rice. I never order brown rice, even though it’s like healthier, or whatever. And no, that is not an allegory for racism.
All in all, this is a place where you can get a cheap filling meal, while sitting in a not-gross setting. A victory of mediocre standards! Also their dish-ware is lovely, i.e not Styrofoam. Success!
Although I’d regularly walked past and admired the old school signage out front, I’d never actually been into Chinese Musician and so was over the moon to finally get the chance to eat here.
The interior is even more charming than the outside. Green leatherette booths run along one side of the restaurant, whilst round tables for big gatherings take up the rest of the space, along with Chinese lanterns, fake foliage, giant vases and everything else you need for all-round good times.
I knew we were here to sample the lunch special but couldn’t help feeling slightly ecstatic when I noticed Shrimp Toast listed in the menu’s appetizer section. This is my all-time favorite guilty pleasure snack food and something I have been finding especially hard to track down of late.
But I digress.
Egg Drop Soup – I confess this is the first time I’ve tried this particular soup so I don’t have too much to compare it to. It was rather too thick and yolk-like for my palate but the clue was in the name so I only have myself to blame. The presentation, in a little blue and white patterned bowl and saucer set, was lovely.
Tofu with Vegetables – This dish was great. A really generous platter with big wedges of fried tofu and good crunchy veg in a non-committal but tasty sauce. Veg included broccoli, bok choy, and carrots and there were even some water chestnuts lurking in there too.
Brown Rice – Nice rice. Generous bowlful. Pretty china.
This was a very happy lunching experience. The surroundings were serene and our table was sunlit. Service was swift and friendly. Our free nibbles, tea and water arrived the moment we sat down and the food came out quickly, all on beautiful matching tableware. And the meal was astonishingly good value. For $6.50 each we had a BANQUET.
Best of all they gave us fortune cookies at the end, although I’m still trying to wrap my head around what my destiny holds (mostly because I am not a man):
Overall cheap eats rating (from 1 to 5 burgers)
Cheapness: Top-end of our budget but overall great value
Deliciousness: Pretty good (give or take the egg drop)
Full Stomach Level: Neither of us could finish everything
Service: They were there when we needed them
Setting: Fun diner vibe with classic Chinese take out style eats