Ed Schoenfeld

Restaurateur & Chinese Food Expert

photo: Denis Evangelou
Interview: by Josh Ozersky

Eddie Schoenfeld—aka “Eddie Glasses”—is one of the New York culinary establishment’s most recognizable figures. A bald, portly fellow with a gap-toothed grin, he can frequently be found standing in the front of RedFarm, the white-hot modern Chinese restaurant he created with Joe Ng. Although given to bombastic claims (he frequently claims to have invented General Tso’s chicken), Schoenfeld is without question the foremost authority on Chinese food in the New York City food world, a fact that greatly dis¬pleases any number of ethnic Chinese gastronomes. Hailed as the “reigning monarch” of the Chinese food scene and “part gourmet, part showman” by USA TODAY, Glasses is glorying in an undreamt level of late-career success. 

Schoenfeld has a long and accomplished career in food. He was the Eddie in Vince and Eddie’s, and was involved with the creation of many of the pioneering Chinese restaurants of the 1970s. He was the maître d’ wearing a blue polyester tuxedo at the seminal Uncle Tai’s restaurant, close with the Shun Lee Palace guys, and a creative force behind dozens of restaurants ranging from the popular (Vince and Eddie’s) to the not so popular (Chop Suey Louie’s). 

Eddie is endearing and annoying and impossible to dislike. He radiates waves of warmth, and his enthusiasm for food is unfeigned. It used to drive him crazy that he wasn’t more famous, so he would tell you how much he knew and what he had done. But he did know a lot, and he had done great works. I sat in his kitchen recently and asked him about Chinese food while he bustled around working hot oil in his wok, interrupting himself periodically to petulantly demand ingredients from his long suffering wife Elisa. 

Josh Ozersky: OK, Eddie, so it’s a Sunday night. You’re at home and you want to order out for Chinese food. What’s your standard order? 

Ed Schoenfeld: It depends! If they’re good, or if the chef is someone... 

JO: You don’t know if it’s good. It’s just the random Jade Garden-type Chinese restaurants. 

ES: Spare ribs and maybe some noodles. 

JO: What kind of noodles? 

ES: Some kind of sauced noodles, like lo mein or chow fun. Tonight I brought in Chinese takeout from RedFarm. What I got isn’t that different—steamed dumplings, a crispy, fried egg roll-type pastry, a beef dish with greens and a noodle dish. That might be the kind of thing I order from a normal restaurant; a noodle dish they can’t fuck up too bad.  Reasonably tender meat and noodles with a little soy sauce or hot sauce to make it very tasty.  To me a spare rib is a spare rib, if flavored and roasted.  Those are the go-to things.  I might be more hesitant to order certain other things. For example, in Cantonese cooking, there is a tradition...

JO: OK, OK.  I don't care about that now. I just want to know about regular takeout.

ES: Well, that's it then.

JO: But without getting into the whole history of David Lo Pan and all the influential chefs, would you say that bozo Cantonese food, the stuff we all grew up eating, is any good? 

ES: It depends. Is the restaurant bad or good? It could be made really well. Who is cooking? If you go to Chinatown Brasserie [which Eddie also created] or RedFarm, you can get... 

JO: No, no. I mean regular Chinese food. 

ES: Well, I’d have to say it depends, but that’s what I would get. I probably wouldn’t get seafood, which might not be so fresh.

JO: I know what you mean. On Mott Street sometimes you walk by the fish markets and they smell super rank and gnarly.

ES:  Any community can have good stores and bad stores. You should know that in Cantonese neighborhoods, especially in Hong Kong or Singapore, they don't want fresh seafood—they want live seafood.  On Elizabeth Street, there's a Cantonese restaurant called Oriental Garden, and there a mulitple fish tanks where you pick out the fish you will be served.  It's extraordinarily fresh and prepared in a very skilled, very high-level way. They cater to a very discerning Chinese clientele. You can easily spend more at Oriental Garden than at Le Bernardin. 

JO: Really? 

ES: You know, Josh, Chinese food is expected to be cheap in New York City. That’s the niche it has gotten. People don’t think of paying a lot of money for Japanese food, but Chinese food isn’t thought of that way. But at its best it’s even more seasonal than our food, and can be prepared with a level of effort and technical skill that is as good as any in the world. In traditional Chinese banquet cookery, there is a phrase... 

JO: That's good. But let me ask you something else, Eddy.  Not that I'm not interested in Cantonese banquet cookery, but Revel in New York readers need guidance.  What, in your opinion, are the best Chinatowns in New York, in order?

ES: The best restaurants are in Flushing, the best shopping is in Brooklyn, and the best combination of both is in Manhattan. Flushing is a more affluent neighborhood; it’s catering to more of a suburban Asian customer. Also, don’t forget, it’s not just Chinese. There are also Korean and Japanese and Thai communities out there. If I had to eat one meal, it would be in Flushing. Shopping is third place. The best shopping in the city is in Brooklyn’s Chinatown, the epicenter of which is on 8th Ave. and 58th St. There are three different fish markets. One of the fellows specializes in blue crabs and has soft shells when they’re in season. There are live fish tanks everywhere. There’s a tofu manufacturer who also makes rice noodles. There are live frogs, razor clams, live sea bass, Santa Barbara prawns, lots of kinds of mussels, and lots of grades of shrimp—even live shrimp.  There are people from fishing boats in Sheepshead Bay, illegally selling fish.  There are food carts on the street. It's very crowded and very fun. It really is transporting. On Mott Street you feel like you're in a Chinese neighborhood in New York. But here, you feel like you're in Hong Kong, even though it's Brooklyn. 

 

Ed Schoenfeld's NYC


photo: Michael Halsband
  • “Pacificana, in Brooklyn, is an excellent dim sum restaurant. It’s very busy and there’s parking underneath, which is nice on a Sunday. It’s one of the nicest-run large dim sum restaurants in the city. It has a good variety of freshly prepared dim sum that’s tasty and well put together. The vegetable dumplings have so much flavor. They are as good as any meat dumplings.”
  • "My favorite Chinese restaurant in Queens is Ping’s. Ping is one of the best chefs in the industry. He’s very passionate about and interested in food, and can do great things when he cooks himself. He makes a wonderful giant lobster braised with long life noodles. That’s a long, spaghetti-like noodle that they make fresh, deep fry, then deflate in broth. And because it’s been fried first, it acts like a sponge, and has a wonderful mouthfeel and a firm, yielding texture. I love that dish and I order it all the time.”
  • “Amazing 66 is a place in Manhattan’s Chinatown that I really like. You know that to Chinese people, 88 is the lucky number. So 66 to them is kind of a joke. (Forty-four is really bad, by the way). This is very authentic food, using American ingredients. There are a lot of fun things to order; they cook with corned beef and they have this dish they call roast beef prime rib. That’s a fun restaurant.”
  • “Deluxe Market has a lot of prepared food and an enormous butcher selection, including meats that are cut and marinated and ready to cook. It’s a good place to buy very marbled center-cut salmon, like what a sushi chef would look for: streaked with white. It’s expensive because there’s only one piece per fish, but worth it.”
  • “Lucky Eight, in Brooklyn’s Chinatown, is a small restaurant with a Cantonese chef who’s worked in Southeast Asia, so his food is more cosmopolitan. It’s still oriented to a Chinese crowd, but with a Cantonese frame of reference. He’s always trying new things, and in my mind this is the best Cantonese restaurant in New York.”
  • “The best shopping in the city is in Brooklyn’s Chinatown, the epicenter of which is on 8th Ave. and 58th St. There are three different fish markets. One of the fellows specializes in blue crabs and has soft shells when they’re in season. There’s a tofu manufacturer who also makes rice noodles. There are live frogs, razor clams, live sea bass, Santa Barbara prawns, lots of kinds of mussels, and lots of grades of shrimp—even live shrimp. There are people from fishing boats in Sheepshead Bay, illegally selling fish. There are food carts on the street. It’s very crowded and very fun.”
  • “Oriental Garden is a Cantonese restaurant on Elizabeth Street. They have multiple fish tanks so you can pick the fish you’ll be served. It’s extraordinarily fresh and prepared in a very skilled, very high-level way. They cater to a very discerning Chinese clientele. You can easily spend more at Oriental Garden than at Le Bernardin.”
  • “RedFarm is a rustically charming West Village restaurant that features finely crafted modern Chinese food. The small restaurant exhibits a fresh greenmarket sensibility and showcases a delicious, and often whimsical point of view.”

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