First Impressions: China Blue

China Blue facadeHaving done my best to erase my actual first impressions of China Blue, the new Shanghainese restaurant in the Capsouto Frères space, I headed back for dinner this past Saturday night. If you’re walking down Watts from the east, you could almost miss the entrance—the door is all wood, with no window and a discreet “China Blue” sign to the right.

The welcome was much more professional than last time, and when the hostess took our coats to the closet—she was doing double duty as coat-check clerk—Adam and I got a chance to admire the library (or maybe they called it the study?), a more intimate room off to the side. The room wasn’t being used that night, which was too bad, because it had more two-tops than the main room, which is heavy on larger tables. We were shown to a table in the main room that had a view of a folding screen, so we relocated to the bar. A round of Negronis helped us get over the lingering whiff of varnish. After the bartender put lemon peels in the drinks because they had no oranges, and then told the guy next to us that he could have lemon or lime in his Manhattan because they had no cherries, I had to fight the urge to call Morgan’s and have some garnishes delivered.

I’ve never been to Café China, China Blue’s sister on E. 37th St., but photos online indicate that the restaurants are similar. Much has been made in the press of how China Blue “takes its look from 1930s Shanghai, with teal blue walls and hanging Chinese lamps.” Compared to most everywhere in Chinatown, China Blue does have ambiance. But if you come with visions of The Last Emperor, that sort of sumptuousness or elegance, or even more than a pinch of chinoiserie, you might very well be disappointed. The waiters wearing white shirts, black bow ties, and loose suspenders are a step in the right direction. (The paper napkins are not.) And China Blue is refreshingly calm, verging on placid. I’m always going on about how I wished more restaurants played classic jazz at a respectable volume, and I finally got it.

We ordered scallion pancakes (and ate them before I could shoot them); shredded beef with Asian chili; lotus with scallion and ginger; bean curd with Chinese mustard greens; and braised tofu with shrimp. The beef and lotus root dishes were tasty, but the bean curd and tofu were bland and blander. Say what you will about the total rejection of subtlety at Mr. Chow—where I always expect to find George Michael seated next to me—the food there consistently has flavor. It’s entirely possible we ordered unwisely or unluckily, that people who eat more meat will have better odds, or that Shanghainese food is simply like that. Even when I was underwhelmed, though, I was looking forward to returning to try other dishes. The menu is big—the bartender said it’s a work in progress (and once it’s settled, they’ll deliver)—with a substantial dim sum section that looks very intriguing. In fact, if the weather had been less dreadful, I would’ve gone back the very next day for lunch, when the daylight coming in through the windows must be a treat. China Blue, handily enough, is open every day from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

China Blue is at 135 Watts (at Washington), 212-431-0111;

China Blue room2China Blue roomChina Blue wall behind barChina Blue foodChina Blue cocktailsChina Blue menu1China Blue menu2China Blue menu3China Blue library doorRecent New Kid on the Block/First Impressions articles:
Harley-Davidson of NYC
Bikram Yoga Soho
The Armoury
Flywheel Sports
The Lotus Room at Tamarind Tribeca
Lyons Den Power Yoga
The Little Gym

Update: Comments have been turned off due to spam. To have them turned back on, email



  1. Great photography

  2. @Ansel: LOL. Yeah, it was a new low. Did my best in tough light.

  3. And no Thai either!

  4. Khe-Yo is basically Thai

  5. This place should be a Harvard MBA case study on ruining neighborhood goodwill. They were packed early on, now they are empty.
    The managers and owners are clueless, cannot even get basic things like computers and websites built. They are cutting corners and shooting themselves in the foot.

    I too found the food bland.

    Why does Tribeca not have Chinese food???? Is it that hard?

  6. I noticed that cafe China was awarded a Michelin star. I can’t believe the same proprietors executed the launch of this restaurant so poorly early on. Maybe that can give us hope for improvement?? On my return visit, the owner was highly apologetic for the early mishaps and tried to ensure everything went smoothly. I agree that The food does need more flavor across the board, but some items like the soup dumplings, lions head and fried rice were unique and very tasty.

  7. The food is not bland. It is appropriately flavored and authentically flavored. I hope the kitchen does not alter the food to match the tastes of those who do not know what something should taste like. If anything, some of the dishes are a bit too sweet, but not bland.

    Chinese food varies greatly from region to region. Shanghainese food is not going to have the same seasoning as Sichuanese food. Nor should it. If you want high volume flavor, go to MacDonalds, artificial flavors injected in the food and high sodium. Everything designed to crudely impact your tongue like a sledgehammer and make you think “this is tasty”.

  8. @Ansel TriBeCa doesn’t have any Chinese food because we are SO CLOSE to Chinatown where you can get really good and really cheap Chinese food. Why bother with over-priced tasteless food if you could get much better food for half the price on the other side of Broadway? I get that the ambiance and service isn’t always the best in Chinatown but if you want that I suggest you eat at Mr. Chow if you want to eat Chinese food in a nice setting. China Chalet in FiDi is a happy medium of good food, service and mid-priced — they also deliver!

  9. H.H.
    I agree with you. Where are your favorite places to eat in china town? I am looking for great, authentic food; ambiance, less important to me. Thanks!

  10. For delivery I like the two A-Wahs. For Dim-Sum I like Red Egg on Centre and Dim Sum Go-Go on Chatham Square.

  11. For Chinese eat-in or delivery, I would recommend Mary-Ann’s…because it sure ain’t Mexican!

  12. Jim Smithers – that got a laugh out of me this morning! Funny and true.

  13. I thought the food was good, but agree the staff is lacking basic functionality. We ate there Jan 6 in the small room to the left, and had some very interesting dishes with unique flavors not found at ur average . Soup dumplings were great. Pot stickers so-so. Whole sea bass (was actually a baby striped bass) was prepared well. Snow pea leaves as good as any prep in china town. We kept searching for the underlying spice in a very tasty chicken dish (star anise?), but enjoyed it nevertheless.
    It all would have been much beter if we had some of the rice we order with it to help wash it down.
    Hope they get it together….

  14. @H.H. Thanks for the recommendations. I look forward to trying them out.

  15. @Liz here are my favorite places to eat in Chinatown:

    Royal Seafood on Mott Street
    (read the NY Review here:

    Joe’s Ginger on Pell (great soup dumplings!)

    Jing Fong for Dim Sum

    I get Chinese delivery from:

    China Chalet

    Jin’s Empire Asian Cuisine

    Red Egg