A glassed-in kitchen lies in the back, its shelves stacked with colorfully glazed modern Chinese plates and bowls that you won’t find in the restaurant-supply shops on the Bowery. Once you leave the noodle section of the menu behind, it is possible to find cooking that doesn’t necessarily live up to the standard set by the crockery. I’m told that the bands of cumin-seasoned beef speared with toothpicks can be crisp and well-browned, but the ones I got were gray and floppy. And the sweet-and-sour spareribs, an appetizer, were far more sweet than sour, and tough, too.
On the best available evidence, Mr. Wang’s palate skews a bit sweet. This is unusual in a Hunanese kitchen, but only those spareribs were off-puttingly sugary. A multicolored salad of chilled cherry tomatoes was bright and refreshing despite a fruity marination in plum juice. (A similar dish sometimes turns up at Hao Noodle and Tea by Madam Zhu’s Kitchen, where it is sweeter, and still very enjoyable.) And the hint of sugar in stir-fried chicken did not soften the toothy bite of young ginger, or hide the ginger’s natural sweetness, either.
You may not notice the bias toward sweetness anyway, given the kitchen’s open embrace of chiles. An electrical current of heat crackles through the dim-sum-style chicken feet, cooked until they are falling-off-the-toe tender. Bright green chiles animate a stir-fry of julienne potatoes, cooked so fast they’re still stiff. They also bring not just spice but crunch to a classic Hunanese sauté of pork and garlic topped with an egg fried to a ruffled, golden crisp. The chiles knocked around in a very hot wok with sweet, juicy cabbage are small, red, sun-dried and noticeably fruity under their mouth-zapping heat.
The spice level is more subdued in the excellent stir-fry of pork and smoked tofu, and it’s almost undetectable in a very likable preparation of skinny eggplant sections topped with discs of bell pepper; the skins are left on the eggplants, which gives the appetizer something of the appearance of tuna maki wrapped with purple seaweed.
Meals tend to move quickly. For this you may be thankful on busy nights when those wood slats go from attractive design elements to unnervingly effective sounding boards. As in other Chinese restaurants in the neighborhood, the crowd tends to be young, bright, quick and eager to get on with the rest of the evening.
As the dinner rush ends, the howl subsides. Maybe ice cream is on the agenda, or a classic dessert soup of mung beans and barley in syrup. Or maybe a pot of tea, loose-leaf, brewed at the table while you think about chiles and rice and pork and wonder how many more Hunanese chefs can be persuaded to settle down in New York.