photos by Blake Myers

The year was 1891. New York City was teaming with an influx of immigrants from all over the world who had come to this country in search of a better life.

At that time, Chinese newcomers made up only a small segment of the city’s rapidly growing population. As most new arrivals did, they settled in the neighborhood where they found their countrymen who had come before them, and where they could secure the necessities of life they needed to survive economically in an unfamiliar land.

And so, our story begins with a man named Lok Lee. He opened the Mott Street General Store at 32 Mott Street in lower Manhattan to provide necessaries for the residents of the “Chinatown” area. The store also served as a central gathering place where the earliest immigrants could socialize and maintain their connection with family and friends. This is regarded as the oldest Chinese store that remained in the neighborhood for more than 100 years until its closure in 2003.

In March, 2014, Maximal Concepts, a company formed by several individuals based in Hong Kong, opened the initial Mott 32 Restaurant there. They followed this success with a second location in Vancouver, British Columbia in the fall of 2016.

The restaurant’s third, and only US location opened at The Palazzo in December, 2018. They describe their cuisine as principally Cantonese with some Beijing and Szechuan influences in their signature dishes. 

Renowned designer Joyce Wang created the striking interior, with the goal of “pairing New York industrialism and classic Chinese elements with nods to Las Vegas’ culture.” And she has accomplished this beautifully, beginning with the metallic, linear elements of the restaurant’s entrance, and continuing with an arresting design of beams, wires, lighting and columnar treatments in the interior. At the same time, the unmistakable and beautiful Chinese aura is coupled with a playful nod to Las Vegas in the form of a table incorporating a vintage roulette wheel and a chandelier draped in an immense feather boa.

After taking time to admire the attractive interior, my attention turned to the wine list. Overseen by Lead Sommelier Raquel Jacobs, the breadth and depth of it was extremely impressive, and thoroughly covered the categories of Champagne, Sparkling, Old World Whites (France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Germany and Hungary), New World Whites (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and United States), Rose, Old World Reds (France, Italy, Spain and Portugal), New World Reds (Australia, New Zealand, United States, South Africa and Argentina), Dessert Wines and Sake.

Executive Chef Alan Ji, a Shanghai native, has created a menu offering authentic, and often exotic, Chinese dishes and various Western-influenced ones that provide a dazzling array of unique choices.

Your first impression of the menu is that you are about to have a delicious experience. There are numerous dishes found only in the most sophisticated Chinese restaurants, and many that are seldom seen in this country.

Among the starters, you may want to consider the Applewood-roasted 42-day Peking duck “Signature Mott 32 Cut,” minced duck with lettuce cup, 36-month acorn-fed barbecue Pluma Iberico pork or the shredded Peking duck/mushroom spring roll.

There are numerous tempting seafood choices, including wok-fried Maine lobster with ginger and scallions, whole Dungeness crab with golden garlic and chili, wok-fried sliced scallops with mixed fungus and black truffle paste and braised whole Japanese sea cucumber with oyster sauce.

Some of the delicious meat selections are Japanese A5 Kobe beef with grilled leeks, homemade black bean paste and garlic chips; stir-fried Australian M6 wagyu sirloin with shitake mushrooms, baby leeks and chili; crispy triple-cooked wagyu beef short ribs; and free-range chicken with dried chilies and Szechuan red peppercorns.

Rice and noodle dishes are equally appealing with their signature Maine lobster fried rice, containing king oyster mushrooms and edamame; Alaskan crabmeat fried rice with flying fish roe; and wok fried flat rice noodles with US black angus beef and bean sprouts.

If your tastes (and budget) run to the more exotic, you’ll have no problem in satisfying either, as you choose among the following: double boiled bird’s nest supreme soup, steamed fillet of leopard coral grouper, whole marble goby, braised dried fish maw with abalone sauce or braised whole Japanese dried abalone with oyster sauce.

The dessert menu is quite intriguing, as it offers various authentic Chinese selections that you may not have experienced previously. Even if you don’t normally have dessert, I highly recommend their unique (and best-selling) bamboo green forest to end your outstanding meal on a “sweet” note.

The idea for the Mott 32 Restaurant originated more than 7,200 miles away to pay homage to the memory of a Chinese entrepreneur from another century. Your visit to the restaurant will be another memory in the making.