Did you know you can experience Imperial Chinese Cuisine right here in New York? Chef Guo, an immersive space nestled in a corner of Midtown east, transports you to another world by activating all of your senses. Although the food draws customers in, the ambiance, carefully explained cultural insights, and attention to detail all come together harmoniously to create the perfect in-depth culinary experience.
I arrived early for my dinner at Chef Guo, and my server Caroline taught me about an ancient Chinese instrument they have displayed that was only played by the nobility. The instrument showcased in the restaurant was specially made as a high honor for Chef Guo by the Chinese government, and getting to try playing it felt like a privilege. 5 stone statues line the restaurant’s exit pathway, each representing a different season and different direction: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter, and North, South, East, and West. The fifth and most beloved statue is the baby dragon, which represents abundance. Guests are encouraged to rub its head before they depart post-meal to be blessed with wealth and prosperity.
After a tour of the space, I sat down for my meal. Chef Guo’s dishes are served on royal yellow ceramics bordered in 24K gold. This is a unqiue color reserved only for emperors in ancient China, chosen to make guests feel special. The Chinese character for happiness appears throughout the restaurant, and on the dishes as well.
The first course was a silver needle tea, meant to stimulate the appetite. Its warmth and aromatics definitely readied my palate as the next three appetizers arrived: a selection of cold hors d’oeuvres and a dish called The Butterfly Falling in Love with the Flower. The hors d’oeuvres captured the four major flavor profiles: sour beans, sweet radish, bitter gourd, and spicy anchovies. Combining these flavors resulted in the most delightful taste sensation. The Butterfly dish was a work of art: seafood, vegetables, and chinese sausage were carefully arranged to resemble a nature scene of florals and butterflies. The final appetizer was slow-cooked tofu in scallion sauce topped with caviar – so fresh and satisfying on the palate. I was amazed by the depth of flavor in the scallion puree.
Starting off with Magic Elixir and the Fruit of Longevity made of peach jelly, the next set of courses continued to wow me. The elixir was a peach jelly to invigorate the blood, and served in a delicate eggshell. The Big Red Robe Tea came out next, and Caroline explained its rich historical legacy to me: this tea was integral to US-China relations, and was served to President Nixon by Chairman Mao Zedong in the 1970s. It’s “worth more than gold” and is used as a palate cleanser throughout the meal, meant to be taken as a single sip between courses. The next course was Taiji Black Truffle, a soup presented as a Yin Yang symbol. The orange soup was chicken based, and the green soup was beef based, and each side was topped with a circle of shaved black truffle. This dish represents the Chef’s desire to modernize his cuisine – truffles are typically not an ingredient in Chinese cuisine, but his use of it enhanced the dish tremendously. Pan Fried Foie Gras Au Jus arrived next, which was crisped on the outside and served with blueberry sauce and veggies. The combo of this decadent dish served with fresh flavors kept it light, yet indulgent. Next, the Chef served Mustard Green, Black Rice, and Premium Lobster Tail, Contrasting local cold-water lobster, this lobster tail comes from warm oceans and therefore had a sweeter flavor and firmer texture. The final item of this group of courses was the Hundred Happinesses and Eight Treasures in a Pouch Bag. Each of the 8 ingredients are hand-picked by the Chef and unique to each person, so only you and the Chef know what’s in your pouch. It’s served in a wooden box inscribed with the Chinese character “Fu” which means happiness – the theme of the restaurant.
The next course, Sea Bass with Fried Noodle, was served in a traditional sweet and sour sauce. The traditional Chinese dish uses baked carp, so the sea bass brings a modern and global twist on this dish: which is tremendously satisfying due to the delectable sauce. Next was a menu item I’d been anticipating, the Authentic and Traditional Wagyu Beef. It’s the finest A5 available from Japan, seasoned only with salt, and served with a side of apple fries. As someone that doesn’t usually get excited for steak, this blew me away. Every bite was perfectly crispy on the outside yet juicy and tender inside, and the flavors of the fat and salt melted in my mouth. Following up this perfect dish was the Flame Smoked Duck Breast, served with friend onions and almond slivers as pine incense smoke tendrils wafted up from beneath the cut of meat. The Braised Morels with Double Mushrooms is a delicacy, served to represent the guests’ honorable status. Some of the Chef’s star dishes came next: the ChefGuo Signature Pork Chops and the ChefGuo Signature Noodles With Black Bean Sauce. The pork chops won an award against French chefs in an international competition, flavored with chinese pickles in lieu of salt and served with a homemade pocky stick.
The end of the meal concluded with a selection of light desserts. The Tricolor Sea Swallow is a diced fish bone found only under extreme ocean depths, served with 3 flavors: papaya puree, kiwi puree, and greek yogurt. The fibrous, crunchy fish carried each of the flavors so well, and was a delicious and creative dessert I thoroughly enjoyed. Finally, the Golden Orange Sits on a Swing, a peeled orange served beautifully, which is a classic Chinese dessert item meant to rid your mouth of any odors and send you refreshed from your meal back into the world. After that, we had a Post-Meal Tea, which was a delicious Pu’er with a complex and invigorating flavor.
My 19-course meal at Chef Guo was a transformative, educational experience and truly one of the best meals I’ve had in my life. If anyone wants to learn about Chinese culture, both traditional and modern, make your reservation at Chef Guo immediately!