Moo Shu Grill Serves Up Delicious “Moo Shu”
Another suggestion from a reader: check out the Moo Shu Grill truck. I’ve never actually had moo shu anything – and when I just went to check the Wiki for moo shu to verify this, I just became even more confused by what it is and what it was inspired by. So I’m not going to even touch all of that or talk about whether or not this is moo shu. Y’all who’ve eaten moo shu in the past can tell me what’s what.
The menu is pretty straightforward; you can have 3 moo shu (mix and match your proteins) for $9, or a rice bowl with one protein for $8. Pick your protein from a list; the Peking duck carries with it an upcharge of $1 per moo shu or $2 per rice bowl. Moo shu are explained as “traditionally served on a toasted flour moo shu wrapper and brushed with hoisin sauce. Our interpretation adds cilantro, cucumber, pickled carrots and daikon, then brushed with our house blend ginger scallion aioli… not your mama’s moo shu.” (It’s a little hard to see in the pic, so yes, I’m copying straight from the menu.) The rice bowls are described as “served with a bed of steamed jasmine rice
or sticky crab rice, sauteed soy bean sprouts, cucumber, cilantro, Sichuan style celery salad, pickled carrots and daikon, and topped with a ginger scallion aioli.” Sounds vaguely like the insides of a banh mi, and I LOVE a properly made banh mi.
***Update, 7/18/2014: One of the owners of the truck reached out to me to tell me that the sticky rice is no longer being offered as an option, encouraged by this post and its comments about the inconsistent quality. She felt that she’d rather not offer it at all than put out a product that is only good some of the time, but suggested it may make a return if they can perfect it within the constraints of working a food truck.***
My friend ordered the pork belly rice bowl with sticky rice at my behest. I hadn’t read the menu very carefully and only now, looking at pictures, do I realize it was supposed to be crab sticky rice. While there was no crab to be found in the rice (and I’m sure he’d say “GOOD!”), I found the sticky rice mostly a good foil – except that the mouthful I tried had a bunch of hard rice in it. Either reheated poorly or not cooked properly (I don’t know the ins and outs of sticky rice, but it felt like the crunchy rice that results when you drop some rice on your stove and don’t find it until the next morning, and it’s dried out into a hard clump), that was not pleasant. The pork belly itself happens to be a particular dish for which I do not care, and my friend noted that it contained far too much star anise for his taste (as he pulled bits out of his container from time to time). The celery salad seemed a bit out of place to me – just quickly cooked celery, which is fine, but just didn’t seem to mesh with the rest of the dish. Mostly, this dish confused me: I didn’t understand why the accompaniments chosen were there, the rice-bite I had was interspersed with hard grains of rice, and there was no crab to be found. However, the pork belly was cooked properly, and most people familiar with Chinese cuisine will recognize the dish and probably enjoy it (unless they hate star anise).
And look! If you say yes when they ask if you want hot sauce, they give you mini packets of Sriracha! Perfect for the office or for snacking. You know, for those who eat hot sauce straight…
I opted for the 3 moo shu lunch, with five spice pork, Taiwanese basil chicken and XOXO beef as my protein choices. It didn’t take that long to get my order – and there wasn’t a huge line either, though there was a steady stream of customers.
Unfortunately, I foolishly only took photos of the insides of one of the moo shu, just to show scale and how much filling I received. The previous report on Moo Shu Grill had a commenter suggest that the writer was recognized and thus given special treatment/more food than he was. But honestly? Mine was all protein, and a sizable tangle of pickled carrot and daikon on top, with a thick slice of English cucumber and a small smattering of cilantro. Any less pickled carrot/daikon, I’d have probably liked it a little less – the flavors didn’t just remind me of banh mi, they WERE banh mi, but wrapped in a very interesting ‘pancake’ that was slightly chewy, a nice background complement to the innards.
(Those who have eaten Peking duck with pancakes instead of ‘bao’/'mantao’/very plain, fluffy ‘rolls’ of a sort will likely recognize these; it’s either incredibly similar or the same as those pancakes.)
The photo I took was of the 5 spice pork; unfortunately, this was the protein I surprisingly liked the least. It tasted like a cut up pork chop that had been sadly overcooked. While the flavor was fine, the texture of overcooked pork is very, very sad, and I wished they’d used a different cut or just not overcooked it. The Taiwanese basil chicken – also known as “three cup chicken” – was extremely flavorful and tender, and did not suffer from being overcooked. I believe it was dark meat, which added to my enjoyment. Before anyone asks how I’d compare it to other three cup chicken I’ve had, well, I’ve never actually had the dish, though I’ve known of its existence for a very long time. Sorry – my knowledge of and experience with Chinese food is somewhat lacking.
And then there was the XOXO beef… Oh my stars, I cannot rave enough about this. Little chunks of steak, perfectly tender and juicy, incredibly flavorful from whatever goes into their house-made XO sauce… I wished I had more stomach space, and I wish I could have ordered another 3 moo shu just XOXO beef. YUM. I would have sworn to you it was cooked medium rare, that’s how tender and juicy it was, but that’s unlikely… it was just delicious.
A small pet peeve that may or may not bother you… we’d taken our food to sit on these ‘benches’ that faced the truck. While we were eating, a guy walked by, noted what we were eating and said in a friendly manner, “Good stuff, right guys?” and kept walking. He apparently was working the truck, but had stepped out – and walked closer to the building’s alcove – to smoke a cigarette. That skeeves me a little; I know he wasn’t the one who took our order so my only assumption is he’s handling the food, and probably/hopefully using gloves, but I just find it a little ‘ew’. He did, however, walk a respectable distance away from the truck, which I appreciate… but still, ew.
THE + (what people who like this will say)
- Something different/not another Asian taco or burrito
- Good variety of proteins from which to choose
- Prices are reasonable for the amount of food you get
- I like “Asian flavors” (five spice, star anise [alone], three cup chicken, XO sauce)
- Banh mi-esque and yet its own thing… yum!
THE – (what people who don’t like this place will say)
- The guy handling my food was smoking (reality check: nearly every kitchen in NYC staffs people who smoke, especially chefs)
- I don’t like Chinese food or flavors
- This is too “weird” for me/I’m not adventurous
- Why isn’t there an Asian girl taking my order?
- This isn’t authentic
Moo Shu Grill, check their Twitter for location
(Please note their website has a schedule that they don’t always adhere to, as they were at 52nd/6th last Tuesday and this past Monday, so you’re better off checking their Twitter for the location.)