A Chinese language meals speakeasy in a basement cafeteria could be Syracuse’s finest saved secret

(That is a part of an ongoing sequence that showcases among the finest meals and drinks in Central New York that you just most likely don’t find out about. Do you could have a hidden gem? Share your favourite by emailing me at cmiller@syracuse.com or texting me at 315-382-1984. I would even purchase you a meal.)

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Syracuse, N.Y. — There isn’t any neon “Chinese language Meals” sign up entrance of Progressive Knowledgeable Consulting headquarters at 650 James St. There’s no hostess or cashier or tables. In actual fact, there’s no public entry to any entrance right here.

You order your meal on-line, and it’ll mysteriously seem inside half-hour on a desk inside a portico within the gated parking zone out again. You don’t eat it right here. You seize your bag and go elsewhere.

That’s the enigmatic fantastic thing about the Rice Field, a to-go Chinese language meals speakeasy that operates within the basement of a household enterprise close to downtown.

In case you didn’t know, the Rice Field isn’t only a takeout restaurant. It began in 2006 as an worker cafeteria for PEC, a language instruction tech firm that’s labored with Particular Operations Command and the Air Drive. Chief working officer Francis Feng employed Chef David Chen, a culinary college graduate from Hong Kong, to organize wholesome meals for the 80 staff who labored afternoon-to-evening shifts.

“My father at all times wished a restaurant. For him, it was all about tradition,” mentioned Dan Feng, Francis’ son and the chief know-how officer of PEC. “A lot of Chinese language tradition is constructed round meals. Offers are constructed round meals. Relationships are created round meals. Household gatherings are centered across the dinner desk. We wished to share that tradition right here.”

Dan Feng is the chief know-how officer at Progressive Knowledgeable Consulting, the house of The Rice Field. (Charlie Miller | cmiller@syracuse.com)

That succeeded for 14 years, till the Covid pandemic pressured many of the employees to work remotely. Chef Chen continued to cook dinner for a couple of dozen in-house staff and group occasions in PEC’s cafeteria.

Francis died on Good Friday of 2021. A yr later, Dan and a few of his employees determined to make Francis’ want a actuality and department out by providing takeout lunches to the general public.

“This meals is simply too good NOT to share with everybody,” Dan mentioned throughout a current lunch within the firm eating corridor. “That is what my father would have wished. He thought our meals was ok to open a restaurant. This was step one.”

That first step has morphed into the Chinese language meals speakeasy that has been open for 4 hours on weekdays since February. The one method you’re coming right here is when you already find out about it and know the way it works.

We wouldn’t have discovered had it not been for a reader who advised grabbing lunch from The Rice Field, claiming the meals there was a culinary cut price.

Good meals for reasonable? Signal me up.

The Rice Field’s on-line order system shows 21 colourful entrees. Most are Americanized Chinese language favorites reminiscent of kung pao rooster, with just a few extra genuine dishes like fish with XO sauce.

For my first go to, I used to be each boring and adventurous: An order of black pepper beef, an order of scallion ginger fish and a facet of pot stickers. Every lunch got here with a shrimp spring roll and white rice.

The foodie who advised this place steered us proper. The bag weighed simply 3 ounces shy of 6 kilos. That’s the equal of 12 Massive Macs … or 5 dozen rooster wings … or two 16-inch pepperoni pizzas … or 23 Hoffman scorching canines with mustard.

Regardless, the entire for this huge feedbag price me $22.50. What’s extra, that is among the finest Chinese language meals I’ve had since shifting right here oh-so way back. Hell, it’s among the finest Chinese language meals I’ve had. Interval.

“Since I began working right here, I’ve by no means eaten at one other Chinese language restaurant,” mentioned Tyrelle Gaston, a fry cook dinner on this basement operation. “You possibly can’t evaluate this to every other. I’m spoiled.”

Chef David, who’s now 67, discovered to cook dinner in Hong Kong earlier than shifting to New York Metropolis. He mentioned his meals is completely different out of your typical Chinese language eating places due to the substances he makes use of, his recipes from again house and his means of placing all of it collectively. Dan mentioned the standard of meals comes from Chef’s ardour and excessive requirements.

“I don’t know why it’s so good; it’s simply completely different,” he mentioned through a translator within the muggy kitchen final week throughout a lunch rush. “I’ve my method of doing issues. They’ve their method of doing issues. It’s simply completely different. And good.”

As he defined his strategy to cooking, a big lunch order got here into the kitchen. Chef stopped speaking for 20 seconds as Tyrelle reeled off every merchandise. 4 Basic Tso rooster. Two Hunan rooster. Candy & bitter rooster. Fish with XO sauce.

Tyrelle walked away and gently positioned seven shrimp spring rolls into the deep-fryer. Chef, all however ending our dialog, poured a ladle of vegetable oil right into a scorching wok and tossed in three fistfuls of cut-up rooster breast earlier than dredging slices of swai fish right into a thick batter and gently reducing it into one other wok. Over the subsequent 12 minutes, he grabbed chopped scallions from the counter behind him and hurled them into the wok on the left with out wanting. He then dipped a ladle of mildly spicy XO sauce for the fish on the suitable 2 seconds later.

Chef by no means stopped shifting whereas this order got here collectively. The rooster additionally by no means sat nonetheless. It was flipped and twirled within the wok as blowtorch-like flames erupted from beneath. When the meat lastly acquired its coat of candy, bitter and spicy umami sauce, Chef stopped shifting. Tyrelle took it from there, ending every with a wholesome scoop of imported steamed long-grain white rice and hauling them to the pickup desk within the parking zone.

Fish with XO Sauce from The Rice Field in Syracuse. (Charlie Miller | cmiller@syracuse.com)

The Rice Field serves between 20 and 30 lunches every day, and Dan is already desirous about its future. He’s contemplating a “Goldilocks portion,” a less expensive possibility that received’t go away clients with leftovers to take house on the finish of the day.

He’s additionally pondering dinner takeout, maybe, from 4:30 to 7 p.m. However no supply, he mentioned. Clients might choose up a household dinner on the best way house from the workplace and never should depend on a third-party driver for the meals to remain scorching and recent. That’s how Francis would need it.

“He was a foodie,” Dan mentioned. “He would seek for the native scorching spots and we might discover them and expertise them collectively.”

The Rice Field would definitely be a type of spots.

The Particulars

The venue: The Rice Field, within the parking zone behind 650 James St., Syracuse; (315) 214-7310.

Hours: Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Closed Saturday and Sunday.

Bank cards: Sure

Gluten-free choices: Sure

Alcohol: No

Children menu: No

Eat in: No

Takeout: Sure

Parking: Loads within the gated parking zone.

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Charlie Miller finds the most effective in meals, drink and enjoyable throughout Central New York. Contact him at (315) 382-1984or by e-mail at cmiller@syracuse.com. (AND he pays for what he and his company eat and drink, simply so .) You too can discover him beneath @HoosierCuse on Twitter and on Instagram. Join his free weekly The place Syracuse Eats publication right here.

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