Ever since Province, a new Chinese sandwich shop, opened in Tribeca a few weeks ago, I'd been craving steamed buns. After lunch plans at Masala Bollywood with Doug and Karlyn fell through on Friday afternoon (much to my dismay since I'd also been craving naan bread all week), Mark and I were off on the C train to meet Daniel downtown.
Province's specialty is mantou (pronounced mon-tow), a steamed bun (made in-house, a big plus in my book), that is a staple in Northern China. Lured by the special offering of three for $10.75, we ended up ordering nine sandwiches to share, even though Daniel warned us that he only needed two on his last lunchtime visit.
After waiting about five minutes in one of the only empty blonde booths opposite a bright chartreuse-colored wall, our bulging steamed buns arrived. I grabbed my cell phone to get a shot of the spicy pork with pickled daikon (which coincidentally ended up being my favorite), and was able to take just one picture before my battery dramatically died.
Similar in size and shape to a bagel (especially at Province where they're sprinkled with black sesame seeds), mantou feels more like a thick hamburger bun. Firm while still soft and fluffy, these addictive little breads get stuffed with all sorts of fillings and still never seem to get soggy. I loved how they were chewy with a nice, subtle sweetness.
Standouts included the spicy pork with daikon that's pickled in-house, the Chinese radish giving some nice crunch and an extra touch of sweetness; the grilled chicken which came with some cilantro sprigs; and the braised pork shoulder with thinly sliced cucumbers that are pickled in-house as well.
One with shitake and oyster mushrooms, a special on Friday, didn't really wow any of us, and the short rib sandwich, a regular menu item, was tough and tasteless, unlike the tender strands of meat it claimed to be; luckily the spicy kimchi (Chinese cabbage and chili peppers) it came with did help liven things up. Mark particularly loved the angus beef burger with sambal sauce, but by the time I took my first bite of that one, I was starting to feel very full, the fluffy white buns sitting like bricks in my belly.
Once all nine were finally gone, I convinced Mark to skip the subway and walk back to work, predicting it would take just over 20 minutes. It ended up taking 38, but a supermodel sighting (Christy Turlington) kept any complaints at bay.
Back in the office, we both felt painfully full for the rest of the day, so if you do make your way to Province anytime soon (which you should), I'd say two stuffed buns will suffice. You'll be tempted to try more, but take it from me, you'll suffer all day if you do.
305 Church St., at Walker St