At the start of the New Year, most people resolved to give up gluten or join a gym; instead, I resolved to eat three large meals in one day, all prepared by the same chef.
It all started with a tweet. A few nights after Danny Bowien’s critically lauded Mission Chinese Food reopened in New York City, a friend planned his birthday dinner at the new East Broadway location. The afternoon of that celebration, my co-worker asked me to join in on a burrito order from Bowien’s Mission Cantina spinoff — and how could I say no to my favorite burrito? This is how I end up “accidentally” eating Mission Cantina for lunch and Mission Chinese for dinner. Proud of this realization, I take to Twitter to tell all my friends. Danny Bowien finds my missive and retweets it.
The evening after that particular burrito, our party of ten racks up a $400 bill at the reasonably priced, “Chinese”-inspired restaurant. When Bowien hand-delivers his new wood-fired pizza to wish our friend a happy birthday, I tell him: “I’m the one from Twitter!”
Danny thinks my lunch and dinner were pretty cool, but hardly anything to brag about — “Mission Cantina has Vietnamese breakfast now,” he reminds me. “No one’s ever done my breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the same day.” I accept this challenge without hesitation. “Don’t hurt yourself,” Danny advises as I leave.
“I don’t think you know what I’m capable of,” I tell him.
So, on the first Saturday of the New Year, I embark on what I dub “Mission: Mission Breakfast Lunch Dinner,” for which I will fill my day and my stomach with Danny Bowien’s finest delicacies, a journey spanning seven city blocks and several culinary styles. To ensure my accomplishment is irrefutable, I lay some ground rules:
- Each meal will consist of one entrée and one beverage.
- I will clean my plates completely. Eating half of each dish is not an accomplishment.
I schedule my meals as far apart as possible to allow for maximum digestion time. I dress in my game-day best: sweatpants able to expand with my swelling stomach
Breakfast, 9:45 a.m.
I arrive to Mission Cantina’s Vietnamese breakfast service shortly after it begins at 9 a.m. A half-dozen patrons have beaten me to the Orchard Street restaurant; still, a table for one is easy to secure. I have yet to consume pho before noon or in Danny’s Mission style, so I am excited. I can’t decide between the lamb (Saigon-style) or chicken (Hanoi-style) options, so I ask my waitress for guidance. She recommends the latter without hesitation: “It’s lighter,” she says, even though she’s unaware of the hefty challenge upon which I have embarked. Heeding her advice seems wise.
Danny has spotted me from Cantina’s open kitchen and recalls my plan. He kindly but cruelly sends out a “snack” I didn’t order: shrimp chips and a fried egg. They are appreciated and tasty, but this messes with my clean-plate plan. Already, the rules need amending: I will finish what I order. Gifted plates needn’t be cleaned.
“So, you’re really doing it!” Bowien comes out to chat. I confirm that I am indeed there on official Mission: Mission business. I fill him in on my self-imposed rules. “There’s no way anyone can clean a plate at Mission Chinese,” he warns. I become even more determined to prove him wrong.
The chef returns to his station and soon my chicken pho arrives, its rich broth steaming. A cup of Vietnamese coffee acts as an energizing palate-cleanser. I think I might like mornings in Vietnam.
Lunch, 3 p.m.
I meet two friends back at Cantina an hour before the restaurant concludes its lunch service. The lights have dimmed since breakfast, and a neon glow settles over the dining room. Despite Danny’s earlier suggestion that I order tacos midday, I find it difficult to be in the presence of a Cantina burrito without consuming it. I settle on the “super veg” option because a break from meat is good for your cholesterol or something. I order a soju margarita because I deserve it.
Much to my chagrin, Danny sends out black-bean-sesame-seed-topped tortillas for the table. As per my earlier amendment, I am allowed to eat only half of this because I did not ask for it. I finish the margarita easily. The burrito proves more difficult, but I persevere. I feel my sweatpants’ cheap elastic waistband begin to fold from the stress of my growing belly.
I grab coffee after lunch and reflect on my day so far. Is this what it feels like to be Danny Bowien? A recent New York Times profile points out that the two restaurants in tandem replicate the chef’s early career diet. “You’re basically eating what I eat,” he confirmed over my breakfast — though Bowien is actually working all day, not just sitting down and enjoying the food he’s produced.
Further calculations reveal that the Mission lifestyle is not a cheap one when practiced in excess: Excluding tip, my food and beverage total for the day so far is $38.50. This is more than I spend at the grocery store each week. I wonder if I should have just ordered tacos.
Dinner, 9 p.m.
As dinner looms, I meet up with a couple friends at a bar next door to Mission Chinese Food to pass the two-hour wait time because even following Danny Bowien around all day does not guarantee a table at MCF on a Saturday night. I decline the bar’s beer-and-shot special, instead ordering a whiskey and Diet Coke — I’m watching my figure, thank you very much.
We have our next round of pre-dinner drinks at MCF’s new bar, which offers inventive $13 cocktails like the General Tso’s Old Fashioned, enriched with peanut oil, and the Phil Khallins, served in a Chinese-style soup bowl with floating hot pepper garnishes.
I spot my pal Danny greeting friends at the bar. I tell him I disobeyed his light-lunch suggestion. “You’re gonna barf,” he tells me. “That’s more than I eat!” I insist I will not. I spent too much money on this food to barf it all up. As I drain the Old Fashioned, a once-familiar feeling returns — hunger? We’re led to a table shortly after 9 p.m., nearly 12 hours after my ridiculous journey began.
Dinner turns out to be my easiest meal of the day, perhaps because we split four dishes among three people. We request the Tiger Salad, containing daikon radishes and a spicy turnip vinaigrette; Chongqing chicken wings so fiery, our server instructs we eat them “without using your lips,” which might well be the most difficult task I have faced all day; the renowned kung pao pastrami; and beef-jerky fried rice, as we ought to choose one menu item without a spice warning to offer our contorted lips a bit of relief.
The dishes emerge one at a time, so it’s harder for me to take inventory at the start of the meal. My companions and I took the term family style to heart, fetching multiple helpings, clashing chopsticks on the serving platters. We did not order dumplings but they materialize, and we consume them enthusiastically. I down another Old Fashioned because whiskey pairs well with success.
We settle the bill — my share comes to $30 before tip — and our server informs me that Danny has left for the day. I am disappointed — if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it really make a sound? Luckily, this tree’s got Twitter, so I inform my challenger of my accomplishment there. And sure enough, we bump into him when we go back outside. “I can’t believe you did it!” he exclaims.
“And I didn’t even barf!” I say proudly.
All in all, it has been a very good day. My regular shirt is now a crop top. Though I feel heavier than ever before, my wallet is light. The human stomach is said to expand to hold roughly one liter; I am proud of the bounds to which I have pushed mine today. But I really, really need to lie down.
“Mr. Bowien looks so skinny these days,” the Times pointed out in its profile. The Mission diet does not seem to have done the same for my physique, but, then again, I’m not following it seven days a week. Perhaps my New Year’s resolution needs a little work.