Slurping our bowl of Mission Chinese Food's Westlake rice porridge ($9) ― one of several new items rolled out in recent weeks ― we caught ourselves humming the Cowboy Junkies version of "Sweet Jane." Like the song, the porridge was smooth and comforting, especially after eating a few of MCF's nose-searing signature items such as sizzling cumin lamb or ma po tofu, more Plasmatics than Junkies. The porridge (congee, essentially) was loaded with chunks of oxtail meat and bits of Dungeness crab, with a soft-cooked egg plopped down in the middle ― chef Danny Bowien's riff on Guangdong's classic Westlake beef soup, though instead of a cornstarch thickening and shreds of egg drop, it was viscous from long-simmered rice. We stirred our egg in to add a little more texture. And though we tasted hints of oxtail and crab (Bowien uses the stock that results from Hainam chicken rice, another new dish), the surprise star ingredient was ginger. It added a minor but needed zing ― like the ginger in Filipino arroz caldo ― that got us into a spaced-out groove.
We also tried the similarly calm tea-smoked eel ($9), wrapped in rice noodle with shreds of ham hock and celery: Each smoky bite was chewy, crunchy, and slippery all at once. We're glad to see a few milder additions to the Mission Chinese repertoire as it will allow us to bring some of our spice-averse friends without concern. But has Bowien mellowed out? Nah. We still consider him to be more Wendy O. Williams than Margo Timmins.
Mission Chinese Food: 2234 Mission (at 17th St.), 863-2800.