September 2, 2006

Buns of Steam

Ever since I first partook of the steamed pork buns at Momofuku—light, doughy and stuffed with perfectly tender Berkshire pork—they’ve been on my short craving list. After sampling similar wares at a few other Asian spots, I could safely say no one else could touch those buns.

Then, lo and behold, New York magazine raved about Tribeca newcomer Province, even going so far as to compare its mantou bread sandwiches to the steamy excellence at Momofuku. New York hasn’t steered me wrong yet, so we headed down to Tribeca for a “cheap date night” with high expectations.

Province (305 Church St., 212-925-1205) is easy to miss among the trendy cafes populating this stretch of Church, but while seated at the window we noticed plenty of intrigued looks on the faces of worker bees passing by. The sparse design is a bit IKEA meets diner, with unadorned cement floors and blond wood benches with odd, Swiss cheese-looking “privacy” walls. It was pretty empty on the Wednesday evening we visited, but the staff was friendly and efficient.

Not knowing how large the sandwiches would be, my friend ordered two—spicy pork ($3.75) and braised pork shoulder ($3.75)—and I chose the pork shoulder and side salad with ginger dressing. In short order, the buns arrived wrapped in wax paper and still steaming. Unlike Momofuku, Province’s buns are sprinkled with black sesame seeds and the mantou isn’t quite as light and doughy, but it is still slightly chewy and with one “déjà vu” bite I knew I’d found another craving. The pork shoulder, seasoned with just the right amount of sauce to avoid a mess, was a tender affair layered with thinly sliced pickled cucumbers. The spicy pork was a little perkier in taste with a dash of hoisin, but I preferred the sliced texture of the shoulder over the traditional pulled pork. One sandwich left me wanting a little more, so next time I will probably split a second or just indulge in two all to myself. At these prices, it’s not the worst thing I could do.

Oh yeah, and plan to head over to Province early--it closes at 7:30 pm.

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