By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Residents familiar with a restaurant called Marco’s on Second Avenue near East 23rd Street might know the business name but might be surprised that the spot now serves Chinese food instead of Italian tapas. Owner Aidi Xu opened the new restaurant in mid-August under the same name as the space’s previous occupant, even though the two restaurants offer two completely different kinds of cuisine.
One thing the two spots do have in common is the bar, which Xu said she wanted to use as a connection from the old iteration of Marco’s (which also added “A Taste of China” to the name) to the new one.
“People wouldn’t normally come to a Chinese restaurant for drinks so we’re trying to utilize that,” she said.
While the bar will be serving traditional cocktails, the food available there will different from the usual bar snacks and includes smaller portions of dishes on the main menu. The full menu is available in the restaurant until 10 p.m. but the bar is open from 4 p.m. until midnight, allowing patrons to nosh on small plates for a little longer.
Xu said that both she and chef Feng Hui, who is also her business partner, are from the northern part of China so the menu focuses mainly on dishes from that area, known as the Lu style or Dongbei, for the region.
While the lunch specials focus on more mainstream dishes that are well-known in the US but aren’t actually representative of dishes in China, like sesame chicken, Kung Pao and General Tso, Xu said that some of the other entrees are typical of the region in the north where she’s from, like braised chicken or sautéed napa, a kind of cabbage.
Xu said that she didn’t purposely seek out a space in the Gramercy area but she enjoys the neighborhood now that they’ve been open for a few weeks, especially because there aren’t really any other Chinese food places nearby.
“We like it because there isn’t a lot of competition and it’s a residential area with a lot of hospitals so we get a lunch crowd from people who work there,” she said, adding that they’ve been dropping off menus at the local medical centers and nearby apartments to let healthcare workers and residents know that they’re open.
Xu came to the United States in 1996 and previously worked for accounting firms and hedge funds before starting in real estate investment.
“Food was always my passion,” Xu said, so it made sense to combine her interest in the restaurant business with her experience in real estate.
She also said she’s hoping that customers will look past the usual perceptions as Chinese food restaurants as just a place to get a fast meal.
“When you think of Chinese food here, you think of fast food, something quick and maybe not that fresh,” Xu said. “We’re trying to breach the two worlds together.”