August 15, 2005 | Ask Gael

What's new in nouvelle Chinese?

        The very name, Mainland, hints of homage to the past, but chef-partner Brian Young isn’t bound to tradition in this rambling, stylish space with its sensational patchwork red-tile wall. If only the tables were as well lit. Stray smoke from the duck ovens is annoying, too. Still, we’re loving Young’s elegant saucing and flavor-forward riffs on the classics, like the steamed-shellfish clay pot and its side of crackling scallion pancakes, soft-shell crab on ginger-onion fondue, and stir-fried duck with shiitakes to wrap in lettuce. Steamed prawn-and-bamboo dumplings sit on a smart ginger-scallion relish. You’ll want to drag your crisp lamb spring roll through a trail of sweet hot mustard. There are steaks too, and crusted rack of lamb, but the hottest item brings chefs racing like ER medics with crisp-skinned Peking duck on carts for tableside surgery. It’s not the most aristocratic bird in town, but the flesh is tasty and moist, with or without skin. An overly sedate crystal-shrimp sauté will appeal to spice-fearing wimps. Better by far: tender lobster chunks on wok-seared noodles and red-wine-braised short ribs (lush and fatty). Sorbet is the safest dessert, but a giant bowl of white-chocolate macadamia pot de crème thrilled sugar fiends at our table. Beware hideous chile foam and dried-out espresso macaroons.

1081 Third Ave. at 64th St. 212 888 6333

Providing a continuous lifeline to homebound elderly New Yorkers