Posts Tagged ‘Chinese’

Old Sichuan Cuisine

Sunday, June 12th, 2011 by virginia

When Josh and I first moved into the city, we spent many weekends in Chinatown searching for the best soup dumplings. We never really found a soup dumpling that we didn’t enjoy, but one of our favorites was New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe on Bayard St. We hadn’t been there in years but when Josh’s parents suggested Chinese food in Chinatown for Sunday night dinner, we recommended going to New Yeah because we remembered the dining room being nicer than some of our other favorites (Nice Green Bo, Joe’s Ginger for example).

It took us a little bit to find the restaurant, however, because the name had changed to Old Sichuan. To make matters more confusing, there was a place called Old Shanghai Deluxe on the corner. Yet on an advertisement outside of Old Sichuan, it said New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe. We peeked inside Old Sichuan and it didn’t look like the decor had changed much since its New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe days, so in we went. We ended up at a table in the front where the decor is kind of nonexistent but we didn’t mind. The dining room in the back is a lot nicer though so if ambiance is important, ask to be seated in the back room.

They brought us a plate of peanuts while we looked over the menu. It looked like tables with Chinese patrons received plates of seaweed salad, but the peanuts were fine for us. They were slightly toasted and warm and crunchy – good for snacking on with some Tsingtao beer.

Complimentary peanuts

We had ordered some appetizers and a few main dishes to share but they brought everything to us pretty much at the same time, so that some of the entrees arrived before some of the appetizers. We found that a bit weird, and it made the service seem rushed. Nevertheless, we were all pretty hungry so we dug into each dish as they came. Soup arrived first – we got a corn egg drop soup for 2 and a wonton soup for 2. The serving sizes were big enough that we were all able to get a taste of each (there were seven of us altogether).

Corn egg drop soup for 2

The corn egg drop soup had sweet kernels of corn and strands of egg mixed throughout. The soup had a nice, clean taste to it, though I thought it was a bit bland. It just needed a bit of salt, but Alice really enjoyed it a lot. I preferred the wonton soup, which looked pretty clear and nondescript, but the amount of flavor in the broth was actually very surprising. It was well seasoned and a bit peppery, with lots of umami flavor that I enjoyed. The wontons were soft and had a good amount of filling in them (pork I believe), but I really enjoyed just drinking the broth.

Wonton soup

Alice and I both wanted an egg roll but the only thing they had on the menu was called a vegetable roll. It turned out to be more like a spring roll, though the size was more in line with an egg roll. While I found the spring roll wrapper to be pretty crispy, Alice thought it was a tad oily. I liked the filling though, with lots of crisp shredded veggies. It was flavorful and seasoned enough that we didn’t need any sort of dipping sauce.

Vegetable rolls

One of our favorite dishes to order at any Chinese restaurant is the pan fried noodles. Old Sichuan’s version was really tasty – chock full of crunchy vegetables and lots of meat. We got the house special version that came with chicken, pork, and shrimp. My only wish was that there were more noodles in the dish. The serving of noodles was a bit paltry, and there was so much sauce and toppings that they got soggy very quickly. The best part of pan fried noodles is the fried noodles, which should be thin and super crispy. While the dish tasted good, the noodles weren’t the star that they should have been.

House special pan fried noodles

Pork with garlic sauce is one of Josh’s favorite dishes, and Old Sichuan’s version was one of the best that we’ve ever had. The dish featured plenty of shredded pork sauteed with crunchy celery and wood ear. The garlic sauce was flavorful and had a nice kick to it, with just enough spice to tingle your tongue and lips but not to overwhelm your taste buds. It’s great spooned over a nice pile of white rice, which helps temper the spiciness.

Pork with garlic sauce

We ordered sesame chicken at my request. Kind of blasphemous I guess, considering this is more of an authentic Chinese restaurant rather than a place that caters to American tastes. But I was in the mood for a sweet, sticky sauce, and I was actually blown away by how good this dish turned out to be. Usually the chicken in sesame chicken is heavily battered and fried, so that it’s hard to tell if you’re eating breading or chicken. This chicken barely had any coating on it, and it was super tender and juicy on the inside. The sauce covering the chicken wasn’t overly sweet or gloppy, and had a nice savory aspect to it. There were lots of sesame seeds sprinkled on top, and there was some plain broccoli on the side that I enjoyed dipping into the sauce and eating.

Sesame chicken

We also got an order of house special fried rice that had lots of scrambled egg and pork, chicken, and shrimp mixed in. It was fine, not too greasy, and a good complement to our other dishes.

House special fried rice

Surprisingly, one of the last dishes to arrive at our table was the soup dumplings (usually they come first as an appetizer). We got an order of the pork ones, and they were absolutely fabulous. The skins were super thin but still had a nice chew to them, the filling was intensely porky, and there was lots of hot broth to slurp up. We doused them with a bit of black vinegar and ginger, and they were just perfect.

Pork soup dumpling

Overall we really enjoyed the food at Old Sichuan Cuisine. I wonder if the owners are still the same as when it was New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe, but regardless, I would definitely go back there. Even though service seemed a bit off, with appetizers and entrees arriving all jumbled together, the food was some of the best Chinese food I’ve had recently. We ordered the perfect amount for seven people – every dish was polished off and we were all satisfied but not bursting full. Prices are incredibly reasonable, even for Chinatown. I think our bill was about $65 in total. The menu is extensive with lots of authentic Chinese dishes as well as standard Americanized favorites. Definitely try out the pork in garlic sauce if you go; Old Sichuan’s version renewed our love for this dish. And don’t forget about the soup dumplings!

Old Sichuan Cuisine
65 Bayard St. between Mott and Elizabeth St.
New York, NY


Chifa Sipan (Cusco, Peru)

Friday, June 10th, 2011 by virginia

As strange as it may sound, Chinese food is actually really popular in Peru. We saw lots of Chinese restaurants in Cusco and Lima and wondered if we should give it a shot. Our tour guide in Cusco recommended a place for lunch called Chifa Sipan, saying that it offered classic Peruvian Chinese food. Not knowing what that meant, we decided to take him up on his recommendation and try it out.

Josh saw peking duck on the menu and immediately jumped on it. Peking duck is one of his favorite dishes, but this version was like nothing we had seen before. It turned out to be thin slices of duck on a bed of deep fried rice noodles. There was no crispy skin, no wraps or buns, no strips of raw scallions or cucumbers, and no hoisin sauce. It definitely wasn’t peking duck as we know it, but at least the duck itself was tender, and the brown sauce it was doused in had decent flavor.

"Peking duck" Peruvian style

We also picked another one of Josh’s favorite dishes, pork in garlic sauce. Again, this particular version wasn’t recognizable to us. The pork was in large slices rather than the smaller, shredded kind we’re used to, and it was much darker in color than we expected pork to be. Unfortunately the meat was kind of tough and chewy. The pork was sauteed with lots of veggies – broccoli, peppers, scallions – which I liked for the health factor (we hadn’t been eating too many vegetables on our trip) and the crunchiness factor.

Pork with garlic sauce

We also got an order of chaufa – fried rice – to round out our meal. The fried rice was the most recognizable dish for us, and had lots of roast pork in it. This pork was much tastier and tender compared to the pork in garlic sauce, and it had the barbecue flavor we’re used to in char siu.

Chaufa especial - fried rice

Overall we found the Chinese food at Chifa Sipan to be a bit of a mixed bag. I think we just didn’t know what to order and tried to order dishes like we normally like here in the U.S., but the Peruvian version was not what we were expecting. I wouldn’t be adverse to trying it again if I knew what the specialty dishes are, or at least what locals usually order. The restaurant itself had kind of an old school Chinese joint decor, and service was fine. The three dishes we ordered was a lot of food, more than we could finish. Prices were very reasonable, and our meal with a few sodas came out to 52 soles, or less than US$20. It might feel counter-intuitive to eat Chinese food in Peru, but it really is part of their local culture. Peruvian fusion food isn’t new to us here in NYC either – Nobu is Japanese-Peruvian fusion, and there is a restaurant in Chinatown called Red Egg that is Chinese-Peruvian fusion. I would love to eat at Nobu, of course, but I’m also curious enough to give Red Egg a shot one of these days. If you’re in Peru, try it out. Just ask for recommendations or specialties first.

Chifa Sipan
Calle Quera 251
Cusco, Peru

Jing Fong

Thursday, April 14th, 2011 by virginia

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to write about Jing Fong, the ginormous dim sum restaurant in Chinatown, considering that it’s a place that has a lot of meaning for me and Josh. It’s been our go-to place for dim sum ever since we moved into the city, and was where we ate right before Josh proposed. It is also where we held our rehearsal dinner the night before our wedding, a banquet style dinner that resulted in a lot of people eating jellyfish, accidentally mistaking the long chewy strands for noodles (we didn’t tell them what it was until after they ate it and enjoyed it). As with most of our favorite Chinatown destinations, since we’ve moved uptown, we just haven’t been around as often. Josh had a coworker in town one Sunday who wanted to try dim sum, so we knew exactly where to take him.

Dim sum at Jing Fong on the weekend is pretty crazy. If you don’t get there early enough, there’s a huge line, which is impressive considering how BIG the place is. Luckily we got there in time and were seated right away. There was a pretty long wait by the time we left though. Once you get up the escalator, it’s just a massive space packed to the brim with tables, all of which are full. If you have a small group (ie., 2-3 people), you generally end up having to share a table with other people. It’s not too awkward, the tables are big and you can either talk to your table-mates or not. We’ve experienced it both ways.

Huge line of people waiting to get in when we left

Ideally you want to sit near the kitchen (the right side of the long room, parallel to where the escalators are) because the carts that come out there have the freshest food and are stocked with more items. When you end up in the far corner away from the kitchen, usually you’re options are mostly just tripe and chicken feet, which isn’t bad if you like those items. Otherwise, you have to go with the aggressive route, which is taking your “scorecard” and waiting with a bunch of other people outside the kitchen, waiting to pounce at the carts as soon as they come out. Then you just have to carry your steaming baskets back to your table. There’s also a long table set up in the middle of the room, by the back wall, where they have prepared foods such as sauteed chinese broccoli or steamed clams in black bean sauce that you can pick up. Just remember to take your card with you!

We were a group of five so we wound up with our own table, in the right hand corner just opposite the kitchen. It was a pretty good spot, and there were lots of carts coming around. We basically just pointed at whatever looked good, keeping in mind that one person in our group was a pescetarian, so we got a lot of shrimp and/or veggie items. Here’s a rundown of what we got:

Steamed sticky rice wrapped in a banana leaf - one of Josh's favorites. The rice is filled with bits of pork and dried shrimp, and has a nice chewy texture

Pork and shrimp shumai

Steamed soup dumplings - just meh, not enough soup inside, decent pork flavor

Shrimp and chive dumplings

Shrimp and pea dumplings

Crystal shrimp dumplings - a classic dim sum dish and one of my favorites

Crab and vegetable dumplings

Pan fried vegetable dumplings (that also looked like they had bits of shrimp in them)

Baked pork buns - the bread is sweet and the filling is bbq pork

Steamed rice crepe wrapped around a fried cruller topped with cilantro and a sweet soy sauce

Steamed rice crepe filled with shrimp

Pan fried dumpling wrapped in tofu skin

Dessert: deep fried sesame balls - the inside is chewy mochi filled with sweet lotus or bean paste

We actually got a few orders of each dish so we were pretty stuffed by the end of our meal. I was actually hoping to get some tripe, which they prepare very well at Jing Fong, but sadly it never came around. We did see and pass on chicken feet though. I also wanted some egg tarts for dessert but all the dessert carts were pretty bare by the time they got to us, so we settled for the sesame balls.

The ladies who push around the dim sum carts don’t speak a lot of english, but we managed to get by with a mix of english and my mangled mandarin. When you pick out the stuff that you want from the cart, they put stamps on your scorecard indicating the number and the size of the dish you picked. I don’t know how much each dish is, but our bill for all the food was ridiculously tiny. After tax and tip, I think we each paid about $12. Service is a bit brusque but efficient. They kept our teapot filled and gave us a pitcher of ice water for the table when they saw how thirsty we were. They also cleared our table of empty steamer baskets frequently.

There are lots of dim sum places in the city with varying reviews and we haven’t tried them all.  Jing Fong, though, is always a great experience. When we take people there who have never been, they are always shocked by the size of the restaurant and by the number of people packed in. There’s always lots of variety, and the food is usually fresh because of the high volume and turnover. If you’re patient, you can usually get the dishes you want. The key is to show some restraint initially, and not just pick out a million things from the first cart you see simply because you’re hungry. The carts come by frequently, and each lady usually has different items on her cart. While there may be other dim sum parlors we want to try in Chinatown, we’ll always come back to Jing Fong. Not only is the food good, the restaurant has sentimental meaning for us. Maybe that makes us a bit partial, but just give it a try if you’ve never been – it’s always a fun time.

Jing Fong
20 Elizabeth St. at Canal St.
New York, NY

Lunch at Skyway Malaysian, Takeout From Hua Ji and Xi’an Famous Foods

Monday, January 10th, 2011 by virginia

Every time that Josh and I finally make our way to Chinatown, I constantly ask myself why we don’t go so often anymore. Yes, it’s a huge pain to get downtown on weekends because we never know how the subways are running, but it’s totally worth the journey. Every time we go, we eat delicious food for super cheap, and we pick up tons of goodies for later. It makes absolutely no sense why we’re so lazy that we only go once every few months.

Because we go so infrequently, we’re always tempted to only go to our favorite places, like Lan Zhou Hand Pulled Noodles or Banh Mi Saigon Bakery. But that means we end up missing out on the million other great places in Chinatown. Now when we go, we try to go somewhere new to us, so that we continually expand our horizons. On a recent trip, we decided to check out Skyway Malaysian restaurant, a place I had read good things about.

Located on the east side of Chinatown, which is less touristy, Skyway is kind of off the beaten path but not too hard to find. The menu has pretty standard Malaysian fare, stuff that we fell in love with while in Singapore. We originally planned on ordering light so that we could eat more food elsewhere, but as usual, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs.

We decided to share an order of roti canai to start. It’s a flaky, buttery, layered pancake that’s dipped into chicken curry sauce. However, our waitress convinced us to order the “special” roti canai, which she said was hand made and much better than the regular roti because it was much crispier. What we got basically a single layer of dough, which was crispier only because it was dry. There was no butter, no flakiness, no richness that we love about roti canai. This was more like pappadum, basically just a large, thin cracker. It was a huge disappointment, and more expensive to boot. While the chicken curry dipping sauce was wonderful, we couldn’t help but wish that we had gone with the regular roti canai. We won’t make that mistake again!

"Special" roti canai

For our main courses, we split an order of mee goreng and curry chicken with rice. The chicken was served in pieces on the bone, and the curry sauce was different from the chicken curry dipping sauce that we had with the roti canai. This was much thicker and richer, less coconuty in flavor. It was definitely like a stew rather than the thin curry sauce that I’m used to. The flavors were pretty concentrated though, and I liked taking the chicken off the bone and mixing everything into the rice.

Chicken curry with rice

Mee goreng was one of my favorite dishes when we were in Singapore. My favorite version was from Jumbo, though Josh hated it because ketchup was the predominant ingredient. The version at Skyway was more like the standard kind we got at most places, meaning it wasn’t as sweet or tomato-y. There was a good balance between the sweet, salty, and sour aspects in the sauce, and the lo mein noodles were chewy and bouncy, not mushy. The mee goreng was topped with shrimp and bean curd, as well as other ingredients that added various textures to the dish. I enjoyed it a lot, though it was pretty rich and we ended up taking half of it home.

Mee goreng

Overall we were pretty happy with the food at Skyway Malaysian. Aside from the mistake in ordering the “special” roti canai, which wasn’t bad, just not our preference, the curry and noodle dish were both really tasty and seemed pretty authentic to us. As with most places in Chinatown, lunch was a bargain – less than $20, and I had leftovers for lunch the next day. If you haven’t tried Malaysian food before, this is a good place to go because the menu is really extensive. It’s not hard to find something that would be “safe” but still completely representative of Malaysian cuisine.

We were completely stuffed from lunch so rather than continuing on an eating tour, we decided to pick up a few things that we could eat later in the week for dinner. Our first stop was Hua Ji, a small takeout joint that was conveniently located just a few doors down from Skyway. Hua Ji is known for its pork chop over rice, a Taiwanese staple that I remember eating a lot when I was little. Josh had never tried this dish before so I was eager to have him taste it.

Pork chop over rice

We just heated it up in the microwave so it might have lost its crispiness on the outside, but the pork chop itself was still pretty juicy. It’s covered in a Chinese five spice powder and is slightly peppery. The rice is topped with a pickled cabbage and ground pork mixture that is slightly sour and very savory. I mix everything together and it just reminds me of my childhood. Hua Ji’s pork chop over rice was one of the best versions that I’ve had, and super cheap at just $5.

We also got a lamb burger and pork burger from Xi’an Famous Foods. We had gone to the original branch at the Golden Mall in Flushing, and we were thrilled when they opened up a store in Chinatown. It’s super tiny though so there’s no real place to sit and eat. We got the burgers to go and then heated them up in a nonstick pan, covering it so that the filling would get hot, then turned up the heat and let the outside of the bun sear a bit to crisp up.

Lamb burger

Pork burger

The lamb burger is chock full of cumin flavor, and is slightly spicy. It has a chewy texture to it and can be a bit gristly at times, but the flavor really packs a powerful wallop. It’s definitely a must-have if you like cumin. The stewed pork burger is more tender and juicy, though the flavor isn’t as intense. It’s slightly sweet and has a more homey, comforting flavor.

All in all it was a successful outing to Chinatown. I can’t wait for our next trip!

Skyway Malaysian
11 Allen St. at Canal St.
New York, NY

Hua Ji Pork Chop Fast Food Incorporated
7 Allen St. between Canal St. and Division St.
New York, NY

Xi’an Famous Foods
88 East Broadway at Forsyth St.
New York, NY

Liberty View

Saturday, November 20th, 2010 by virginia

At a recent Sunday night dinner with the family, we revisited an oldie but a goodie. When all of us lived downtown in the Financial District and Battery Park City, Liberty View was our go-to Chinese restaurant for Sunday night dinners. Since Josh and I moved uptown, we haven’t been to the restaurant in probably a year, which is too bad because the food is really quite good.

Every time we go, we always make sure to order the steamed juicy buns, or soup dumplings/xiao long bao. These are some of the best ones that we’ve had, and believe me, Josh and I have eaten our way through most of the soup dumplings in Chinatown. I was happy to see that they were still as tasty as ever. The skins are super thin but still slightly chewy, the meat full of porky goodness, and the soup inside is hot, flavorful, and has just the right amount of fatty richness to it. Delish!

Soup dumpling in all its glory

Another of our usual appetizers is the spare ribs, which are sticky and citrusy and not too sweet. They can be a little fatty sometimes but they’re generally pretty tender.

BBQ spare ribs

We also got an order of the cold noodles with sesame sauce, which something that we hadn’t tried before at this particular restaurant. It’s a pretty standard, simple dish, but unfortunately, this version was pretty bad. The sesame sauce was watery and not very flavorful, and there just wasn’t enough of it to cover all the noodles. The dish wound up being extremely bland, and it’s not something we would order again.

Cold noodles with sesame sauce

For entrees, the moo shu pork is one of our favorites. Strips of pork are stir fried with scrambled eggs and shredded cabbage, then rolled into thin pancakes dabbed with hoisin sauce. Just make sure you ask for the same number of pancakes as you have people, because if you don’t specify, I think they only give you a certain number. We were short the first few times we ordered so we learned our lesson. The good thing is that they’ll wrap up the moo shu for you and portion it out evenly across all the pancakes.

Moo shu pork

Another favorite is the crispy spring chicken in house brown sauce. The chicken is always tender and juicy with crispy brown skin. The house brown sauce is a mixture of soy sauce and chili oil, and is chock full of scallions and black pepper, which gives it a little kick. The dish comes garnished with crispy prawn crackers that are puffy and crackle delightfully if you leave them on your tongue. These were one of my favorite snacks growing up, and while they don’t really do much for the chicken, they’re a fun addition.

Crispy spring chicken and prawn crackers

My personal favorite dish is the Shanghai style pan fried noodles. It’s a bed of thin egg noodles that have been fried until crispy, then covered in a mix of chicken, pork, broccoli, carrots, snow peas, wood ear, mushrooms, and other assorted items in a flavorful brown sauce. You mix everything together and the noodles add a wonderful crunchy texture to the dish.

Shanghai style pan fried noodles

To add some veggies to our meal, we originally asked for hollow water spinach, which is my favorite vegetable, but they were out of it that evening. We settled for pea shoots instead, which are another leafy green vegetable similar to spinach. The pea shoots were sauteed with garlic and cooked until just wilted, so that the stems still had a nice crunch to them.

Sauteed pea shoots

Last but not least, we got an order of pork fried rice. It was fairly standard but there was lots of pieces of roast pork mixed throughout, and the rice wasn’t overly mushy or greasy.

Pork fried rice

Overall Liberty View is one of our favorite Chinese restaurants in the city. It’s a bit more refined than some of our go-to places in Chinatown, though I wouldn’t really call it fancy. It’s in a nice location though, right along the Hudson River, and has a nice view of the Statue of Liberty. Service can be a bit overbearing at times, however, because they try to plate and serve everything for you. What I like about Chinese food is that it’s served family style, so everyone should be able to help themselves. Aside from that, I think the food is really good, almost up to Chinatown standards. Now that we’ve rediscovered how much we like the food there, I’m sure we’ll be going back more often.

Liberty View
21 South End Ave. at West Thames St.
New York, NY

Flushing Food Run

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010 by virginia

This actually took place a few months ago, but Josh and I finally made our way to Flushing for a little food tour. As I’ve admitted many times, we’re pretty lazy, and we always say that we “don’t do boroughs.” However, after reading several posts on other blogs about some of the great snacks available in Flushing, I couldn’t take it any more and had to go try it for myself. I was especially excited to be able to eat some Taiwanese foods, as there really aren’t many Taiwanese options in Manhattan.

My family is from Taiwan and whenever we go there to visit, we eat nonstop. The food there is just incredible, with so much variety and lots of unique options. Josh has been to Taiwan with me three times and has fallen in love with the food just as much as I have. He’s proven himself to my relatives as being an adventurous eater, as demonstrated by our quest to find and eat a rooster’s crown at the Shilin Night Market, a mission we accomplished. We weren’t seeking to eat quite so adventurously in Flushing, but we did have a list of several places that we wanted to hit up.

On one sunny Sunday afternoon, Josh and I hopped on the train and made our way all the way out to Flushing. The 7 train wasn’t running from Manhattan, which only made the trip even longer. About 45 minutes later, we finally arrived. Our first stop was right outside the subway, a little takeout window outside the Corner 28 restaurant. There we purchased two peking duck buns for just $1 each.

The peking duck bun takeout window at Corner 28 restaurant

The buns were the soft, fluffy mantou variety, and the duck itself was perfectly roasted, with crispy skin and nice, juicy meat. The buns were stuffed to the brim with duck meat, cucumber shreds, and scallions. The whole thing was topped off with a healthy squirt of hoisin sauce. These peking duck buns were made fresh right before our eyes, and we quickly stepped off to the side and devoured them. They were delicious, and a total bargain at $1 each. We were tempted to go back and get a second, but we knew we had a full day of eating ahead of us, so we showed some rare restraint and continued on our way.

Freshly made peking duck buns

Our second stop was a tiny hole in the wall restaurant called White Bear. The menu there features several kinds of dumplings and noodles, but we were there only for one dish – the wontons in hot oil.

These gorgeous little meat-filled packets were doused in a chili oil mixture that was flavorful but surprisingly not spicy. The wontons were plump and meaty with nicely thin skins, and were tasty on their own but were even better dipped in the chili oil sauce.

Wontons in hot oil

The sauce tasted a little peppery, and there was also some minced pickled vegetable sprinkled over the top that added a slight sourness that complemented the savoriness of the dish. These wontons were probably my favorites of the day, and at $4.50 for a dozen, pretty reasonably priced as well.

Wonton innards

Next we visited the food stalls of the famous Golden Mall. This place has been featured in many different blogs, articles, and even on tv. On the surface it’s not much to look at but inside it’s a food lovers dream.

The entrance to the Golden Mall

I was surprised by how tiny the food stalls were, with small tables and stools crammed inside, but that really gave an authenticity to the place, as I was immediately reminded of some of my favorite food stalls in Taiwan. The stalls are located down a flight of stairs and as soon as we entered, we smelled the familiar stench of stinky tofu. We followed our noses and immediately found a stall that offered the smelly delicacies.

The Happy Family Restaurant food stall

We pulled up some stools and placed our order for stinky tofu, watching as they deep fried a batch and topped the pile with hot sauce, sweet soy sauce, pickled cabbage, and cilantro. The first bite was deeply satisfying, as I had been craving stinky tofu since the last time we were in Taiwan, in November 2008. Although the stinky tofu here is nowhere as stinky as in Taiwan, we could still taste the subtle funkiness in the background. The smell might turn people off but the flavor is really something deliciously unique. It’s a little bit sour but also a little bit sweet. The tofu should have a nice crispy skin and silky innards, and topped with the spicy chili sauce and salty fermented cabbage, it’s a great combination of flavors and textures.

Stinky tofu in all its glory

After finishing up the huge plate of stinky tofu (also a bargain at $4.50), we traveled down the hall to Xi’an Famous Foods, probably the most well known of all the food stalls at the Golden Mall. It was featured on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, and has been highly touted in numerous articles. They’ve since opened up a few branches in Manhattan, but I’m big on trying out the “original” restaurant, if it’s an option.

Xi’an Famous Foods stall

There are many things on the menu that I wanted to try, but I also wanted to save some stomach room for more stops on our food tour. We had intended on getting a lamb burger and a pork burger to go, but as we were waiting we started chatting with the guy at the register, who I think is the proprietor of the place (he’s the one in the pictures on the wall with Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert), and he convinced us to get an order of liang pi cold skin noodles, one of their most popular dishes.

The liang pi cold skin noodles feature slippery and bouncy thick wheat noodles and cubes of gluten, that have a similar texture to bean curd. The noodles are doused in a spicy, slightly sour sauce that is heavily seasoned with cumin. If you had no idea where this dish came from, you would think it tasted middle eastern because of the spices. It’s a dish with complex flavors but was also really spicy, so much so that my eyes and nose both started running. Yet we couldn’t stop eating it. There were fresh bean sprouts on top that provided a bit of crunchy, cool relief, but that wasn’t enough.

Liang pi cold skin noodles

I needed something milky and cold to relieve the burning in my mouth, so I sent Josh off in search of bubble tea.

The stall with the bubble tea

He came back with cups of ice cold green tea milk tea for me and black tea milk tea for himself, both with thick tapioca pearls floating inside. The milk tea immediately soothed my taste buds, and we polished off the entire plate of liang pi noodles. We decided to save the lamb and pork burgers for later, as we had more eating to do.

Bubble milk tea to pair with the spicy liang pi cold skin noodles

We headed towards the Flushing Mall for some shaved mango ice but I got sidetracked along the way when we passed some takeout windows (AA Plaza) under the railroad overpass that boasted scallion pancakes for $1 and 4 steamed pork buns for $1.25. How could I resist?

AA Plaza takeout windows

We picked up one order of each and continued on our way. The food court of the Flushing Mall reminded me of the food courts in Singapore, with lots of different options and places that specialize in just a few dishes.

I wanted to try many things but we were pretty full at this point so we just went straight to the shaved ice stand and got an order of mango ice.

The assortment of shaved ice toppings

I first had mango ice in Taiwan, at a place called Monster Ice, and it was absolutely wonderful. It featured delicate shreds of shaved ice topped with ripe, juicy mango cubes, mango ice cream, and sweetened condensed milk drizzled all over. The version at the Flushing Mall looked somewhat similar, with mostly the same ingredients, but the differences were huge. The mango here was sour and unripe, and the ice was shaved way too thickly, so that it clumped together instead of melting like snow in our mouths. The mango ice cream on top was tasty, but I was pretty disappointed with the dessert overall. It looked good, but taste and texture-wise, it fell far short.

Mango ice

We ended up eating the lamb and pork burgers for dinner the next day, as well as the scallion pancake and pork buns. I ended up reheating them in a skillet so the textures might have been off, but they were still mighty tasty. The lamb burger was served on a griddled bun and the meat was heavily seasoned with cumin. Again, it tasted more middle eastern than Chinese, but it was wonderfully exotic.

Cumin lamb burger

The pork burger was served on the same bun, and the pork itself was stewed so that it was tender and falling apart. It definitely tasted more Chinese, but the spicing was more subtle compared to the lamb burger.

Stewed pork burger

The scallion pancake wasn’t as fluffy and flaky as I would have liked, but I’m sure it was due to the reheating. When we first bought it I could see that it was hot and crisp on the outside, so I know it must have suffered after spending the night in the fridge.

Scallion pancake

The pork buns were still really good, even after being microwaved. They were juicy and meaty on the inside, and the bun itself was still soft and fluffy. I would definitely get these again, and more than just four.

Steamed pork buns

Overall we had a really great time walking around Flushing and trying food from numerous places. The Golden Mall didn’t disappoint, and I wish we had more stomach space to explore the food court at the Flushing Mall. I smelled stinky tofu in there, plus I saw people with bowls of soy milk with fried cruellers, one of my favorite Taiwanese breakfasts. I loved the wontons at White Bear, and there are countless other restaurants in Flushing that we didn’t get a chance to try. I definitely want to go back, even if it means another 45 minute subway ride. The food really brings back great memories of my trips to Asia, and it’s definitely closer than taking a 14 hour plane ride.

Corner 28
40-28 Main Street
Flushing, NY

White Bear
135-02 Roosevelt Ave, #5
Flushing, NY

Golden Mall
41-28 Main St
Flushing, NY

AA Plaza
40-66 Main St
Flushing, NY

Flushing Mall
133-31 39th Ave
Flushing, NY

China Day 1 – Flight and Beijing

Thursday, May 6th, 2010 by virginia

We left for China on Thursday afternoon, flying on Air China from JFK to Beijing. The flight itself was fine, with minimal turbulence, but the amenities on the plane were lacking (no personal tvs and bad movies at random intervals on grainy projection screens). The food was pretty decent though, as far as coach airplane food goes. Nothing spectacular by any means, but definitely edible and relatively flavorful. We ended up having two meals on the way over, dinner and lunch, and while the entrees changed, the sides did not. Both times we were given a tuna salad and a roll on the side, and a pre-packaged mango shortcake for dessert. I had chicken and rice first, which came in a nice black bean sauce.

Chicken in black bean sauce with rice, tuna salad, bread, and mango shortcake

Josh had beef and rice, with chewy beef and blandly steamed broccoli and carrots.

Beef with rice, broccoli, and carrots

For my second meal, I had seafood noodles. The noodles were pretty limp but still had some chewiness to them, and the four accompanying shrimp were fairly edible.

Seafood noodles with shrimp

I don’t remember what Josh had. Pork maybe? It was in a gloppy brown sauce with more bland broccoli. Meh.

Possibly pork with rice and broccoli

We landed in Beijing in the early evening but by the time we got through immigration, got our bags, met up with members of our tour group, and took the hour bus ride from the airport to the city, it was pretty late. We were still hungry though so we ventured out of our hotel, the New Otani, and went in search for food. We wound up at a restaurant on the street behind the hotel that seemed to be the most crowded. The restaurant’s specialty appeared to be seafood (like whole fish in a spicy chili broth), but none of us were in the mood for fish so we ended up picking mostly familiar dishes and a few fun snacks.

The name of the restaurant on the menu

We started out with some beer, of course, one that was local to Beijing. It was pretty light and fairly tasteless, but refreshing enough.

Yanjing beer

Our first dish was sweet and sour deep fried crullers (yeo tiao, or “oil sticks”). These crullers are popular in Taiwan wrapped in sesame pancake and dunked into bowls of hot soy milk, so I was intrigued to see them served in a different way. The sticky sweet and sour sauce was more sweet than sour, and had a subtle maple flavor to it. It went well with the crunchy pieces of cruller. I actually liked this dish a lot, even though I originally thought it would be weird.

Sweet and sour deep fried crullers

We had to order Josh’s favorite dish, shredded pork in garlic sauce. It had a good amount of spice and lots of fresh ginger mixed in. I was only slightly turned off by the weirdly soft texture of the pork, but that was something I would have to learn to deal with over the course of the next week.

Shredded pork in garlic sauce

I was excited to have the marinated duck, since I’ve always found poultry to be better in Asia. This was a bit disappointing because the duck was quite small, and the skin was not rendered and super fatty. Flavor-wise it was good though, with lots of duck flavor shining through.

Marinated duck

The mapo tofu we ordered was SUPER spicy and burned my mouth so much that not even plain rice or beer could calm it down. You can just see how much bright red oil is coming off the dish, though Josh really enjoyed it. I like a little spice, but not when my mouth goes totally numb. The chunks of tofu were good though, a bit firm but still quite silky.

Super spicy mapo tofu

From the snack section of the menu, we ordered baked buns with sesame. They were nicely browned on the outside with a lot of sesame sprinkled on, and the inside was filled with pork.

Baked pork buns with sesame

The bun part was a bit thick, but the pork inside was pretty tasty.

Porky innards

For dessert, we had fried sesame balls with black sesame paste filling. I’ve had similar balls in Chinatown but they’re usually filled with red bean paste. These were also significantly larger than the ones in Chinatown, practically the size of softballs. We asked our waitress to cut them in half so they would be more manageable.

Fried sesame balls filled with black sesame paste

Overall we thought the food at Fei Teng Yu Xiang was quite good. Everything was well seasoned and there was lots of spice involved, as it is a Sichuan restaurant. We weren’t in the mood for seafood but I’ve read that it’s their specialty, so maybe we missed out but I still liked what we had. We definitely ordered way too much food for the four of us but the meal was super cheap – less than US$25 TOTAL, including the beers we had. It’s hard to beat that!

Fei Teng Yu Xiang
Beijing, China

Consistent Delivery from Pearls

Friday, January 22nd, 2010 by virginia

After our successful first time ordering in from Pearls, we hit them up once again the next time that I had a craving for Chinese food. We considered trying one of the super unusual entrees but I wasn’t feeling so adventurous and the dinner combinations were too good the last time for me to pass up this time.

We decided to get two combinations, plus one more entree. We both chose the hot and sour soup, which was still tasty. It’s not too thick or gloppy, and has a nice balance between the sourness and the pepperiness. It’s chock full of assorted vegetables and I like the different textures.

Hot and sour soup

The egg rolls that were such a hit last time didn’t disappoint this time either. They were freshly fried, still piping hot, filled with veggies, and had a nice crispy and flaky outer shell.

Egg roll innards

For the entrees, we tried the pork in garlic sauce. I’ve mentioned before that this is one of Josh’s favorite dishes, and one that we get almost every time we have Chinese food with my parents since they know how much Josh likes it. When I first opened the container, it didn’t look like any pork in garlic sauce that we’ve had before. The pork was cut in large chunks, not thin strips, and the dish typically doesn’t have snow peas or carrots in it. I was a bit apprehensive but after tasting a piece of pork, I was pleasantly surprised. The pork was tender and the garlic sauce was flavorful. It wasn’t spicy, but it definitely packed a garlicky punch and wasn’t just a standard brown sauce.

Pork in garlic sauce

Our second combination entree was General Tso’s chicken. I have to say that I really didn’t like this dish. Too many filler veggies (carrots, baby corn, peppers), not enough chicken, and the sauce was too sweet. The chunks of chicken were large but also a bit fatty. I vastly preferred the sesame chicken from last time to this dish.

General Tso's chicken

In addition to the two combination specials, we got an order of moo shu pork. The pork and veggie mix was ample and was stir fried in a nice tangy brown sauce, but the dish only came with two pancakes. Two pancakes! That’s really stingy, and nowhere near enough for all the filling they give you.

Moo shu pork and pancakes

We ordered four additional pancakes, at 50 cents a pop. Kinda steep, but in the general scheme of things it was still pretty cheap overall. I actually liked the dish a lot and would definitely order it again, with the extra pancakes.

Moo shu pork wrapped in a pancake

I thought this meal from Pearls was still pretty good the second time around. Is the food amazing? No, but it’s tasty and familiarly comforting. Prices are extremely reasonable, and the delivery arrived in 30 minutes. Everything was hot and freshly cooked. If you have a craving for Chinese food that needs to be satisfied quickly, this is the place for you.

732 7th Ave. between 48th and 49th St.
New York, NY

Baumgart’s Cafe in Edgewater

Thursday, January 21st, 2010 by virginia

Before heading to see It’s Complicated at the Edgewater Multiplex Cinemas, we had a quick dinner at Baumgart’s Cafe at City Place. I’ve written about the Englewood location of Baumgart’s, and the menu is basically the same at the Edgewater branch. The main difference is that the one in Edgewater is not BYO (they have a liquor license), and the décor is less diner-like and a bit more funky/upscale. The restaurant is pretty large and spacious, with tall ceilings and huge windows that look out onto the Hudson River and a view of Manhattan in the distance.

We started out with our favorite steamed house dumplings, which are filled with a shrimp and vegetable paste. The dumplings are soft and flavorful, and it comes with a pile of mildly pickled vegetables.

Steamed house dumplings with pickled vegetables

Next we had cold sesame noodles, which were surprisingly spicy. Not burn your mouth spicy but there was a definite kick at the end, which I found to be pleasant and a good contrast to the otherwise creamy and sweet sesame sauce. The noodles are fat udon-style noodles and have a nice chewiness to them. This is one of my favorite versions of cold sesame noodles.

Cold sesame noodles

The bbq spareribs are also some of the best that I’ve ever had. The large ribs are tender and meaty, never too fatty or greasy. The glaze is flavorful and finger-licking good.

BBQ spareribs

Our last appetizer was also our favorite – chicken with pine nuts. The chicken is chopped into little pieces and is stir fried with chopped scallions and pine nuts in a flavorful and tangy brown sauce. You spoon the mixture into iceberg lettuce leaves and eat it like a lettuce taco or burrito. We often fight over who gets the last lettuce leaf with this dish.

Chicken with pinenuts

We decided to try a few new dishes this time around, including the Chinese eggplant combination that featured pieces of shrimp, calamari, chicken, and eggplant in a garlicky brown sauce. Chinese eggplant is the thin purple skinned eggplant and has a sweeter flavor than the standard Italian eggplant. There are less seeds and the flesh doesn’t get as mushy when it’s cooked. I thought the dish was really flavorful and the brown sauce was delicious when spooned over rice.

Chinese eggplant combination

Another new dish for us was mixed vegetables with shrimp. The vegetables included broccoli, asparagus, and carrots stir fried in a mild brown sauce. The vegetables tasted fresh and still had a bit of crunch to them. The shrimp were large and tender, a nice match for all the veggies.

Mixed vegetables with shrimp

For our last entree dish, we went with an old standby – sesame chicken. Even though Baumgart’s uses all white meat in this dish, the chicken is really surprisingly moist. The outside is crispy and the sesame seeds are stuck to the chicken with a sticky but not too sweet sauce. It’s really one of the better versions of sesame chicken that I’ve had, although I actually wish they would put more sauce on the chicken because it really has a good balance between sweet and savory.

Sesame chicken

To finish off, we shared a bunch of different sushi rolls. The Rainbow roll featured slices of tuna, yellowtail, salmon, and snapper on top of a roll filled with avocado and imitation crab. The Jersey roll had yellowtail and tuna wrapped inside and was topped with slices of salmon and salmon roe. We also had a Woodpecker roll and a Titanic roll, but I don’t remember what was in them. All the fish was really fresh though, and each roll is quite large.

Titanic roll, Jersey roll, Woodpecker roll, Rainbow roll

We didn’t have time for dessert because we were trying to make the movie on time, but otherwise, the ice creams here are fabulous and should not be missed. Overall we’ve found that the food is consistently good across different branches of Baumgart’s. It’s not totally Americanized Chinese food nor is it totally authentic, but it’s something a bit unique and is always tasty and well prepared. Service is fast and efficient, sometimes a bit too fast, as they might bring out entrees before we’ve finished off our appetizers. Still, the restaurant serves up a nice variety of reasonably priced Chinese, Japanese, American, and even Thai food, and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a casual night out or a quick bite to eat before a movie.

Baumgart’s (multiple locations)
59 Promenade @ City Place
Edgewater, NJ

New Years Banquet at Zen Peninsula

Sunday, January 10th, 2010 by virginia

After we got back to the Bay Area, Claire and Sean dropped us off at my godparents house, which was about 20 minutes away from their apartment. I was thrilled to be able to meet up with my godparents for dinner before our flight from SF back to Newark. I hadn’t seen my godmother since our wedding in May 2008, and my godfather since the last time we were in California, in October 2005. They graciously arranged for us to have a New Years banquet dinner at a Chinese restaurant near their home called Zen Peninsula.

The restaurant was a pretty big and grand space, perfect for large banquets and wedding parties. It was decorated in similar style to restaurants in NYC Chinatown such as Jing Fong and the Golden Unicorn. There were 10 of us dining altogether so we had a big round table with a lazy susan in the middle. The meal started off in typical Chinese banquet fashion, with a platter of assorted meats sliced into small pieces. There was juicy bbq pork, slices of either pork or duck (Josh and I couldn’t agree on it but I still think it was pork) with super crispy skin on top, compacted tofu skin, and jellyfish.

A little taste of everything - jellyfish, compacted tofu skin, roast pork or duck with super crackly skin, and bbq pork

Funny story about jellyfish – if you’ve never tried it, it kind of looks like long, thick rice noodles, and has sort of a gelatinous, crunchy texture. For our wedding rehearsal dinner, we had a big banquet at Jing Fong where our meal started off with a similar platter of meats surrounding a huge pile of jellyfish. Most of Josh’s family and friends had never eaten or seen jellyfish before so they all thought it was noodles or some sort of vegetable, and gobbled up the entire serving. It was only later when they found out they had eaten jellyfish that they denied liking it, but the empty platter doesn’t lie!

Back to our dinner at Zen Peninsula, our next course was shark fin soup. It was served in a mild, clean-tasting, yet rich soup. The pieces of shark fin had a soft, loose texture, a bit similar to shreds of scallop or stingray.

Shark fin soup

Next was one of my favorites, peking duck. The pieces of duck were served with soft steam buns, scallions, cucumbers, and hoisin sauce.

Peking duck in a steamed bun

I was shocked when I saw the size of lobster in the following course. It was huge! It must have been at least five pounds, and was chopped up into large pieces that were battered with salt and pepper and deep fried. The meat was still moist and tender.

Giant lobster head

We also had a large dungeness crab that was battered and deep fried. I snagged one of the legs, which was sweet and flavorful.

Fried dungeness crab

A dish of vegetables followed, filled with bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, tofu skin, and what I think were ginko seeds. They’re the yellow round things and had a soft texture and a mild nutty flavor.

Assorted vegetables

Then we had a big platter of poached chicken surrounded by a bitter green vegetable. It was a simple dish but the meat had a very concentrated and deep chicken flavor.

Poached chicken with a bitter green vegetable

Next we had even more lobster, this time in a ginger scallion sauce.

Lobster in ginger scallion sauce

Then fried rice with pork and shrimp.

Pork and shrimp fried rice

Our last savory course was something that I’ve never had before, a braised lamb dish in a hot pot with assorted vegetables. The lamb wasn’t very gamey but the whole dish and a really interesting and complex flavor that was kind of hard to describe. Our waiter would come by every so often to reheat the pot and add in a few more vegetables.

Braised lamb in a hot pot

For dessert, we had mango pudding, which was the best mango pudding that I’ve ever tasted. It was like a thick and rich jello consistency, and the mango flavor was really intense. It actually did taste like mangoes, which surprised me since most other mango puddings have an artificial taste to them.

Delicious mango pudding

Then we had some Chinese petit fours, which were a small roasted bun with a sweet paste filling, a square of mochi covered in coconut, and a small, dense almond cookie.

Roasted bun with sweet paste, mochi covered in coconut, almond cookie

Last but not least, we had a traditional New Year dessert, nian gao, which is like a sticky crepe made with rice flour and was filled with crushed peanuts. It was sweet and salty with lots of interesting texture to it.

Sticky dessert crepe with crushed peanuts

After the feast, I went to look at the fish tanks in the front that held some of the fresh seafood we had eaten during our meal. There was a tank full of ginormous lobsters.

Ginormous lobster in a tank full of ginormous lobsters

And one with huge dungeness crabs.

Dungeness crabs

King crabs with super long legs.

Live king crabs

Some freaky and scary looking eels.

Scary looking eel

And some giant prawns that were bigger than my hand.

Giant prawns

Overall I really enjoyed the banquet meal that we had at Zen Peninsula. The food was delivered at an even pace, and all of the dishes were hot and freshly prepared. Seafood is obviously one of their specialties, based on the dishes we had and the large tanks they had out front. My favorite courses of the evening were the two lobster courses (who doesn’t love good lobster?) and the peking duck. The best part of the meal, however, was being able to catch up with my godparents. I get to see them so rarely and each time is a wonderful treat. I feel so honored and thankful that they held off on their New Years banquet for a few days because they knew that Josh and I would be in town that weekend. It was a great end to a really great trip.

Zen Peninsula
1180 El Camino Real
Millbrae, CA