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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Uncle Zhou

If I had written about Uncle Zhou (or 大河人家 - "big river people") when I first went there, it would have been the very first English-language notice about it on the internet (a Chinese soprano—from Henan—told me about it). But, I wanted to try more things before writing about it, and then procrastination set in, so here I am finally getting around to it 3 months later.

Comparisons to Henan Feng Wei are inevitable, since it is the only other Henan-style restaurant in New York (that I know of, anyway). The offerings are similar, but by no means identical. Both focus on noodles, dumplings, with some other kinds of dishes along for the ride, and both serve excellent food. And that’s where the similarity ends. For one thing, Uncle Zhou’s serves not only the hallmark handmade wide, ribbon-like noodles in soup (烩面 - huì miàn), but also the fine hand-pulled noodles (拉面 - lā miàn) and knife-shaved noodles (刀削面 - dāo xiāo miàn), a la Sheng Wang (although Uncle Zhou’s are, I think, a shade more delicate). The wide variety of noodle soups here includes something for every taste—I especially love the spicy beef hand-pulled noodle soup and the chicken knife-shaved noodle soup. But, of course, lamb soup with the wide noodles (滋补羊肉烩面) is the most typical Henanese offering.

My beloved dà pán jī (大盘鸡 - spicy "big tray chicken") is terrific here, and quite different from Henan Feng Wei’s. There the flavors are more concentrated and intense. Uncle Zhou’s version, while packing almost all of the same spice, is mellower, more like comfort food. And it comes served on a bed of the wide noodles—at Henan Feng Wei you have to order noodles separately. And like Henan Feng Wei, they have a few kòu wǎn (扣碗 - small casseroles of chicken, pork or spare ribs) and shāo bǐng (燒餅 - baked sesame pancake). The pork stuffed pancake seems to be off the menu at the moment, which is too bad—it’s better than the beef one currently on offer.

There are also a dozen and a half "house special dishes"—various braised and stir-fried dishes. I haven’t tried all of them—yet—but the "house special fried chicken" must surely be the standout on the list. It’s name, zhá bā kuāi (炸八块 – "fried eight chunks") is perhaps as good a description of it as any, and the execution is sheer genius: each "chunk" is made by peeling the dark meat down away from the leg or thigh bone so it forms a nice knot of meat attached to its own bone handle. They are then lightly seasoned and fried to juicy perfection. There are—you guessed it—eight pieces to an order. And be sure to check out the cold appetizers in the case up by the cash register. The marinated cucumbers (蓑衣黄瓜 - suō yì huáng guā) are especially good. Each small cucumber is intricately cut in a spiral pattern, rather like a Honeybaked ham, yet remains intact, reminding one of an accordion—all the better to soak up the sweet-sour-spicy marinade.

And with such eminently reasonable prices, one could eat here almost every day. I have a feeling some people do—I’ve seen quite a few repeat customers besides myself on my visits there. Open until 11 p.m.

Uncle Zhou
83-29 Broadway, Elmhurst 11373

(G, R, or V train to Elmhurst Ave., south on Broadway)

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