In my previous post, I wanted to reference what I thought was an earlier post about Yi Lan (一蘭飯庄 – yī lán fàn zhuāng: 一蘭 – yī lán means “orchid”), but when I went to look for it, there was none. How could that be? It’s easily among my top 5 favorite restaurants in Flushing, yet... I think I kept putting off writing about it until I tried just a few more dishes, and then forgot that I had not actually done the writing I intended to do.
The chef/owner is a Muslim from Tianjin, so Yi Lan serves Halal northern Chinese food. As difficult as it may be to imagine Chinese food without at least a little pork (at least it was difficult for me), the food is great, and – I never thought I’d find myself saying this – I don’t miss the pork at all. The menu is huge and the prices VERY reasonable, especially considering the high quality of preparation. I’ve been here well over a dozen times, yet have only tried a tiny fraction of the menu, in large part because a few them are so good it’s almost impossible for me NOT to order them when I go. I think I’ll just list 'em off here, starting with a couple of favorites.
Lamb shu mai (羊肉燒麥 – yáng ròu shāo mài) - My favorite shu mai anywhere. Juicy, tasty, palpably hand-made – there are 10 to an order, and an order costs six bucks, so it’s a great deal, too. (Photos courtesy of Pete Cuce)
Sautéed sliced chicken home style (一蘭雞丁 – yī lán jī dīng) - The English translation does not even begin to suggest what this actually is: chunks of chicken (okay, that part, yes...) that have been stir-fried with diamond-shaped pieces of bing pancake (they crisp up beautifully so that the final effect is rather like hot, crispy pita chips), garlic, scallion, sesame seeds, dried red pepper, and thin slices of hot green pepper. It’s like the greatest snack mix on the planet – what Chex mix can only dream about being in its most secret fantasies.
"Hand-Teared" lamb hot pot (手抓羊肉 – shǒu zhuā yáng ròu) - Big chunks of lamb, carrot, and other vegetables in a wonderful broth. The dipping sauce they give you for the lamb is marvelous – I suspect it contains crack – and they happily refill the broth as you eat. Great cold-weather food.
Eight treasure tofu (八珍豆腐 – bā zhēn dòu fǔ) - Cubes of fried tofu covered in a thick sauce of a LOT of seafood and some chicken. Lovely, and a bargain at $12.95.
Beef & tripe with special peppery sauce (夫妻肺片 – fū qī fèi piàn) - The classic Sichuan ox-tongue-and-tripe cold dish, although the meat is prepared with much more care than just about any other version I’ve this I’ve tried.
Stir-fried cake (炒饼 – chǎo bǐng) - Noodle-like strips of bing pancake stir-fried with egg, carrot, and cabbage. A fun change of pace.
House special smoked chicken (一蘭熏雞 – yī lán xūn jī) - An appetizer plate of hacked-up pieces of chicken that has obviously been smoked in-house. Very nice.
Shredded chicken country style(天津拌大皮 – tiān jīn bàn dà pí) - I ordered this having no idea what to expect, so what arrived was a total surprise. Essentially a cold noodle dish, the noodles being those wide ones made of mung bean starch, with shredded chicken, some sort of green (it’s been so long I can’t remember now what it was), and a black vinegar sauce. Refreshing warm-weather food. I find the English "translation" of the name a bit odd – it bears no relation at all to the Chinese name, which means "Tianjin mixed big skin" (skin meaning the noodles here) – since the chicken is in a way the least important element of the dish.
Sliced potato with special sauce (熗土豆絲 – qiàng tǔ dòu sī) - Cold-appetizer version of the fairly standard shredded potatoes in vinegar and hot pepper sauce. Excellent.
Spicy potato Tianjin style (天津辣子土豆絲 – tiān jīn là zǐ tǔ dòu sī) - Do NOT confuse this with the dish above. Shreds of potato stir-fried with hot green peppers and soy sauce. A LOT of soy sauce. This dish was so salty I could barely eat it, and I like salt more than most people I know. The only real dud I’ve ever had here.
Sliced fish in hot pepper (水煮魚片 – shuǐ zhǔ yú piàn) - This turned out to be a house version of the Sichuan "water-cooked fish" (sometimes called "fish in soup base"). Nice, but not great. If you like Sichuan food, save ordering this dish for a real Sichuan restaurant.
There are 12 to 15 soups here, too, including several hiding in a different section of the menu. The tomato egg soup is very comforting – maybe too comforting. I could see it was made from tomato, but almost couldn’t taste the tomato, it was so very mild. They have several "gē dá" (疙瘩) soups, too – soups made with the little lumps of dough sometimes called "dumpling knots". The Geda Soup Home Style (家常疙瘩汤 – jiā cháng gē dá tāng) means fish and seafood here – it was too bland for me, really, but at least one of my friends liked it a lot. Still, not a serious challenger to the supremacy of Fu Run’s "home style blotch soup". Instead, try the “sour pepper soup” (醋椒汤 – cù jiāo tāng) – essentially hot and sour soup. This lovely version uses chicken stock and leaves out the pork.
Dessert (at least I assume they still do sweet dishes – they’re on my old take-out menu but not the newer one, and I simply can’t remember if they’re still on the in-restaurant menu) is the typical northern Chinese "things in caramelized sugar" (拔絲 – bá sī). "Yellow vegetable" (黃菜 – northern Chinese for "egg") is sheets of egg dough – sweet, crunchy fun. The also do the same with mountain yam (山藥 – shān yào), pineapple (菠羅 – bō luó), and longan fruit (龍眼 – lóng yǎn).
Yi Lan Halal Restaurant
42-79A Main St., Flushing 11355
(7 train to Main St.-Flushing, then 8 blocks south on Main)