Lao Dong Bei (老东北風味) has held its undisputed place as my favorite restaurant in Flushing for over 6 months now, and, after trying yet another stellar dish this evening, I realized it's time for a new post.
Another delightful little freebie made its appearance tonight: green beans pickled with a bit of carrot and garlic, with what is essentially kimchi. A bit spicy, but only just enough to tickle the taste buds:
I always find it interesting to try to guess from the name of the dish whether it's going to be "dry" or in some sort of sauce. When I ordered Hot & Spicy Ribs (xiāng là xiǎo zhū pái - 香辣小猪排), I somehow just assumed it would be simmered in a sauce. So, I was a little surprised when this came out:
The surprise, however, was by no means an unpleasant one. Chunks of pork spareribs were fried until just crispy on the outside, moist and tender on the inside, with dried red chili peppers, ginger, scallion, and garlic (and, if I'm not imagining it, a hint of cumin). They were then tossed with whole roasted peanuts and cilantro stems. The result, as with any great dish, is more than the sum of its parts. I thought the dish was balanced perfectly: every time I wanted a contrast to the pork, I had a few peanuts, and the cilantro stems were the perfect aromatic counterpoint and just-different-enough kind of crunch to hold ones interest completely. The amounts of each at the end turned out to be exactly right.
On the menu, there is a misprint of one letter in the name "Fresh Fish in Hot Bean Pasta", but it’s an important difference: it should be "Hot Bean Paste" (dòu bàn huó zé yú - 豆瓣活鰂魚, the fish in question, 鰂魚, being tilapia). Most versions of this dish I've had come out red with chili... this one, as you can see, is all brown, and barely spicy.
No matter – it’s a rich, satisfying, earthy flavor. And the tilapia, naturally, is done perfectly.
If the gauge is "number of times ordered", my favorite dishes here are Baby Cabbage with Meatball Soup and the Chicken in Orange Flavor (chén pí jī - 陳皮雞). Chén pí (陳皮) is literally "dried tangerine peel" (often used medicinally in China), and that is exactly what is used. While the sauce is sweet, the bitterness of the dried tangerine peel - and the zing of the dried red pepper - perk up the flavor considerably, eliminating completely the danger if it becoming cloying. Although it's an overused word in food writing, "addictive" - it least when it comes to me - is the right word here.
There's another "orange" dish on the menu here, one of which the establishment is quite proud, Fried Pork in Orange Sauce (guō bāo ròu - 鍋包肉). This seems to be a classic northern Chinese dish (other northern Chinese restaurants in Flushing offer it, like Spicy Road), but its character is quite different from the above chicken dish. No tangerine peel, for one thing, and no hot peppers - the sweet, sticky sauce is similar, though, subtly flavored with orange and ginger. My Chinese vocabulary guru Audrey tells me that guō bāo means that the meat (ròu) has been marinated with rice wine, salt and chicken stock before deep-frying. Which seems entirely plausible. An excellent dish, however it's done.
Another northern classic, jiān jiāo gān dòu fǔ (尖椒乾豆腐 - Dry Bean Curd with Hot Pepper), is, I think, on the menu at every northern restaurant in Flushing. Lao Dong Bei's is as good as any version around:
Hóng shāo ròu (紅燒肉 - Braised Pork) is another pork dish with yet a completely different character. Hóng shāo refers to a dish that is simmered in soy sauce and sugar (there's usually some star anise in there, too) – it means, literally, "red-cooked". A classic preparation and a wonderful way to cook pork belly. It's divine comfort food. (Pardon the reflective glare... STILL getting the hang of the picture-taking thing.)
I've had a small spate of experiences lately where I have been made to feel like a rather unwelcome outsider at some Chinese restaurants around NYC (this is often a problem at Fujianese restaurants, but certainly not limited to them). So it delights me to be able to tell you that the charming hostess - the wife of the chef - appears, even though her English is quite limited, genuinely pleased that you are dining in their establishment. And the invariably excellent food makes you pleased you're dining there, as well.
Now open until midnight - a welcome development for someone of my nocturnal habits.
Lao Dong Bei (老东北風味)
44-09 Kissena Blvd., Flushing, NY 11355
(7 train to Main St.-Flushing, south on Main St. to Kissena, veer left, then 6 more blocks)