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Monday, October 17, 2011

Golden Corner Noodles, formerly Gourmet Noodle & Delicacies

(UPDATE Feb. 2016: This place has changed names, but their menu and quality are still the same.)

There's a very small storefront on College Point Blvd. that dishes up some pretty fantastic food, at equally fantastic prices. Golden Corner Noodles is owned and run by folks from the city of Wenzhou, an important economic and industrial city in Zhejiang province, which is next door to Fujian province.

Apart from greens-stuffed bing, pork and chive dumplings (which no one seems to order), and about a dozen breakfast items, the offerings here fall into two main groups: noodle soups and prepared cold dishes. In contrast to the northern Chinese noodles shops, the reigning noodle here is the rice noodle. And the soup that reigns supreme is the stewed sparerib rice noodle soup (紅燒排骨粉 – hóng shāo pái gǔ fěn). It’s possibly the most delicious noodle soup I've ever had. Each portion comes with its own mini 3-or-4-rib rack of baby spare ribs, some pickled mustard greens, a rich, complex pork broth, and rice noodles that are just tasty and chewy enough to be interesting on their own. A perfect, self-contained lunch. And if, for some unfathomable reason, you don’t want pork, there are 8 or 9 other options of fish, seafood, vegetable, and wontons to satisfy you. The Wenzhou-style wonton soup is particularly nice (温州餛飩湯 – wēn zhōu hún tún tāng), with ultra-delicate little wontons, similar to those of Fujian.

As stellar as that spare-rib soup is, the center-stage spotlight here is held by the prepared cold dishes. There is a steady stream of customers all day that don’t order anything at all to eat there, but just drop in to buy food to take home. There are at least four dozen dishes listed in their lǔ wèi xiǎo cài (滷味小菜) menu, and I haven’t tried one yet that wasn’t delicious. One of the nicest was the very first thing I sampled, something from the glass case that looked beautifully fresh, and turned out to be goose intestine with mustard greens (I never did find out the name of this dish, but it has something to do with jiè cài – 芥菜 – mustard greens, and é cháng – 鹅腸 – goose intestine), tossed with just a touch of vinegar and oil until they glisten.

Almost everyone who walks through the door ends up leaving with at least one braised pork shoulder (滷扎蹄 – lǔ zā tí)... try one and it’s easy to understand why. The bone is removed, then a roll is made with the shoulder meat wrapped in the skin-like fat, which is then tied up with string, brined, and braised. They slice it into thin half-moons for you - with the vinegar dipping sauce, it’s difficult to stop eating it.

The beef equivalent, lǔ niú ròu (滷牛肉), is similar in idea and execution, and every bit as deliciously addictive.

Their chopped-up boiled chicken is cooked perfectly (白斩鸡 – bái zhǎn jī) – plain chicken does not often taste this good. Gāo liáng ròu (高梁肉) – thin sheets of pork jerky cured with sorghum (which lends a subtle sweet flavor) cut into strips – makes a fun snack. And their fish jelly (魚膠凍 – yú jiāo dòng) is marvelous. I know it sounds weird... just give it a try. At these eminently reasonable prices, one can afford to try lots of things.

(Ed. There is a different English sign now - I cannot now remember what it is - but they serve the same excellent food as of Sept. 2013.)

Golden Corner Noodles
42-15 College Point Blvd., Flushing 11355

(7 train to Main St.-Flushing, 5 blocks south on Main, then right on Sanford to College Point Blvd.)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Tian Fu (New World Mall)

Tian Fu (天府), New World Mall, Flushing, Queens
Opened just a few days ago, Tian Fu (天府) is the new occupant of stall 24, in the southeast corner of the lower-level food court in the New World Mall, and it's my latest Flushing obsession. They do one thing, and they do it superbly. But inherent in that one thing are possibilities of infinite variation.

What they do is 麻辣香鍋 (má là xiāng guō), sometimes called 老车记麻辣香鍋 (lǎo chē jì má là xiāng guō). As near as I can tell, lǎo chē jì means something like "old-fashioned". Má là xiāng guō is essentially a mixed spicy pot: má là is spicy and tingly, xiāng guō is fragrant pot, referring here to a sort of "dry" hot pot. The concept is simple: choose the type and amount of your ingredients from a wide variety on display, plus the level of spiciness desired. The ingredients are weighed – you’re charged by weight – and sent back to the kitchen. A few minutes later they emerge in a large metal bowl, having been stir-fried, along with some liquid, in seasonings that will be familiar to anyone who has enjoyed Chongqing-style dishes at any of the good Sichuan restaurants around town: ginger, garlic, scallion, at least two kinds of hot dried red peppers, Sichuan peppercorn, sesame seeds, and a sprinkling of fresh cilantro. (photos courtesy of Pete Cuce)

麻辣香鍋 (má là xiāng guō), Tian Fu (天府), New World Mall, Flushing, Queens
As to the ingredients available, there’s something to satisfy everybody. A partial list: shaved beef, chicken wing, chicken breast, spam (you MUST get some spam – whatever your normal feelings about spam, it is utterly delicious this way), shrimp, tofu, fish tofu, fish ball, lotus root, seaweed, rice cake, tofu skin, Napa cabbage, bok choy leaves, enoki mushrooms, tree ear, spinach, potato, and a bunch of other vegetables I can’t remember because... well, I tend not to pay all that much attention to vegetables. I would actually advise against getting beef – there are far better ways to enjoy the flavor of beef, and it tends to come out a bit chewy. Likewise, skip the strips of chicken breast - they cook faster than the other ingredients and dry out. Go for the chicken wing bits instead. They take "spicy" seriously here – if you ask for very spicy, it will indeed be VERY spicy! And the spice balance tends to be a bit heavy on the tingly/numbing Sichuan peppercorn. I like it, but it’s not to everyone’s taste.
(And, a photo of my own:)

And the price is definitely right: you can gorge yourself for eight bucks a head, tops – probably less. (Edit:  That price was based on an introductory offer.  Make that $10-12 - still reasonable!)  And since you compose the meal yourself, the chances are good that it's going to be totally satisfying. Obviously, I love this place.

One of the guys behind the counter (the staff is young, energetic, and their English is generally good) told me this dish is from Chongqing, which certainly makes sense when comparing the flavors to other dishes labeled "Chongqing" I’ve had. And I got curious about the name Tian Fu, since this isn’t the first time I've encountered that name associated with Sichuan restaurants. A little research turned up a couple of tidbits of information – Tian Fu is the name of an important square in the center of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, and Sichuan province has the nickname tiān fǔ zhī guó (天府之国), a place blessed with abundant natural resources (tiān also means sky or heaven).

Tian Fu – New World Mall food court
Main & Roosevelt (enter on Roosevelt), Flushing 11354

(7 train to Main St.-Flushing)
New World Mall food court website

Monday, October 3, 2011

Yi Lan Halal Restaurant

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)

Lamb Shumai, Yi Lan Halal Restaurant, Main St, Flushing, Queens

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.

Hand Teared Lamb, Yi Lan Halal Restaurant, Main St, Flushing, Queens

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.

Eight Treasures Tofu, Yi Lan Halal Restaurant, Main St, Flushing, Queens

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.

Ox Tongue & Tripe w/ Spicy Peppery Sauce, Yi Lan Halal Restaurant, Main St, Flushing, Queens

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.

Stir Fried Cake (烧饼 Shao1 Bing3), Yi Lan Halal Restaurant, Main St, Flushing, Queens

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.

Sliced Potato w/ Special Sauce, Yi Lan Halal Restaurant, Main St, Flushing, Queens

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).

Egg Fritters, Yi Lan Halal Restaurant, Main St, Flushing, Queens

Yi Lan Halal Restaurant
42-79A Main St., Flushing 11355

(7 train to Main St.-Flushing, then 8 blocks south on Main)