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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Jiang Li Restaurant (鴻意順) (CLOSED)

There seem to be Dongbei restaurants everywhere in Flushing now, and one of the newer ones is Jiang Li (鴻意順 - hóng yì shun, which, near as I can tell, means something like "great wish come true") on Kissena Blvd. It’s been open in this location somewhat over a year – before that, it was Hong Yi Shun down on Main St. I hear the chef/owner is from Dalian (Liaoning province), in case you want to place its specific geographic provenance within the Dongbei region. And I also hear that Wayne, the very pleasant fellow with great English who runs the dining room (he'll cheerfully answer any questions you may have) is the chef's nephew.

Jiang Li makes me miss Northeast Taste even more. This is not to slight Jiang Li - in fact, it's a compliment, because the cooking reminds somewhat of Northeast Taste's. But Northeast Taste really was something extraordinary, and served some unusual dishes I don’t expect to see in Flushing again any time soon. It also inspires in me a greater appreciation for the (formerly, at least) deft execution of the dishes at Fu Run. While the dishes at Jiang Li may not have the slickly polished presentation of Fu Run's, there is something very homey about the cooking here that is perhaps more satisfying. And there's the added bonus it's not as expensive!

It seems it's difficult to go wrong with casseroles here – I’ve tried three so far, and they have all been excellent. The beef stew with turnip casserole (蘿卜炖牛腩 - luó bo dùn niú nǎn) is memorably delicious, with a surprisingly complex, rich broth/sauce. I’m not particularly fond of turnip, but the dish was so tasty, I didn't mind a bit. (photos courtesy of Pete Cuce)

Beef Stew w/ Turnip, Jiang Li Restaurant (鴻意順), Kissena Blvd, Flushing, Queens
The name of the dish "small Chinese cabbage with pork short ribs" casserole (小白菜炖排骨 - xiǎo bái cài dùn pái gǔ)is a bit of a misnomer – it's small spare ribs stewed with bok choy and cellophane noodles, in a stellar broth. Great on a cool fall evening.

Small Chinese Cabbage w/ Pork Short Rib, Jiang Li, Kissena Blvd, Flushing, Queens, NYC
Perhaps my favorite dish here goes incognito under the name "pork with special sauce" (山東扣肉 - shān dōng kòu ròu). Judging from the name, it appears to be a Sichuan dish (扣肉 - kòu ròu richly seasoned steamed pork) by way of the nearby province (to Lianoning, that is) of Shandong. Whatever its origins, it is fabulous: sliced steamed pork belly in a wonderful sauce.

Pork w/ Special Sauce, Jiang Li Restaurant (鴻意順), Kissena Blvd, Flushing, Queens
"Chicken with pine mushrooms" (小雞炖磨菇 - xiǎo jī dùn mó gū) turned out to be our old friend "stupid chicken" (as it was called on Northeast Taste’s menu), of which there is a version at literally every Dongbei restaurant in Flushing: pieces of chicken stewed with wild mushrooms and clear noodles. Jiang Li's is my favorite version these days.

Stewed Chicken w/ Pine Mushrooms, Jiang Li, Kissena Blvd, Flushing, Queens, NYC
Fresh hot pepper with dry bean curd (尖椒干豆腐 - jiān jiāo gān dòu fǔ) is a standard northern Chinese dish, and Jiang Li's is especially tasty, adding some broth to the stir-fry of squares of dried tofu sheets and green hot peppers.

Fresh Hot Pepper w/ Dried Bean Curd, Jiang Li, Kissena Blvd, Flushing, Queens, NYC
Like Fu Run, Jiang Li has a quite a few Sichuan dishes on the menu. Their version of shuǐ zhǔ yú piàn (水煑魚片 - water-cooked fish slices, here called "poached fish with hot chili oil") is all right, but I would still save ordering it for a good Sichuan restaurant.

Fish Fillet w/ Fresh Hot Pepper, Jiang Li Restaurant (鴻意順), Kissena Blvd, Flushing, Queens
Dumplings are something I’m not eager to order again soon simply because you get twice as many top-notch dumplings for almost exactly the same price directly across the street at M & T. Still, the order of 10 three-treasure (pork, shrimp and chive) dumplings was very good.

Three Treasures Dumplings, Jiang Li, Kissena Blvd, Flushing, Queens, NYC
Maybe if I beg Wayne and his chef uncle they’ll make caramelized egg fritters one night for me for dessert.

Jiang Li Restaurant
44-18 Kissena Blvd., Flushing 11355

(7 train to Main St.-Flushing, south on Main St. to Kissena, veer left, then 6 more blocks)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sol Hyang Gee (솔향기)

After reading about it several weeks ago, I finally rounded up enough people this evening – or more accurately, Audrey Lo rounded up enough people – to make a trip to Sol Hyang Gee worthwhile. And worthwhile it definitely was.

Sol Hyang Gee is yet another Yanbian restaurant on the Flushing eating scene, but this one offers something special. If you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with Korean barbecue. This place does table-top barbecuing of skewers over... wait for it... wood embers! The number of Korean barbecue restaurants that use wood embers has been steadily dwindling over the years (I can think of only a couple of others that still do). Most never had them in the first place, and the handful that did have been little by little changing over to the boring gas grills. Sol Hyang Gee sets itself apart from the rest right out of the gate.

Order from a huge selection of skewers – some 25 varieties, including lamb, mutton, pork, beef, various offal, fish, and seafood. Most arrive at the table raw, but some have been partially pre-cooked in the kitchen to be finished at the table. The surprise hit of the evening was mutton. We weren’t quite sure what to expect from what is essentially old lamb, but it grilled up tender and flavorful, perfectly complemented by the salt-and-pepper cumin mixture provided for dipping. The lamb arrived partially cooked, with a nice vinegar and honey glaze. The pork intestine was really lovely – small rounds that crisp up nicely with a bit of char, but stay meltingly tender. The only dud was, oddly, the short ribs. Also pre-cooked with a glaze, the miniscule pieces were as much cartilage as meat – annoying to eat, and, in the end, unsatisfying. And at twice the price of everything else we ordered, definitely not worth the cost. Also note that each variety of skewer lists "number of pieces": one piece equals one small skewer, not the number of chunks on one skewer. Most varieties work out to about $1.20 per skewer.

We also ordered the "house special sizzling bean curd" (鐵板豆腐 – tiě bǎn dòu fǔ, or iron slab tofu), and it was fantastic: squares of very lightly breaded tofu on a bed of sweet sliced onions on a sizzling iron plate, with a beautiful dipping sauce on the side. If you like tofu at all, get it.

Most of the Yanbian places I’ve been to in Flushing feel somehow more Chinese than Korean (and Yanbian is in China, after all), but Sol Hyang Gee feels more Korean. However, the delightful banchan are Yanbian all the way: bean sprout salad, a shredded daikon kimchi with the typical Yanbian flavor balance of a bit of spicy coupled with more than a bit of sweet and vinegary, bamboo shoots with jalapeño peppers (this was not nearly as flavorful as Feng Mao’s version), and boiled peanuts.

If you go, know that their awning says "Sol Hyang Lee". It’s a typo – you’ve found the right place!

Sol Hyang Gee (솔향기)
136-73 41st Ave., Flushing 11355

(7 train to Flushing-Main St., walk 2 blocks south on Main, then left on 41st Ave.)