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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Top Taste Restaurant - 桂林米粉

In recent months, a small restaurant claiming – and I don't dispute it - to serve "the only authentic Guilinese cuisine in NY" opened at the new Brooklyn Chinatown food court (8th Ave. at 63rd St.). I finally made it out to Sunset Park a couple of nights ago, and I'm already looking forward to a return visit.

The menu says it's called Top Taste Restaurant, but if that appears anywhere on the sign outside, I missed it. Look for the address (6307 8th Ave.) and the words "Guilin" or "Guilinese" and you should find it without much difficulty. Its Chinese name, 桂林米粉 (guì lín mǐ fěn), translates as "Guilin rice noodle" – a particularly apt name, as that's the house specialty. Guilin is an important city (with some spectacular scenery – google some photos) in Guangxi autonomous prefecture in southern China. Guangxi shares a border with Vietnam, and the spirit of Vietnamese cooking is often palpable at Top Taste.

You should almost certainly try the house specialty, Guilin Style Rice Noodle Soup (桂林米粉 - guì lín mǐ fěn), no. 1 on the menu. Round (as opposed to flat) rice noodles with crispy pork skin, braised beef tongue, toasted soy beans, Chinese parsley, and some minced pickled long beans...a really lovely combination. Served with a small cup of broth on the side in case you want to wet up your noodles some more.

Every bit as good is their Pickled Bamboo Shoot with Fish Fillet (酸笋燜魚塊 - suān sǔn mèn yú kuāi). This is listed on the menu with the "over rice" (飯 - fàn) dishes, but the guy behind the counter suggested to my Taiwanese-American friend Audrey that she might like it better as rice noodle soup (米粉 - mǐ fěn). I, for one, am glad he did. The broth was particularly delicious, and I couldn't seem to stop myself from sneaking spoonfuls of it.

Its spicy and tangy flavor reminded my very much of the distinctive flavors to be found at Yun Nan Flavor Snack, just up 8th Ave. fourteen blocks or so, and a glance at a map of China reveals that, of course, Yunnan is Guangxi's neighbor directly to the west.

Audrey can't seem to go to any Chinese restaurant without ordering pig intestine, and this time was no exception. The Crispy Pig Intestine (香脆皮大腸 - xiāng cuì pí dà cháng) was really delightful, served with a light sweet and sour dipping sauce on the side.

I, on the other hand, have a great deal of trouble resisting sausage if it's on offer, so the Sausage Fried Rice Noodle (香腸炒米粉 - xiāng cháng chǎo mǐ fěn) also had to be ordered. It was good – the sweetness of the Chinese sausage, wood ear, cabbage, and the light oiliness of the fried noodles all balanced out perfectly.

Across the table, Chikako and Pete had ordered the Guilin Style Spicy Chicken Over Rice (辣子鶏飯 - là zǐ jī fàn). Another hit – clear flavors, sautéed with a light hand.

There were also lamb and beef skewers, from almost a dozen varieties on the menu (I did not get pictures of them, although part of one sneaked into the upper right corner of the pig intestine picture). For one dollar each, you get about twice the meat as their Flushing food cart counterparts. Since they're good, this is real bargain. Of course, the whole menu is more or less a bargain – except for the hot pots, nothing on it is more than $6.50.

I didn't discover until after the meal that they are also known locally for a novelty skewer item, "Twist Potato" (旋風土豆串 - xuán fēng tǔ dòu chuàn), a very thinly sliced spiral of potato threaded onto a skewer and grilled. I'll definitely be trying it the next time.

Top Taste Restaurant (桂林米粉)
6307 8th Ave., Brooklyn 11220

(N train to 8th Ave., then 3 blocks south)