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FLUSHING’S CHINESE CHOMPINGThere is great uniqueness in many of the downtown Flushing Chinese restaurants, each offering a different cuisine of China. One can choose from styles like Cantonese, Szechuan, and Hong Kong, locales that divide the tastes of East, West, North and South. But it’s not the Northeastern cuisine that gives Waterfront Restaurant its distinctiveness. I met up with Mabel Law, Executive Director of Flushing’s BID and Timothy Chuang, owner of New York Tong Ren Tang and BID’s cuisine king, to assist me in exploring three of the area restaurants.
Tucked away at 40-09 Prince Street, between Roosevelt Avenue and 41st Avenue (718-321-1363) and just around the corner from Flushing’s downtown Sheraton Hotel, Waterfront Restaurant may be one of the only places in Queens, if not New York City, that you can buy fresh dry bean curd, which is much different in both texture and taste from what we call “tofu”. Bean curd skin has a more chewy texture than the softer tofu.
Many restaurants offer menu items using bean curd skin, the kind that you can easily purchase at an Asian grocery store. However, there are two machines in the kitchen specially used to create this delight. Soybeans are placed in an apparatus that grinds and turns them into a paste. The “paste” is then transferred to a machine that looks like a large pasta maker, where sheets of the bean curd skin come out on a belt. You can purchase the skins or simply enjoy of few of the menu items that are offered, such as Dried Bean Curd with Fresh Hot Pepper, and Dried Bean Curd with Soup. So, for those of you who may have a distaste, or rather “distexture” for tofu, this is way to decoy your soy.
Waterfront makes their own dumplings and although many restaurants do the same, there is a Sour Cabbage Dumpling that stands out. That is because they take fresh cabbage and pickle it first. The dumpling bill of fare offers a variety that includes: sour cabbage with pork; leek; celery; stew bean; and Chinese cabbage.
I would have never thought to eat jellyfish. But there it was. This particular dish, Jelly Flowers with Shallot uses the head of this fish, giving the flower shape. It’s crispy and crunchy in texture and has a taste of its own that would not be characterized as being “fishy”. I thoroughly enjoyed it noticing that there were several other menu items using jellyfish.
Mushrooms come in numerous shapes and tastes and are more readily available in the downtown area. Waterfront is able to import one from the Northeastern China that the stores do not carry. Mushroom lovers, like myself, will certainly take pleasure in both the texture and flavor.
Chen & Chan Restaurant (718-321-1699) was our next stop. Located just around the corner at 135-28 40th Road, the style of Shanghai was introduced. The specialties of the restaurant include mini-buns and an array of vegetable dishes. Mini Bun Soup, Crab & Pork Mini Bun and Pan Fried Mini Bun are a few of the items.
However, the mini buns were not the only item sampled. There was Sautéed Eel with Yellow Leek, something called “Lion’s Head Meatball”, Sauteed Fish Filet with Vinegar Sauce and Sauteed Pork Belly that bore a resemblance and taste to having the traditional roast pork. Of course, there was a dish of vivacious vegetables.
Chen & Chan Restaurant has an extensive menu of cold dishes like Drunken Chicken and Shanghai Style Smoked Fish as well as some untraditional dim sum like Steamed Green Peas Dumpling and Eight Treasure Sweet Rice. You’ll have to indulge to find out what the treasures are. The most import aspect of this restaurant is that the food is not “Americanized”. So don’t expect to sit down to a combo of Egg Drop Soup, Chicken Chow Mein, Spare Ribs, Fried Rice and Egg Roll. It may be more like: Clam with Ginger Soup, Crispy Duck, Baby Beef Ribs with Black Pepper Sauce and Fried Dumplings.
Chef Lum prepared Hong Kong Style Crab at our final stop at Chao Zhou Restaurant (718-353-7683) located 40-52 Main Street, just a few blocks away. As I walked past some wonderful stores sporting fish, meats, fruits and vegetables and Chinese herbs, it occurred to me that I might have been at this restaurant. Yes, I was. Many times. Walking in and walking out because it was always crowded! I now had the opportunity to understand why.
It is one of a few restaurants that prepares their own meats. You know; the ducks, ribs and chickens that hang in the window beckoning your taste buds. I am told that although you may see the hangings at many restaurants, not all do the cooking from “scratch”. Just as Tai-Pan Bakery is a source, so are there sources for these hanging goodies.
After the Vancouver crab dish was delivered to the table, out came Sauteed Sliced Conch with Asparagus and Scallops served with a shrimp bean paste. The paste, I am told is quite traditional with Chinese meals and a bit strong and salty. I loved it. In fact, I loved it all. Forget about Manhattan. Downtown Flushing not only has it all, but probably better. I will be exploring some of the other cuisines including: Thai, Korean, Vietnamese and Malaysian as well as a lesson on Chinese herbal medicines.
April 27, 2006 - Queens Times
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