Saturday, February 06, 2010

Stupid Chicken, Stop Pickin' on Me

You gotta love a Chinese dish whose name translates as "Stupid Chicken with Wild Mushrooms." The dish is served at Northeast Taste, a Dong Bei (Northeastern) Chinese restaurant at the south end of Flushing's Main Street.

Northeast Taste serves the cuisine of Liaoning Province, which I wrote about a couple of years ago when I reviewed Waterfront International (now called Fu Run). As is customary in Dong Bei restaurants, our meal started with a complimentary cabbage salad that is very similar to the kim chee of neighboring Korea. Northeast Taste's version was actually one of the highlights of our meal.

I'm not sure what makes the chicken stupid, though it was, truth be told, all skin and bones. But the dish is not, as it turns out, about the chicken, but really all about everything else. It has a wonderfully aromatic, deep brown broth flavored with star anise and other Chinese herbs (in fact, it reminded me a bit of the Chinese-Malaysian bah kut teh, or "Chinese medicine soup," though it really doesn't have a medicinal taste). And there are the chewy, translucent flat noodles probably made from mung bean flour. But the real star of the show are the amazingly flavorful dark little wild mushrooms (the soup's swimming with them) that are perfectly complemented by the flavors of the broth. I suspect the brilliance of this dish would be lost on you if you're not a mushroom lover.

The other highlight of the meal was the crispy fish filet with chili and cumin. It was perhaps the Platonic ideal of this dish, the freshest-tasting fish, perfectly moist and crispy, with just the right balance of hot pepper and cumin--neither wimpy nor overwhelming.

Other dishes ranged from pretty good to very good. A custardy dish called "sauteed egg with egg" was mostly about the texture. A pork rib with potato (and squash) soup could easily have been something made by a Polish grandmother; Dong Bei cuisine features wintry dishes you'd never see on either Cantonese or Sichuan menus. I was quite fond of the enormous leek pancakes (actually the "leeks" are more a kind of chive). A dish called "stuffed minced mutton in fish" didn't really wow us. It was a whole fish in a brown sauce surrounded by pieces of mutton innards, mostly. We were disappointed that a bone marrow dish on the specials menu was not available.

The specials menu featured many of the most remarkable typos and fanciful translations, and the staff, though extremely friendly, couldn't help us navigate it due to limited English. You'd do well to visit Northeast Taste with someone who can read Chinese characters or speak a little Mandarin.

There were many more dishes that sounded well worth trying, but the one that, for some reason, none of us took the bait for, though several commented on, was translated as "crispy colorectal."

Northeast Taste
43-18 Main Street


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