Flushing Town Hall
Word of Mouth comes to you from Flushing, Queens this weekend, where I'm taking a mini-vacation. A vacation in Flushing? you ask.
Flushing is New York City's largest Chinese neighborhood, with an amazing array of eateries from formal restaurants to little stalls in rabbit-warren food courts. And the regional varieties just keep expanding. But Flushing is also a pain to get to from Brooklyn without a car, especially on the weekends, when the 7 train runs local only. It can take about 90 minutes each way from Park Slope, a major commitment.
Flushing has a number of chain hotels: Sheraton, Best Western, Howard Johnson, Comfort Inn. The neighborhood is pretty close to La Guardia airport, and some of the hotels have shuttles. I'm guessing they cater to both airport transients and Asian visitors. For some time I've thought about booking a night or two at a hotel in Flushing, to maximize my eating time in the neighborhood without all those annoying subway rides. Well, last weekend I decided that a weekend in Flushing would be my birthday present to myself (my birthday's Monday the 8th). I checked hotel rates and decided on the Comfort Inn, right at the edge of the main Chinese restaurant drag, at $85 for the night. I'm writing now from the Comfort Inn.
I sent out an email to all my foodie friends announcing that I'd be available for meals in Flushing this weekend. Several friends are coming by for dinner in about a half hour. This morning I came with a couple of friends with that rarest of commodities in New York, a car.
We started at Nan Xiang Xiaolongbao (38-12 Prince Street), a Shanghai place with a specialty in soup dumplings. The dumplings had received rave reviews on Chowhound, and I'm a sucker for soup dumplings, literally as well as figuratively. The ones at Nan Xiang were indeed most distinguished, with the cleanest, freshest tasting, most ample soup filling I've tasted in New York, skins that aren't too stiff or doughy (as many are), and an excellent pork and crabmeat filling. Equally memorable was the scallion pancake stuffed with beef. The pancake was admirably non-greasy, and the stuffing included a perfect amount of hoisin sauce (I've had the same item with hoisin overkill).
xiaolongbao scallion pancake with beef
From there we moved to brunch phase 2, grazing at stalls at the Flushing Mall (133-31 39th Ave.), one of several food courts in Flushing. From a place at one end of the wall of stalls (Temple, a Taiwanese vendor) we had gua baos, Taiwanese belly pork buns. A hunk of the fatty pork is served on a split steamed bun and garnished with crushed peanuts, cilantro and scallions.
And from Chengdu Snacks, at the other end, we had an unremarkable plate of dan dan noodles that was more than made up for by the other dish I ordered, steamed spare ribs with spicy rice powder. This is a dish that I first discovered over 30 years ago, at the now defunct Ting Fu Garden in Chinatown. In recent years I've tried this dish and variations on it at any Sichuan restaurant that lists it on their menu, usually with disappointment. Sometimes it's too sweet, sometimes too pasty, sometimes to dry, and sometimes the meat is pure fat. Here the little chunks of pork rib on the bone were sufficiently meaty, and the mound of spiced rice powder that covered them was the answer to an atheist's prayers. It was all the things those other versions weren't--moist, fluffy, moderately spiced, with just a hint of sweetness, and the soft carrot chunks scattered throughout were a perfect compliment.
steamed spare ribs with spicy rice powder
After our two (or three) brunches, my friends dropped me off at Flushing Town Hall, where I enjoyed an afternoon concert by Chinese pipa virtuoso Min Xiao Fen, who played some traditional pieces solo and then did a set with her jazz trio.
Food! Culture! Flushing! And no jet lag!