This should be the last restaurant you ever go to. When you are old and decrepit, and your taste buds have all but disappeared, the socko intensity of this food will jolt you back to the days of your youth.
The cuisine of Qingdao is a presentation of strong flavors. In a sea of competing Chinese cuisines, it is unique. M&T Restaurant (44-09 Kissena Blvd., tel. 718-539-4100) steps up to the plate and hits a home run. It is a simple storefront 32-seater, and you are advised to go soon before the place is totally gridlocked with enthusiasts. Prediction: they will have to relocate to a larger site. The menu is enormous: 8 pages listing 161 items.
Our waitperson Donna was able to field our questions with adequate English, and was very attentive, helpful, and friendly, but be prepared for the occasional slight misunderstanding. One wall is decorated with menu photos and Chinese/English captions, and you can order right off the wall if you choose (prices are shown only on the menu, however).
Our first dish was Kidney & Red Jelly Fish in Chili Pepper ($10.99, photo 1), one of the standouts of the meal. The kidney was tender and very flavorful, beautifully scored in a mince pattern. The jellyfish was bland but slightly crunchy, a wonderful contrast. Do not miss this one. Next came Pork Chops with Shrimp Sauce ($9.99, photo 2). The pork chops were breaded and deep-fried, and the shrimp sauce was under the breading. In spite of this being an admired specialty of the region, we did not warm up to it. The shrimp sauce seemed to create a little bit of an “off” flavor, with no very discernable shrimp taste. Then we had Qindao Special Course ($7.99, photo 3), the other standout of the meal: julienned seaweed, bean sprouts, tofu, celery, diced pork, carrots, bamboo, and (if you can believe) potato (like boiled French fries). Loaded with flavor. Wow.
About that slight misunderstanding. The next dish came to our table with the announcement, “Here are your squid heads.” Wait a minute. We had ordered Fish with Cumin and Hot Chili ($10.99, photo 4). Turns out that the translation to English on the menu was a little bit mistaken: the dish is not fish but squid heads (photo 5), period. They offered to take it back and make us some fish with cumin. No, no, no, no, no. Not before we snapped up a test squid head and decided immediately they were for us. Now, finally, we found out what happens to all the heads of the headless, cleaned squid at the fish market. The answer, at last, was right there and it was delicious. The dish was medium spicy with cumin and peppercorns; the squid heads had a slight crunch and the flavor was intense.
Then we had Sea Shrimp with Chili ($11.99, photo 6). These were cooked whole; you are urged to eat the head, shell, and tail (I did; Joyce did not). They are spicy with Szechuan peppercorns, which leave a tingle in the mouth rather than a sensation of the high heat of chili peppers. I would say the head was the most flavorful part. The shrimps were cooked overlong, rendering them slightly tough and chewy. Very intensely tasty, though.
And now for something totally different. Ever hear of sea intestines? They were a bit pricey, but we tried Leeks with Sea Intestines ($16.99, photo 7). They have nothing to do with intestines except a physical resemblance. They tasted like a salty kind of shell-less clam, but are a totally different creature (urechis unicinctus, the marine spoon worm, which lives in sand and mud) – hollow 1-inch tubes that look like segments of a straw. I thought they were good, Joyce felt they were too salty.
We hadn’t planned to have dessert, especially since the two of us had ordered enough food for 4 or 5 people, and were getting ready to shlep home two bags of leftovers. But Donna explained that the Qingdao Pumpkin Pan Cake ($5.99, photo 8) was a match for any American pumpkin pie, and we really should try this specialty. It was a dish of six pancakes, deep fried and a little oily, but loaded with concentrated flavor. One was more than satisfying—and any time you are eating food with focused flavor, the satisfaction level is reached early, and you will tend to consume less. Which, in fact, I’m not at all sure was the case that evening!