Ocean Jewels is a bright, airy modern banquet hall opposite Flushing Mall. It serves Hong Kong style Cantonese food. I've been there three times over the past few years, and each time I've thought, this place has the potential to be New York's finest Chinese restaurant. After tonight, I think that is what it is.
Totally on a whim, I spent $19 to order steamed fish pieces with peculiar flavor. With a name like that, how could I resist? It arrived beautifully presented, the pieces carefully arranged on a big white platter. While not peculiar, the dish was unique, though it was inspired by the steamed fish with preserved vegetables that you can find just about anywhere in Chinatown. But it was a traditional dish refined and reinterpreted by a master chef. The fish was sea bass, and it was so good I was tempted to just eat it plain. It was served on a bed of what looked like preserved vegetables but were, I believe, fresh and macerated in house. Each vegetable had a distinctive flavor. There were dried plums, exotic shoots I had never seen before, flavorful tree ear fungus... all excellent. A very light salty broth brought out the different flavors.
If I had friends in Los Angeles and they took me to have this dish in the San Gabriel Valley, and said, Brian, didn't we tell you that the Chinese food here is light-years above what you can get in New York, I would have replied, yes you did, and you were right.
The only problem is that there are two menus (both in English) with several hundred dishes between them, and most of these dishes didn't appeal to me. But if every dish is as good as what I had tonight (or the fish head dish I had last year), I'd say that this is far and away the best Chinese food to be had in New York.
Ocean Jewels, 133-30 39 Av, Flushing (718) 359-8600
NOTE: Here, for the record, is my description of the fish head dish, written in September 2006. It too is a traditional Cantonese entree totally recast by a very talented and inventive chef:
"I had the fish head, not with clams but steamed with diced pepper. The steamed head was cut into strips, artfully arranged on a big plate shaped like a fish, covered with minced everything -- preserved veg, diced parsnips, chives, shredded meat, a bit of shrimp paste... but no diced pepper. Around all this was a red, fiery broth... not hot for Sichuan but hotter than anything I've had in a Cantonese place. I've never seen anything quite like this, though I've had steamed fish head with black bean sauce at Cantoon Garden in Manhattan"
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