While researching the intricacies of Zhejiang cuisine in order to evaluate the menu of the Wenzhou restaurant I stumbled upon last week, I noticed that one of the specialties of Hangzhou is West Lake yellowfish with vinaigrette sauce. I remembered that Chen & Chan. the Shanghai restaurant in Flushing whose fish with pinenuts and shrimp enthralled me last week (see link below), did have a fish with vinaigrette sauce on the menu, and a check confirmed that the Chinese translation did say West Lake yellowfish. So back I went to Flushing to try a specialty of a regional cuisine I'd never sampled.
The restaurant was crowded. All the people were from Shanghai (or at least they were conversing in Mandarin without that unmistakable Peking accent). This is one difference between Flushing's Chinatown and Manhattan's. In Manhattan, a Shanghainese restaurant (or any restaurant not Cantonese or Fujianese) would have very few Chinese people at all. They put me at a big table even though I offered to sit at a small one, and sure enough within half an hour they were jamming couples into that small one.
The fish arrived after half an hour and I immediately saw it was worth the wait. It had been split from head to tail, so it looked like two fish swimming in a dark red sauce. One half was a filet, the other had all the bones. The fish was wonderfully tender and fresh (unlike at some Manhattan Shanghainese places). The sauce was wonderful. Subtle, complex and elegant. It was made with rich black Shaoxing vinegar, with just enough sugar to give it depth, and topped with a forest of cilantro. I'd never had anything like it.
For years I've defended Joe's Shanghai in Manhattan, but now I think we just might have a new champ in town.
Chen & Chan Restaurant, 135-28 40 Road, Flushing