Yesterday afternoon, strolling through Flushing on my way to a spicy and tasty meal at Spicy & Tasty Restaurant (see description below), I spied a new place on 40 Road. It had an interesting menu, mostly Shanghainese, but with a few added crowdpleasers like Hong Kong casseroles and Xinjiang barbecue. Today I decided to try it. The train to Flushing was slow, crowded and local. Nothing can be worth this, I thought. I was wrong.
For me, the highlight of a Shanghai meal is whole yellowfish. This place had whole yellowish, any style for ten dollars... the cheapest I've seen it. The menu listed seven styles... in Chinese. Two I recognized (brown sauce and spicy bean sauce) and the waiter translated four more (steamed, served in soup, sweet and sour, and with pickled cabbage). But there was one that no one could translate. So that's what I ordered.
The fish was brought.It was huge and very fresh. It had been partially deboned, cut chrysanthemun-style, fried in a crisp, salty batter, and reassembled so it looked like a whole fish. Strewn on top were pine nuts, sator beans, cubes of cooked radish. A syrupy red sauce defied categorization. It was sweet and smoky and somehow familiar. Then I realized it was a bit like good down-home barbecue sauce! Just a bit. I woundn't want to douse a lovely fresh fish in KC Masterpiece or even Head Country... but this sauce was a perfect complement to the fish. (Looking again just now at the Chinese on the takeout menu, I believe I ordered yellowfish with pine nuts)
The restaurant was full (everyone Chinese) and there was a line for tables. Now I know why. I think I'll be taking that Flushing train again.
Chen & Chan Restaurant, 135-28 40 Road (718) 321-1699
And here's what I ate yesterday at Spicy & Tasty... it was one of the best Sichuan dishes I've ever had and so it's worth recording.
As I did last time, I asked them to recommend a dish that is "ma la"... the phrase Sichuanese use for a symphonic blend of spices. They recommended shredded pork in fresh hot pepper. I hesitated, remembering what the Times reviewer had to say about that particular sauce (which he ordered with eels, but it's the same thing):
"I have learned, over the years, how chilies impart not only spiciness but also dimension to food, enhancing flavors that expand and grow in the mouth. But I have my limits, and eels in fresh hot pepper crossed the line. I could taste the little marinated eels at first, but then the chilies took over, overpowering other flavors until only heat remained. Ouch." But I ordered it anyway.
The waiter brought it after a while. He grimaced as if it was so spicy it was hurting him through the plate. It was a huge plate, like a soup bowl, with a mountain of tender pork slices. Less than it looked, since most of the mountain was crunchy steamed Chinese cabbage. Several different kinds of peppers had been put in a food processor, and the resulting paste was used to cover the pork. Around it, a fire-red sauce several inches deep. The pork was definitely as hot as the reviewer said. But it didn't destroy the flavor. The peppers nstead, as the reviewer said, "impart not only spiciness but also dimension to food, enhancing flavors that expand and grow in the mouth."
So my meal was spicy and tasty.