I read this in the NY Times and knew I had to go. It was great although a little confusing. If you take the 7 to Flushing Main Street, go to 39th Street to the Flushing Municipal Parking lot. It’s close to Union Street. Go inside the parking lot and wait for the van and be early, The vans just blow through there. The vans are clearly marked though.
While we were waiting for the van, we stopped in this Korean bakery on the 39th at the corner of Roosevelt. It was called Koreogaya or something like that. The place smelled delicious but the one donut we tried was not good. I’m not quite sure it’s fair to give such a negative assessment on one donut but it was disappointing. We split this cakey long donut with sugar on it. It was fridge cold and had no flavor. But, looking around at the other customers, they all seemed to be enjoying cream donuts. Good thing I’m not the biggest donut eater otherwise I would be totally bummed.
The spa has a lot of different food offerings. They have a salad bar composed of a mixture of asian salads (seaweed, pickled cabbage, spicy mustard greens) to pasta salads and roasted vegetables. As a snack I had a variety of the asian salads and they were tasty refreshing. There is also a stand with hot foods like spaghetti and fresh fries, a frozen yogurt stand and numerous non-alcoholic drinks. On the top floor is a small Korean restaurant. The two things we tried were a hair south of mediocre and I wonder if we had ordered differently, it would have been better. My first instinct was to get the soy bean paste stew (looked like ji gae) or the tofu soon dubu. But, it was hot and muggy and I didn’t really want such a hot dish. Instead I got the kalbi and C got the bu gol gi. Both weren’t great. The kalbi flavor was fine but not as flavorful as other short ribs that I’ve had. But, the cut was a bit too thick and too gristly. The bul go gi was also lacking flavor and flavorless. The pan chan was also mediocre: kim chee, soy beans, tofu and pickled cukes.
On our way back from the spa, we decided to get dinner before jumping on the subway. We first tried Korean fried chicken at this place called Oh My chicken. This is on Roosevelt near the intersection of Union Street. I’ve wanted to dry KFC since the NY Times article from a couple of years past. The service here was friendly and efficient. The guy was so hard working, always cleaning things or checking on customers while being smiley and friendly. The chicken – I though this was good – the skin was greaseless and light but the spicing on the coating was uneven. The bites with the big spice flavor were delicious and I wish it were more even. It looks like this place is fairly new and really, really clean. I want to try other KFC to compare to this one.
After that, we went to Little Hot Pepper aka Xiao La Jiao. When I realized I could fit in a dinner after the spa, I quickly looked at the Outer Boroughs page and just scanned for the word “Flushing.” I saw some postings and started looking for addresses and subway stops. I chose XLJ because I love Sichuan cooking and have been cooking a fair amount of it at home. I Loved this place and may even return to it before I leave town.
The service was so friendly – the woman/owner? Was very helpful. We ordered wontons in hot chili oil, noodles with dry fried beef and hot and spicy lamb with cumin. The first two are appetizers and the noodle dish, I think, is the first app listed. I’m loosely using the Chinese name of the dish and don’t remember what it was called on the menu. It was extremely difficult to come to these choices because there were so many tempting things (tea smoked duck, bacon with leeks, tofu dishes and a couple of chicken dishes, let alone all the cold and hot apps). And, we had just walked from the Korean chicken place so are stomachs weren’t completely empty. I knew I was on the right track for ordered with the noodles and lamb because the woman gave little squeal of approval when I ordered them. I think she also really likes the noodles because she was so excited when I ordered it. The woman asked if we wanted a veggie and I almost did it until I realized that there were only two of us and we already had a snack. When I told her that we had already eaten she just laughed.
The won tons in chili oil were really good. This was a slightly different form then I’m used to. Usually, there is a little bit of the chili oil sauce with the wontons mixed in. Here, the chili oil was more of a soup. But, the skins were delicate with just a bit of meat to fill them out.
The noodles with dry fried ground beef were amazing. The texture of the noodles were just perfect – the right amount of bit and chew and they totally soaked up the sauce. The ground beef was stir fried with a healthy dose of Sichuan peppercorns to give the ma la flavor. There were some bits of greens (looked like romaine lettuce) and cilantro to round out the flavor. I could eat this noodle dish every day and be happy. Actually, I would be happy if I knew the brand of noodles that this restaurant buys because those noodles were amazing.
But the lamb dish, wow. I wished I could eat more, but I was getting full. Dry fried lamb with Chinese celery and cumin. Non-lamby and tender, it was like a flavor explosion in the mouth. It was a huge portion and I had doubts that we would finish the dish but we perservered and just about polished the whole thing off. Actually, both the lamb and noodles were addicting and neither of us could stop picking at the food.
I was astounded at the number of food choices at this subway stop. It would have been so easy to try any number of them but I’m really happy that I found XLJ. It’s definitely worth the stop. Oh, before I left, the woman recommended that next time, we should try the water cooked fish (shui zhu yu).
Edit: as if this report couldn't get any longer. For the subway ride back into Manhattan, we stopped and got a pinkberry yogurt. After all, it was right next to the entrance to the subway and I've never tried it before. I don't quite get all the fuss but then again, I'm into the full fat of ice cream. The tanginess of the yogurt was a bit of a shock at first but it grew on me. Especially because it did pair really well with the strawberries. I did like how smooth the soft serve was but I wasn't really impressed with the fruit choices. The blueberries didn't look ripe, the kiwis were really sour (they gave me a taste) and the mangos looked underripe as well. I'm not sure I would get this again because for that price, I would prefer ice cream but I also wouldn't turn it down if there were no other options.