Thursday, May 14, 2009

Adventures in Flushing

55. Flushing

Some food tours reveal hidden culinary treasures and some food tours leave you disappointed with the food but appreciative of the journey. But some food tours are game changers that redefine your thoughts about NYC food and leave you feeling simultaneously like a kid that’s just been to Disneyland yet embarrassed that you hadn’t been sooner. When four of us set out to Flushing, Queens for our first taste of this culinary mecca, we knew we found that Disneyland experience. Exiting the subway to Roosevelt Ave. felt like bursting through the theme park turnstiles, carnival songs playing from the ice cream truck that seemed to follow us everywhere.

Our inspiration for the journey came from a post that we had all read on the Girl Who Ate Everything blog, our food destinations and menu items substantially mimicking their experience. For those that have been to Flushing, you area all too familiar with the story that is about to unfold and I humbly label myself as a novice with the hope that next time I go to Flushing it will be with another list of places to try. But for those that have yet to make the trip from Manhattan, I hope this will inspire you to go to Flushing in the same way that GWAE inspired us.

Welcome to Flushing:

The Great Flushing Dumpling Tour of 2009 began with the number 29, our place on the waiting list at Nan Shian Dumpling House where we were told our table would not be ready for 45 minutes. Though discouraged with such a long wait at 2:00pm, it afforded us just enough time to pick up some dumplings from two other spots nearby. We were all about efficiency, splitting into two groups to place orders and rendezvous back at Nan Shian.

A quick stroll down the block and half of us were at White Bear, a small dumpling shop with a handful of cramped tables, where we ordered wontons in hot chili sauce ($3.50 for 10), while the other half of the group made its way to Best North Dumpling House, a kitchen-front store inside of a grocery where we picked up an order of fennel dumplings ($3.00 for 10). Awkwardly crouched on the sidewalk outside of Nan Shian, we popped open our styrofoam containers to reveal our first tastes of Flushing.

Outside of White Bear:

Inside White Bear:

The juicy ground pork surrounded by paper-thin wrappers, topped with finely chopped scallions and covered in hot chili sauce from White Bear may have taken top honors for the day. Oily, soft and with just a hint of spice, we actually contemplated returning later in the day to get some orders for the subway ride home. Worth a trip to Flushing on its own.

Wontons in hot oil:

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the fennel dumplings. Though they were plump, filling and there was a considerable amount of fennel, the taste was a bit overwhelming. Sure, they were good, cheap, and if they were available in Manhattan, I’d probably order them on value proposition alone, but with so many options in Flushing, I don’t know if I’ll be able to allot stomach space for Best North. Definite points awarded for coolness factor given their awesome space (see photo below).

Best North Dumpling Shop:

Best North Dumpling Kitchen:

Plump fennel dumplings:

As we polished off most of the fennel dumplings and half of our White Bear order, our table was ready inside. We watched dish after dish of food being served to two older women at the table next to us and we were simultaneously intrigued by the dishes and baffled as to how they could eat so much. An order of pork and crab soup dumplings and an order of pork dumplings ($6.50 each) was more than enough for us to truly appreciate the art of soup dumplings and recognize why with so many options in Flushing, there is a 45 minute wait. Both varieties had a deep, creamy, rich broth which we delicately extracted from the balloon-like dumplings. Though the pork was excellent, the pork and crab was outstanding. Visible strands of crab meat were mixed in with tender ground pork. I could sit there all day, placing order after order, slurping and eating until the restaurant ran out of dumplings.

Inside Nan Shian:

Only 2 dumplings left:

Dumpling guts:

This was only the beginning. Our next stop took us to the Golden Mall, an underground food court marked by a handful of small stalls and cramped seating. It was here that we would sample TONY list item # 55, the lamb face sandwich from X’ian Small Delights. For $2.50, we were presented with a pita stuffed with ground lamb, grilled vegetables and a lot of cumin. Tasting more Indian inspired than of Asian origin, the sandwich was overshadowed by the other dishes that we ordered, including a spicy tofu and noodle dish in hot oil (liang pi) that I couldn’t stop eating, and beef noodle soup ($5.00) from the Hand Pulled Noodle stall directly across from X’ian that was both generous in flavor and portion size.

Into the Golden City Mall:

Inside the "mall":

Xian Foods

Lamb Sandwich:

Liang Pi:

Handpulled noodles:

Beef noodle soup:

Almost nauseatingly full by this point, we conceded dumpling defeat and moved on to dessert. There’s always room for cake and donuts. At Sun May Bakery we picked up egg tarts, a donut and a couple of pineapple cakes for a whopping dollar a piece. Though incredibly popular and I appreciated the concept, I couldn’t really enjoy the egg taste of the tart as a dessert item (for breakfast? that would be pleasantly decadent). The donut was another story. Coated in granulated sugar, doughy on the inside, slightly crispy on the outside yet not greasy, I would definitely return to Sun May for the donut while in Flushing.

Inside Sun May:

Awesome cakes in the window:

Egg tart:

Pretty pineapple cake:

Inside of the cake:

Awesome sugary donut:

Despite appeals to call it quits, we forged on to our final stop, the Flushing Mall, which houses a more typical food court layout (above ground this time), and while a full array of items were available, we were there for the shaved ice, and the donut with soy milk that looked spectacular. After waiting on line (shaved ice has considerable appeal after all), we ordered the ice with red bean topping and red bean ice cream ($5.00) while I snuck off to the next booth to order a donut with soy milk ($4.00), both recommendations from the GWAE blog.

Inside the Flushing Mall:

Flags adorning the entrance to the mall (Epcot?):

At first, we were baffled by our orders. A huge bowl of shaved ice, topped with syrupy red beans and ice cream. How are we supposed to eat all of this? The first half of this dish was great; the red beans were sweet, the ice cream was creamy and all of the flavors worked together. But after I had eaten all of the toppings, I was left with a block of ice. I chipped away for a good while before giving up.

Food Court:

Waiting in line for ices:

The donut didn’t live up to the hype, and even on its own, fell far behind the donut from Sun May. What was unique about this dessert though, was the bowl of soy milk used a la Oreos with milk style. Soaking the greasy pastry into sweetened (maybe I should have gotten unsweetened?) soy milk morphed the dessert into an overly sugary and soggy donut. On top of which, I couldn’t understand the proportion of milk to donut. There was definitely an entire quart of milk in this bowl. I can’t imagine that I was supposed to drink so much soy milk…

Red bean shaved ice:

Donut and sweetened soy milk:

Yes, there were considerable language barriers, etiquette mishaps and even bitter altercations that left us feeling like tourists in our own city (which we were nothing short of in Flushing). But to be able to escape to what almost feels like a different country for the cost of a Metro card is a privilege that I plan on exercising as often as possible.

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