Restaurants »Szechuan Gourmet

21 W 39th St

Midtown is the place for awesome Chinese in the city. I am certain of this after a recent mediocre meal in Chinatown and a stellar lunch at Szechuan Gourmet.

Across the street from previously recommended and adored Lan Sheng, Gourmet is the more well known of the two and overflowing with happy diners at all hours.

While the mouth numbing mala we experienced at Lan Sheng wasn’t here, the food is equally delicious yet unique.

My latest litmus seems to be shredded chicken in garlic and here the dish is complex, flavorful and addicting. I simply could not stop eating it long after I was full.

Another good marker of a good Chinese place is their hot and sour soup. Done wrong its a gloppy confusing mess that strikes an off chord with your stomach right away. Done right and it’s incredible: thick but not gloppy and punchy with fresh tasting tofu and crunchy bamboo shoots. Here it’s definitely done right.

Jim enjoyed the old American favorite General Tso’s which was a delicious challenge to the mall court junk that gives Chinese food a trashy name. Prices are great and the staff is efficient but doesn’t rush you. With this and it’s competitor across the street there’s no excuse to not enjoy good Szechuan in the city.

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Posted on March 22, 2012

Restaurants »Lan Sheng

60 W 39th St

I had my first encounter with true Szechuan “mala” with the Dan Dan noodles at Lan Sheng. Your mouth numbs with a slightly citrus flavor that’s hard to explain

Poor Shaun thought maybe he was having an allergic reaction, which is not a crazy assumption since it’s such a new sensation if you’re not used to it. I’m just giddy that there are still food experiences out there and ones with physical reactions.

Oh and the noodles were delicious besides. I adore Dan Dan noodles. But obviously have never had them quite like these. Appetizer wise, Lan Sheng also boasts yummy mini crab soup dumplings which are worth the wait. My favorite main course had to go to the shredded chicken in spicy garlic sauce. It may sounds hum drum but it was seriously addicting, in fact, I want a dish of if right now!

Spicy in a wholly different way is the flavorful lamb cumin which is not for the faint of heart. Be sure to have rice to mellow the heat. We also split the DIY pork buns which were tasty but filling after so much Szechuan indulgence. It has a special name I’ve forgotten but you can find it in the novel of a menu easily thanks to their handy photos.

The place is laid back and clean, the is service efficient and friendly. A perfect spot to eat after seeing the Weegee exhibit at ICP. I’ll definitely go back next time I’m in the area.

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Posted on February 13, 2012

Movies »A Chinese Ghost Story 1&3

directed by Siu-Tung Ching (1987 and 1991)

The East does weird in a way that the West simply can’t and the fun, crazy Chinese Ghost Story trilogy proves it.

I remember hearing about these films years ago as elusive, cult classics; and with demons, tongue battles (that would be battles fought with giant monster tongues), walking tree spirits, rapping warriors, slapstick beheadings and ghostly seductions, “cult” is the only way to effectively classify these unique films.

The plots are similar between the two: Beautiful ghost spirit is under the control of a tree demon. Kind, handsome traveler stays the night in her haunted temple and falls in love. Must defeat demons to save her.

The original is more romantic and serious, but both include a healthy dose of humor and slapstick–the third almost to the point of tedium. The second… well sadly I can’t tell you anything about it: see, Netflix instant issues dictated a strange viewing order. First I watched what I assumed was the first movie only to find out afterwards that Netflix had mislabeled it and I had actually watched the third. So, not wanting to forgo seeing the original I watched the first movie (which was labeled Part 2 on Netfilx). At that point I thought we might as well finish up the trilogy, but found all three movies were no longer available. So, only reviewing 1 and 3 and no screen captures from me.

It’s a shame they’ve been taken off Netflix because they’re not readily available in the US–but are worth seeking out for lovers of bizarre cinema. I hope to one day see the second installment and complete the trilogy.

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Posted on January 21, 2012

Restaurants »Hunan Kitchen of Grand Sichuan

42-47 Main Street, Flushing, Queens

Behold Hunan Kitchen of Grand Sichuan – a Chinese restaurant that even the most squeamish of eaters (our friend Shaun) can call absolutely delicious. And when I say squeamish, I mean our he was getting nervous even before we walked in the door panicking over the idea that there would be a bathroom in the restaurant (?!). The boy is no fan of Chinese food, with belly aches past to blame, but by the end of our feast, he had declared that he did, indeed really like this place.

Most Flushing gems we’ve frequented (Spicy and Tasty, Little Pepper, Imperial Palace: all brilliant in their ways) offer up at least one dish in our random selection that makes us all stop and say with politeness.. well that was a little weird. Mind you, (to give you an idea of our comfort level) we’re not all the way stuck with Western palettes, we don’t mind “strange” combinations and don’t hold back on the spiciness, but at the same time we never order a bowl of pigs feet either.

At the recently opened HKoGS, every single dish was a hit, we only had favorites among all the yumminess starting with a jalapeno and pickled bean fried rice that is, without a doubt, the best friend rice I have ever encountered.

Dan Dan Noodles arrived next surprising us by being hot (we had had cold before) and kicking our butts with chili oil heat. Continuing on our epic order of appetizers, we chowed down a perfectly toothsome scallion pancake, some fried savory sweet pumpkin cakes (not the favorite of the bunch, but still really good), and pork soup dumplings that were smaller and, dare I say it, better flavored than Joe’s Shanghai.

That is where my meal took a turn – not food wise, but my own body failed me when a filling popped half way out (not on anything I ate, it had felt weird for days and finally broke). I couldn’t really chew properly anymore, but as the meal continued to be so delicious I carried on as best I could (and took lots of left overs home, which I am LOVING as I write this).

OK, so personal woes aside, lets get on with the main dishes. Again all were excellent but perhaps the favorite was the Sauteed Pork Farmer Style, a slightly black beanish, saucy dish that had a lot of kick and was the biggest gamble of the night (most other dishes we read about either in the Times review or on yelp).

Sour Green Beans and Ground Pork was unusual but in a great way (in fact I am devouring a huge bowl of it now) the pickled beans from the fried rice accompany chopped spicy peppers and you know I am a sucker for ground pork.

Our third adventurous dish was white pepper beef, a nifty dish full of flavor but not as hot as it appeared on first look : tons of chili’s peeking out from the almost jerky like bits of beef.

Really, all three are highly recommended, though it seems from out experience that you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu here.

Add in a really friendly staff that makes you feel comfortable to linger (and who doted on Van) and you have yourself one spectacular eating experience, one that can even over shadow dental problems. This is bound to become a foodie destination if it’s not already.

We went as an early celebration to our Anniversary. We didn’t want to be away from Van and we didn’t want to spend a fortune so this was perfect. Our huge meal was less than $30 a person and it was laid back enough that Van could be comfortable there.

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Posted on August 22, 2011

Recipes »Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry

from Martha Stewart

Jim, if you can believe it, is trying to add more fruits and vegetables into our diet – yes, even the green ones.

So, I thought this simple, comforting stir fry of Beef and Broccoli from Martha would both fit the plan and warm our bellies.

It’s a mild recipe but not lacking in flavor. Just make sure to use tender cuts of beef and serve over brown rice.

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Posted on March 11, 2011

Restaurants »M Shanghai Bistro & Garden

292 Grand St, Brooklyn, NY

Cold days and lazy bones make for delivery Chinese cravings. Unfortunately most of the time, when you’re ordering Chinese, you’re in for a digestive trip with the usual greasy stuff that’s given the cuisine a bad name in the states for decades.

So, I was happy to find an option that still keeps the essence of what we’ve all come to know and guiltily love but is much better.

All the years I’ve lived here I’ve never tried M Shanghai Bistro and Garden, but after reading many yelp reviews, we gave it a shot. We figured it couldn’t be much worse than any other.

We were pleasantly surprised with chewy thick lo mein, a “tic tac toe” chicken that, while looking like nothing to speak of, was actually richly, flavored with an excellent garlicky sauce, and plump juicy steamed dumplings, that, while not as good as Joe’s Shanghai soup dumplings, were notable.

The only wrong note was the scallion pancakes (ironically, the best part of the “other” Chinese place’s menu). They were dry and way too crispy for my taste.

I wouldn’t necessarily end up here for a nice night out, but for those rare occasions when nothing but aluminum plated Americanized noodles and stir fries will do, there’s no better place to call in the Williamsburg/Greenpoint area.

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Posted on February 9, 2011

Restaurants »Ocean Jewels Seafood

13330 39th Ave. Flushing

While the name of our latest dim sum destination is confusing – is it Ocean Jewel Seafood, as written about everywhere online? Or Asian Jewels as the punch card menu would suggest? Well, either way, you’ll have no trouble finding it as the building is a humungeous banquet hall type with its own valet parking lot (actually incredibly helpful in the hard to park neighborhood) situauted next to the large KO Karaoke Club and across from the Flushing Mall.

We went with dim sum lovers who were new to the more traditional point at cart ordering system which always adds a bit of drama to dining. Even if you can get an answer to “what is that” it can be misleading (vegetarian dumplings hide lots of meat – so not the best place for the picky or the vegetarian). We only struck out on one dish – a sausage in a bun that looked like an uncooked, puffy pig in a blanket but according to Mike and Jim was “interesting… like a fat Slim Jim”. I decided to pass.

The best things we tried were the fluffy pork buns and the “super” dish of black bean clams whose sauce was to die for. I also went a little crazy on the chive dumplings, a favorite of mine and my first thought of the day when I woke up (must have chive dumpling!) so I went ahead and have about four. Steamed shrimp dumplings are always great and we tried a new dessert that looked like a lobster tail made of fried dough. It was flaking and sticky and quite good on the cart woman’s recommendation (I’ve learned from past experiences to try something if the lady is enthusiastic enough about it). We finished the incredibly cheap feast (less than 20 per person for lots and lots of food) with some soft sesame seed balls.

While on a few staples, I think I prefer the other two dim sum places we’ve been (particularly the shumai and dumplings) the pork buns and bean clams more than make Ocean Jewel (or is it Asian Jewels?) a worthwhile dim sum excurtion. Just be prepared for a long wait with restless eaters if you come past 11 am.

Pork Buns

Clams in Black Bean Sauce

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Posted on October 11, 2010

Restaurants »Imperial Palace

13613 37th Ave, Flushing, Brooklyn

Imperial Palace has a more upscale atmosphere than some Flushing spots (not that that takes away one bit from the quality of Little Pepper and Spicy and Tasty’s food), so much so that the cleanliness and brightly lit tablecloths could even satisfy some of my more germaphobic friends if I dare take them to the neighborhood. Cantonese is a cuisine that is most similar to the “Americanized” Chinese food that took hold of our nation decades ago, though to compare your local Panda ___ with the southern regional food done right and traditionally is ludicrous.

Cantonese food values quality of ingredients, has a focus on fresh seafood, and is much milder than Schezuan. American Cantonese, due to immigrants having to substitute and improvise with unfamiliar and often less fresh ingredients is masked in gloppy sauces. Imperial Palace is considered to be the area’s best of the former type of Cantonese and as some other, wiser tables knew, freshness reigns supreme – they got to choose their fish from an aquarium. It was then brought to the table for inspection before being prepared.

With less insight into the menu, we sampled a couple things that sounded good. A solid, mild orange beef which managed to be neither greasy or too heavy, a plate of salt and pepper crispy prawns with chilies that only suffered from a messy backwards method to eat it: the shell on prawn was battered and fried, so you had to teeth the crisp off before getting to the meat under the shell. I tried eating the shell but it was a bit too tough and seemed like it could get caught in my throat. Both were very good, though milder than my usual taste so I’d choose some more daring dishes next time round (perhaps the oysters and fajita plate mentioned in this Times review).

But, I am really teasing you with all this talk of ambiance and history, because there is one major reason to go to Imperial Palace. All the reviews, blogs and word of mouth will name it: Dungeness crab over sticky rice!! A huge, steaming dish of hard shelled crabs which are tasty enough, but the delicate, indescribable rice that has cooked in the crustacean’s juices…. incredible. The huge menu might be overwhelming, and require a sort of point to what looks good experimentation, but this dish is an absolute a must.

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Posted on September 18, 2010

Restaurants »Little Pepper

133-43 Roosevelt Ave, Flushing

Whenever Shaun (Chinese food hater) is out of town, we all take advantage and have a big Chinese meal out in Flushing. Our latest outing to the beloved Sichuan spot, Little Pepper began more adventurous than most. As we were paying the muni meter we were told by a wobbly eyed crazy woman “This is a bad neighborhood. For real. Don’t be here after dark. The casinos. These people will chop you up and you’ll be eaten!'”. I’ve never been told I’d be eaten before, but as you can tell, we manged to survive the night just fine.

If anything was going to kill us it was the intensely wild heat that came with our meal. If you think spicy can’t touch you, if you scoff at the little red pepper on most menus that denote heat, head over to this tiny basement restaurant stat. The Diced Chicken with Chili Peppers, ChonQuin Style and the fragrant Lamb with Spicy Sauce (Cumin) made us all sweat and even at one point literally steamed up Jim’s glasses. Most importantly though, they were delicious, no flavor or complexity was covered or lost in the heat and the meal was impressively ungreasy. Even Jim, who jokes that salt is sometimes too spicy for him couldn’t stop eating because it was so good.

Accompanying the mains, we got the wonderful Spicy Sichuan Cold Noodles (much like a Dan Dan Noodle sans meat), the refreshing Cucumbers with Mashed Garlic, and the Steamed Pork Dumplings in spicy sauce. All excellent. And in addition to the great food, the place is extremely welcoming despite language barriers and we felt comfortable taking our time and making ourselves at home with the hospitable and kind staff. Just look for the smiling Red Pepper on a yellow awning for Sichuan food to rival close by favorite Spicy and Tasty. Just be sure to brace yourself for serious spice and make sure cannibals don’t get you on the walk back to the car.

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Posted on June 13, 2010

Recipes »Hot and Sour Soup

from Simply Recipes

As some commenters mention on this Simply Recipes Hot and Sour Soup thread, it’s definitely not one of the most attractive soups out there, but when done right (not that gloppy bad take out stuff) I thrive on the dish. I could live off the Kikkoman mix that I’ve enjoyed since childhood (almost literally – I bought a case from Amazon as it became harder to find in local stores) but this more time consuming, fresh ingredient version, is definitely worth the extra preparation. It’s light, which might be surprising and we added some chicken to make it a heartier meal. We also substituted fresh mushrooms and were unable to add the more unique ingredients like lily buds. But it’s a recipe open to interpretation and your own flare.

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Posted on May 9, 2010

Restaurants »Shanghai Pavilion

1378 3rd Ave

After just enduring a mediocre Chinese meal, I’m even more adamantly recommending Shanghai Pavilion, a well loved upper east side spot that we ate at when visiting my sister and her new baby at Lenox Hill. Tender, flavorful soup dumplings (called “juicy dumplings” on the menu) followed by a huge bowl of hot and sour soup made for a great start to our meal. Both are top on my personal list of favorite foods, but a bad version is nothing short of depressing (and we can probably all attest to the sad prevalence of bad hot and sour soups out there in your basic take out).

I was happy to find that our main dishes were also exemplary. The Shanghai Sizzling Beef was hearty and yummy and the chicken dish (which I believe was the chicken with garlic?) was phenomenal. Even the ring of bok choy (a bitter that neither of us is a great fan of) was tasty. The meat was not fatty or heavily breaded to cover the weird parts I’ve found at other spots and the sauces were distinct and delicious.

We were fully statisfied and skipped desert, but I am not satisfied that I don’t have an equally great option for Chinese much closer to home.

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Posted on March 21, 2010

Restaurants »Shang

187 Orchard Street

As far as I’m concerned, any place that boasts excellent hot and sour soup is worth visiting and Shang, which I tried out during restaurant week, serves up a spectacular version. While it’s easy to imagine the dissent among local foodies (“There’s nothing here that you can’t get for a fraction of the price in Chinatown!!” they’ll whine) but hey, this soup is really, really excellent and I have to say that I also loved the thick Cantonese Wok Fried Pearl Noodles – both of which were on the tasting menu.

We were less taken with the other items on the menu. The sushi was good, but not amazing, and the shrimp dumplings were a tad bland. For cocktails, I recommend the Diablo for its spicy tequila kick, though it was a touch too sweet.

The ambiance is similar to that of fancy dark hotel, which is not quite my thing, but the staff was not snotty, as one might expect, but really friendly and seemed happy to have us – and I’d be more than happy to return for another bowl of that hot and sour soup.

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Posted on February 14, 2010

Restaurants »Shanghai Cafe

100 Mott St

The service at Shanghai Café was so hostilely brisk and gruff that I almost felt honored to be seated in our tough little lady’s section. The place isn’t much for ambiance either, unless you feel comforted by the fact that your Formica table is lined (and protected?) with duct tape, but really what does ambiance matter when the perfected delicacy of a soup dumpling is there for the eating? Joe’s Shanghai is probably the better known purveyor of the messy dumplings of deliciousness, but I’d really have to eat the two side by side to decide which is better. Both are crave worthy (read: I want them right now!).

We inhaled two orders of the soup dumpling both crab and crab-less – which had the table divided – I prefer the crab, but its flavor is very pronounced and others, who may not have a palette for the briny sea, liked the all-pork incarnation better. We also ordered won-tons in spicy schezuan sauce (peanuty and spicy), eggplant with garlic sauce, and bean curb schezuan style. Unlike some hole in the wall spots, all the dishes had a distinct flavor.

Pair it all with good friends and a couple of cold Tsingtaos and you get one of those meals that can make you so happy to live in a city that hides so much good food in its quiet corners.

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Posted on January 24, 2010

Restaurants »East Ocean Palace

east ocean palace11315 Queens Blvd, Flushing

We’ve quickly gone from dim sum newbies to the type of people that get up early on a Sunday, run to the car, and drive to the next place to try, even with a slight hangover. East Ocean Palace is a bit outside the epicenter of dim sum cuisine in Flushing, on the border of Forest Hills and Rego Park (easy to get to from the Van Wyck). For this reason, perhaps, or because we were there by 10 am, the place was less crowded than Jade Asia and slightly more pristine.

Our first lady was very helpful with explaining her dumplings and we enjoyed the typical fare of an array of shrimp, pork and chives as well as wide rice noodles with shrimp. We also tried things we didn’t have at our previous dim sum experience including a great meat speckled and leaf wrapped patty of sticky rice, minced shrimp tempura in pepper, and the best surprise of the meal – a gooey egg custard dumpling with a slightly crunchy outside. It got a thumbs up from the server and she was right.

Overall, the food was a bit fresher tasting than Jade Asian though, maybe it was the early hour, but it seemed to offer less variety. I’ve heard they have a great dinner menu that I’d like to revisit and try.

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Posted on November 15, 2009

Restaurants »Jade Asian

jade asian flushingI've really been making the rounds on the Flushing eating scene lately! I finally made it out for early Saturday morning dim sum at the renowned banquet hallesque Jade Asian. We had no problem getting a table for four at ten, but I've heard the wait can get crazy after noon time.

Not entirely knowing what to expect, I was struck by he whirlwind speed at which the dishes came at us. The staff speaks little English, but there's no language barrier issues when pointing, nodding, thumbs up and smiling do the trick. We said yes to lots of things right off the bat – several dumplings, wide noodles as well as crispy taro thingies.

I fell head over heels for the scallion dumplings and flagged down one of the waitresses for about three orders. My second favorite dish was a bit more daring: a custardy scallop mixture served on the half shell. Another favorite were dumplings – presumably filled shrimp and pork – and topped with a dollop of mayo and roe. The only dish I didn't care for was the expectedly heavy deep-fried bacon wrapped shrimp, but Jim was happy to eat mine, so it didn't go to waste.

We finished the meal with a sweet fried dough treat filled with sweet black bean paste. They were delicious and can be recognized by a sprinkle of black sesame seeds. Here's a whole bunch of pics I posted on RC.

I'd love to return again, because on the way out I noticed mussels, pancakes, and asparagus that we missed out on during this first go-round.

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Posted on September 7, 2009

Restaurants »Spicy and Tasty

A trip to Flushing for real Chinese food has long been on my list of to-dos and just the other week, it finally happened. Spicy and Tasty is a Schezwan spot highly recommended by foodies who debate over whether it's as good as it used to be on Chowhound. Nestled in a neon-lit side street off one of the most transporting areas of the city, where nary an English word is muttered and enticing Peking ducks hang from all the windows, the no frills restaurant boasts a no frills staff that was patient enough to inform us that we were accidentally ordering dessert as entrees and that what we thought was pork was chicken, what we thought was beef was pork, etc. Not, mind you, that the menu is terribly confusing, but we managed to make it that way.

Oh, and that dessert we ordered was a wonderful mistake: four little dumplings with a sweet peanut sauce filled with a sugar black sesame ooze. I almost never care for Asian desserts, I think my palette is too fat-American based in unnatural processed sugars (I still ate pop rocks in between classes in college), but this was great.

Acting on internet recommendations we tried the dan dan noodles, which we were instructed to “please stir”. They were delicious with a strong flavor and spice, a definite must for return visits. Also highly recommended was twice cooked pork – a frightening mound of glistening pork slices that were most akin to fatty strips of bacon. A delicious one bite to be sure but, as my co-eaters can attest (who did not stop at one strip), not the wisest thing to make a giant meal of, I did, however, savor the accompanying scallions. Speaking of scallions, the beef and scallions was good, like excellent delivery-caliber Chinese, but not quite worth writing home about.

The real gem of the night was the Mild Spicy Chicken Schezwan Style. Hands down, this bold, crispy, intricate dish was the best Chinese food I've ever had and I can't recommend that you order it enough. It delivered exactly what I was hoping for: the kind of meal that makes you rethink a national cuisine that has simply been butchered by too many poor renditions.

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Posted on August 24, 2009