Sunday, January 4, 2009

Spicy, Tasty, Salty, Sweet

I finally made it back to Flushing for Chinese food.  We couldn't have timed it better; having Saturday night dinner in the outer boroughs means no negotiation with maitre'ds, no hour long wait, no deus ex machina needed to provide an actual table.  

Our destination was Spicy and Tasty, a small Chinese spot off of Roosevelt Avenue to which Frank Bruni awarded two stars last year.  Sitting in Spicy and Tasty, it's hard to imagine the Brunz here with his portfolio bag, notepad, impeccable dress.  Like most Chinese restaurants in Flushing, this one has allowed decor to fall by the wayside.  The service--what little of it there is--consists of servers tossing down menus, bringing us our Tsing Taos, grudgingly taking our order, and bringing (and later boxing) our food.  There's tea, but despite my request, no water.  

As it turns out, the icky service matters very little.  What matters is the spicy, spicy food.  Those of fragile palates, do not fear; when I say spicy, I mean not only the tear-provoking rip of hot pepper.  These dishes are layered, complex, warming, supple, and generously flavored.  There also so, so good. 

We ordered four dishes, which, it just so happens, would have been enough for an army of us--and we were just two.  We defended our ordering to ourselves: how else could we judge the restaurant and all it had to offer?  And what could possibly be better than Chinese leftovers?

Sauteed Chinese cabbage with dried chilis surprisingly took the cake as the night's best dish.  Crisp, generously sliced cabbage came in a sea of brown sauce adorned with dark chilis.  Shrimp with pickled turnips did not disappoint.  The shrimp themselves were smaller than prawns and larger than rock shrimp and danced with large chunks of toothsome and salty turnip, minced ginger, red pepper flakes.  

Spinach almost matched lamb in proportion in a dish called lamb with red chili sauce.  Not to be outdone, fatty and ample sliced pork came with its own peppers, this time small, red, and hot.  Each dish had its own brand of spice and no dish could have ever been confused with its neighbor.  Maybe that's what made the meal so satisfying.  The total price tag for a meal that will likely offer us two days' worth of leftovers?  $63, including tip.  

Of course, we needed something sweet to end our adventure into the belly of Queens.  We considered it fortuitous that the Yi Mei Fung Bakery happened to hock its wares right at the entrance to the 7 train.  Inside, were attracted to a case of creamy looking pastries, tarts, and birthday cakes.  My friend ordered one with a dark chocolate disc on top.  

Here was our confusion: the cake's frosting (light, airy, resembling buttercream) tasted more like actual butter.  We kept eating it to try and figure it out.  Was it a mistake?  Had a young pastry chef accidentally replaced sugar with salt?  The frosting was salty.  Salty!  The cake itself, angel food stuffed with coconut cream, was not salty.  Why, then, was the frosting?

We had to get to the bottom of it.  Maybe this was some Chinese joke on us.  I went back to the counter and ordered a pastry the size and shape of a sub sandwich billed as "coconut creme."  The thing had been dusted with toasted coconut and was split open at the front, resembling a donut's unfortunate cousin.  We used our hands.  And guess what?  The frosting, once again, was salty.  Very confusing. 

Later research conducted by yours truly indicated that Yi Mei Fung's baked goods rival, Tai Pan Bakery is known to produce the best egg custards in all of Flushing, if not New York.  I think next time I'll head there instead.  

Spicy and Tasty
39-07 Prince Street
Flushing, Queens 11354

Yi Mei Fung Bakery
135-38 Roosevelt Avenue
Flushing, Queens 11354

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