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Gu Xiang (Gu Shine) - maybe the best taiwanese in flushing

l
Lau Jan 4, 2010 06:34 AM

I've written about Gu Xiang in the past (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/525099) and been there several times, but i ate there this weekend and after just being in taiwan, i decided this might be the best taiwanese restaurant in flushing.

To be clear there are certain dishes like the gua bao at temple snacks that are quite good, but on an overall basis gu xiang might be the best. I feel like taiwanese food generally is fairly simple food and they do a good job of getting simple dishes right and being consistent. If you go in you'll notice that its a) consistently busy and b) most of the patrons are taiwanese.

It's a pretty small place with maybe 8-10 tables and its pretty quaint, not much decor wise, but does feel homey like a typical restaurant in taiwan. I also like that they have normal lighting not the white florescent lighting that alot of chinese places have.

They also have two other small businesses along w/ the main dining area:
- take out business in the front selling taiwanese bian dang (lunch boxes) with stuff like lu rou fan, you fan (literally oil rice, but its sort of like a sticky rice with mushrooms although not as heavy), gua bao (very curious to try their version) and unagi over rice (there is a strong japanese influence in taiwan due to japanese ruling taiwan for a very long time
)- next door they sell baozi next door (although its connected to the main restaurant)

The food is also very cheap as they have a special (2 dishes and 1 soup for $14.99)

Anyhow, we had the following dishes:
- beef w/ peppers (la jiao niu rou): this is very simple, just sliced beef strips with sliced spicy green peppers sauteed in a wok. This was very good, tastes exactly like it sounds. The beef was tender, the peppers were tasty and it was just good
- sauteed chinese lettuce (bao xin cai): i think this is actually cabbage, sauteed in a wok. Again very simple and self-explantory, but tasty
- clam soup (ge li tang): very simple soup with just broth and clams. The broth was a nice light broth with clam flavor, not overally salty or any type of bad seafood taste. Was nice tasting and was even nicer b/c it was freezing outside.
- rice w/ meat sauce (lu rou fan): this is a pretty staple taiwanese dish. They actually sell it to go up front. Its rice topped with a minced pork sauce (think like a ragu), suan cai (minced pickled vegetable), one whole lu dan (similar to a tea egg) and takuan (the japanese yellow pickled radish). The key is the sauce and the sauce here is good, the pork is tender and has good flavor. Also, the pickled vegetables are very tasty. It's a very simple kind of dish, but it's a staple and i really appreciated how good it tasted.

As you can see the dishes they serve here are very simple. There are alot of other taiwanese dishes they have here that i'm pretty interested in trying. I highly suggest trying if you're looking to have a low key, but good meal in flushing

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  1. shaogo Jan 4, 2010 06:56 AM

    My wife's Taiwanese. We've been going here for a long time.

    You've given a good sampling of dishes to try. I have just a couple others to recommend. Now, my Pinyin is bad but I'm going to take a stab at it, here and there:

    San bei gai - "Chicken with Basil in casserole" is a dreamy braise of dark-meat chicken in a dark, rich reduction sauce that's slippery and full of flavor. The dark sauce is cut by the generous amount of basil chiffonade that's in the dish.

    My wife likes the beef in tea flavor sauce "Sa cha beef" -- but I found it lacking in serious flavor. The greens served underneath (sauteed hollow-stem vegetable) are very, very good.

    "Salt and Pepper Fried Chicken" is a mound of shredded fried chicken. A bit dry but addictive in flavor. They make Salt and Pepper Shrimp, too. Some may find them a bit overcooked.

    There's an appetizer called "chicken roll" that's actually made of fish paste; it's not chicken at all and it's served with a sauce that's similar to the Japanese Katsu sauce. It's not on the menu so you have to ask for it. It's tofu skin wrapped around the fish paste, and deep fried.

    The clam soup, as Lau said, is a home run. I think the secret is that they go through so many clams the bivalves aren't around long enough to go bad.

    Check out the little bento boxes and "liam ban" (salads) that they have packed up to go, by the cashier's counter.

    Edited to add: I almost forgot. Anyone going to this thoroughly authentic Taiwanese restaurant must be warned about two things. The dishes with dried shrimp, whether stir-fry or noodles or rice, have a *very* pronounced seafood flavor and odor. It really smells like fish that's gone bad. And you're in for an olfactory experience if one of the tables near you orders "Tou tofu" (Stinky Tofu). The first time I smelled that about twenty years ago, I gagged. It's a pungent, pervasive funky smell that just doesn't quit.

    -----
    Gu-Shine
    135-40 39th Ave, Queens, NY 11354

    17 Replies
    1. re: shaogo
      l
      Lau Jan 4, 2010 07:05 AM

      yah i want to try their san bei ji (ji is chicken in mandarin, gai is chicken in cantonese and im not sure what it is in taiwanese since i don't speak it), alot of tables had it on their table, i like it alot if its made right.

      do you know what the chicken roll is called in chinese? the literal translation is ji juan and i believe there is a taiwanese dish with that name, but i cant remember what its like.

      liam ban, i believe you mean liang ban which is like cold dishes (usually salad type things)

      1. re: Lau
        shaogo Jan 4, 2010 01:19 PM

        Thanks, Lau. I'm glad you made some sense of my horrendous pinyin.

        San bei ji means "three cup chicken," which perhaps has to do with the balance of condiments in the dish. It's delectable and a must-have at Gu Xiang.

        And yes, the roll made out of fish paste is called "ji juan" (phonetically gee-dwan) which means chicken roll, even though there's no chicken in it at all. And it comes with their addictive pickled daikon/carrot mixture on the side.

        And about chou toufu -- if anyone in the room orders it, believe me, you'll know it. It is a singularly repulsive smell that is so similar to an unwashed human it's really, really gross.

        1. re: shaogo
          l
          Lau Jan 4, 2010 01:27 PM

          haha im actually a big fan of chou dou fu...its one of my favorite street foods in taiwan. I tell people to think of it like cheese which is simply rotted milk

          you are correct, san bei ji is called that b/c of the sauce which uses soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil

          1. re: Lau
            shaogo Jan 4, 2010 02:26 PM

            Oh, wow! My wife never makes san bei ji and I was wondering, beside wine and soy, what else was in the sauce. Sesame oil explains a lot.

            Lau, do you have a complete list of the ingredients in this dish? I'd love to know how you make it because I'm dying to try making it myself.

            1. re: shaogo
              l
              Lau Jan 4, 2010 05:26 PM

              i dont, but i think its pretty simple...if you google it a bunch of recipes come up

          2. re: shaogo
            bigjeff Feb 26, 2010 12:55 PM

            additional note on pinyin/translations; the "cha" in "sa cha beef" isn't the word for tea, it's just for that chinese barbeque sauce called "sa cha", often sold in round coffee-can like cylinders and the essential ingredient for hotpot condiment (I just do raw egg with sa cha sauce). it's based on shrimps, this is the one that is dark brown, with oil floating on top. often brushed on top of fishcakes when grilled, and one of the best condiments ever. it's also available in vegetarian versions, often made with mushroom.

            1. re: bigjeff
              shaogo Mar 1, 2010 09:43 AM

              bigjeff:

              Why, then, is it called by some of my Chinese friends and employees "tea flavor sauce?"

              I know the condiment you're talking about in the silver-colored cans. My wife's always called it "tea flavor" sauce when she talks about it in English.

              1. re: shaogo
                bigjeff Mar 1, 2010 09:54 AM

                sorry, total mistake; indeed the character "cha" is for tea but I just never think of it in the context of "tea" because there is nothing tea-like about it, or containing tea; the "sa" is the same as "sa-guo" (the clay vessel that many chinese casseroles are served in) . . . the combination of the two is . . unique to the flavor of the sauce, but it would be misleading to add "tea" to it, since, there's nothing tea-like. maybe its one of those things where the condiment was used often, in combination when serving tea? something along the lines of dim-sum/yum-cha, something like that. the sa-cha beef that you guys order is the same flavor as in those silver-colored cans right?

                1. re: bigjeff
                  buttertart Mar 1, 2010 09:58 AM

                  I always thought it was a not-terribly-close phonetic transcription of satay sauce.

                  1. re: buttertart
                    bigjeff Mar 1, 2010 10:10 AM

                    ya unfortunately used sometimes interchangeably, but typically, satay sauce is the SE-asian condiment served with satay/sate (not monolithic at all, either) which is often peanut-based (but not exclusively so) while sa-cha is specifically that fermented shrimp-based sauce we're discussing, which you can certainly use with skewers (I use it on grilled fishcakes/tien-bu-la personally or simple marinade for beef on the grill) but not typically and definitely not to be confused with typical SE-asian style satay sauce.

                    did a quick look on chowhound:
                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/297670
                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/354942

                    1. re: bigjeff
                      buttertart Mar 1, 2010 10:18 AM

                      I know the stuff you're talking about, didn't mean to imply that it was same as SE Asian satay sauces.

                      1. re: buttertart
                        bigjeff Mar 2, 2010 05:52 AM

                        ya it's quite interesting the evolution of satay to sa-cha or vice versa; it's an interesting one.

                        1. re: bigjeff
                          buttertart Mar 2, 2010 07:06 AM

                          You're right, it could very well be vice versa - from Chinese settlers in Indonesia/other SEA maybe?

                    2. re: buttertart
                      l
                      Lau Mar 1, 2010 10:11 AM

                      yah thats what i thought it was as well

          3. re: shaogo
            buttertart Jan 4, 2010 09:59 AM

            Chou doufu - doesn't get much more Taiwanese than that - and yes it is very chou (smelly). But tasty! Good to hear about this place for those jonesing for Taipei moments, thanks.

            1. re: buttertart
              l
              Lau Jan 4, 2010 10:45 AM

              i saw they had it on their menu, but i didnt actually see anyone eating it, will try it though....but ive never been able to find really good chou dou fu outside taiwan even in LA where there are tons and tons of taiwanese

              1. re: Lau
                buttertart Jan 4, 2010 11:07 AM

                Me neither.

          4. scoopG Jan 10, 2010 07:35 AM

            Thanks for the update. Any ideas on how Gu Xiang compares to "66," the Taiwanese place on Prince Street?

            4 Replies
            1. re: scoopG
              l
              Lau Jan 10, 2010 09:01 AM

              i haven't eaten at 66 in a while, but 66 the only thing i ever really liked there was their pai gu fan (pork chop rice) and all of my friends (who eat there more often than me) agree with that and think gu xiang is better, but to your point, ill make it a point to go try it out soon to re-develop my own opinion

              1. re: scoopG
                l
                Lau Jan 10, 2010 09:08 AM

                btw scoopG - there is a bian dang place next to little pepper on roosevelt that my friend said is very good (its been discussed very lightly on the board before) that maybe the only taiwanese place i haven't tried actually i haven't tried red chopsticks either.

                If you have a chance to try it before me, i'd be curious...i don't think anything is written in english and i'd be surprised if they spoke english, so its not the most language friendly place for most people on the board, but i know you can speak / read chinese, so you'd fare fine in there

                1. re: Lau
                  scoopG Jan 10, 2010 06:29 PM

                  Thanks I will try to check them out! I have enjoyed the Lu Rou Fan at 66 at luch as well as the Taiwanese Oyster Omelette..will have to check out Gu Xiang....

                  1. re: scoopG
                    l
                    Lau Jan 10, 2010 06:40 PM

                    supposedly gu xiang's oh ah jian is good although i'm sorta skeptical b/c its actually extremely hard to get an oyster omelette right, its another dish ive never had very good outside....even in taiwan alot of places mess it up

              2. buttertart Feb 22, 2010 12:20 PM

                We went with some people yesterday all jazzed up to try the food and were not completely thrilled with it - the restaurant is attractive and very Taiwan neighborhood restauranty, but the dishes we had were not terribly exciting.
                1. Oyster pancake was nothing like I remember it (other than having eggs and oysters in it), the sauce was excessive and too sweet. The oysters tasted canned to me.
                2. Choudofu was whiffy but very mild, other than the smell didn't taste very much diff from regular deepfried doufu.
                3. The leeks with cured pork was tasty but more Sichuan than Taiwan food - I don't remember smoked meats being featured in TW cuisine. Their chopsticks wrappers said authentic TW and Sichuan food so they obviously feature this kind of food as well as TW.
                4. Duck blood cakes w leeks: leeks were good, cakes ok. Not sure if they really were duck blood, I remember it being lighter colored, more translucent, and milder.
                5. Kong xin cai sauteed with garlic - fine, just the way it would be in TW. I love this veg.
                6. Sauteed snail w basil (i.d.'d as jiucengta basil on the menu) - nothing like the haiguazi ("sea pumpkin seeds", tiny dark-shelled cockles) dish I really wanted (ordered this as it was the closest analog to it on the menu), an almost dry saute of cockles with rings of hot red pepper, holy basil (small-leafed) and garlic. Snails may also have been canned? Very chewy.
                It was interesting but we really wouldn't go to Flushing just to eat there. It is an everyday-level TW place, as evidenced by their takeout biandang (bento) lunch boxes etc.
                I was really hoping for haiguazi...the holy basil jiucengta (nine-storey pagoda) is wonderful with them - can't remember seeing this basil in NYC stores though (they have it in California) so wasn't surprised when the basil with the snails was not the "right" kind.
                Several dishes were soupier/wetter than expected - owners of Chaozhou background perhaps? Fujianese food is also wetter than most TW food that I've had.

                14 Replies
                1. re: buttertart
                  l
                  Lau Feb 22, 2010 01:23 PM

                  sorry you didn't like it, i probably should've updated that my friends tried their oh ah jian (oyster pancake) and chou dofu (stinky tofu) recently and said they are mediocre, i trust the people who tasted it, so i havent been in any rush to try it...ive actually kind of given up finding good versions of either of those dishes in NY (oh ah jian is particularly hard to get right even in taiwan)

                  I haven't tried any of the other dishes you had except the kong xin cai which is good. If you decide to try it again, try the dishes I had in this post and the prior post (there is a link to it in this post)

                  the people that run it are definitely taiwanese

                  1. re: Lau
                    buttertart Feb 22, 2010 01:30 PM

                    What you had did sound good. Just not a destination restaurant as far as I'm concerned (live in Brooklyn, Flushing is a trek).

                  2. re: buttertart
                    bigjeff Feb 26, 2010 12:56 PM

                    isn't hai-gua-zhi just mean manila clams?

                    1. re: bigjeff
                      buttertart Feb 26, 2010 01:09 PM

                      At least not what they were calling haiguazi in Taipei in the '80's - little tiny clam-like things, about the size of your thumbnail, shells varying from brown mottled to black (hence the name, pumpkin seeds of the sea), with a little bit of very flavorful meat in them. Manila clams are same size as littlenecks or so, no?

                      1. re: buttertart
                        l
                        Lau Feb 26, 2010 02:58 PM

                        ohhh i think i know what ure talking about, they are those tiny ones they sell on the streets in like dan shui...i never knew what they were called

                        1. re: Lau
                          buttertart Feb 27, 2010 06:49 AM

                          Mmm hmm, that's what I mean - v good with chili basil and garlic. I wish you could get the same red chilis here, more flavorful and less hot - the Holland ones in K-town are similar but not quite the same.

                          1. re: buttertart
                            l
                            Lau Feb 27, 2010 07:29 AM

                            interesting so it is the thing i'm thinking of...i didnt even know they served those in the US

                            1. re: Lau
                              buttertart Feb 28, 2010 06:34 AM

                              Have seen them for sale on the street in SF very occasionally and in Philadelphia Chinatown once a good while ago.

                        2. re: buttertart
                          bigjeff Feb 27, 2010 02:58 PM

                          I just always heard clams called "hai gua zhi" without really differentiating, say, from the typical clam ginger soup to the typical clam in black bean or clam sauteed very simply, Danshui or Keelung style where you just point and the seafood monger cooks it.

                          1. re: bigjeff
                            buttertart Feb 28, 2010 06:36 AM

                            Taiwanese friends in Taipei at the time differentiated between types/sizes of clams, it was only these they called haiguazi.

                            1. re: buttertart
                              bigjeff Feb 28, 2010 08:21 AM

                              ya I can definitely see that; usually it would be the small dark striped ones.

                              1. re: bigjeff
                                buttertart Mar 1, 2010 04:51 AM

                                Yep.

                                1. re: buttertart
                                  bigjeff Mar 1, 2010 05:14 AM

                                  was talking to my folks and they reminded me; my grandmother used to marinate the small ones raw with soy, garlic, etc., almost like drunken clam. wow they were so good!

                                  1. re: bigjeff
                                    buttertart Mar 1, 2010 05:48 AM

                                    Sounds superb. The cooked ones were fantastic, the basil really enhances the taste.

                    2. s
                      silverlainy Mar 4, 2010 09:52 AM

                      Just my 2 cents since I've gone a couple times with my family. The first time I went with a friend and loved it, their tendon cooked in brown sauce was amazing, sadly no longer on the menu. I went again with my relatives who all grew up in Taiwan and had a pretty good meal. The owner was really friendly and gave us a free whole fish after chatting with my grandfather. She constantly referred to her own food as homestyle, nothing special or fancy. Her modesty aside, its definitely homestyle and authentic. In that sense, there are items that are good and items that are not which for me means some dishes my parents could make better and others not. So I wouldnt go expecting amazing food but if you order carefully you will have a solid homestyle Taiwanese meal. (And definitely everyone agreed their stinky tofu lacks flavor.) Last time we went it was not as good (maybe what we ordered) so we haven't been back but one thing I consistently liked is their stewed beef - its cooked until its almost falling apart. The vegetable and dried tofu dishes are pretty solid too.

                      We used to go to 66 Lu's a lot until an unfortunate incident with disgustingly unfresh fish. But the other stuff is fine, stick to basics. Also had some pretty good 3 cup chicken at Red Chopstick. Didn't try too much at RC but liked everything well enough. I havent found standout taiwanese in manhattan or flushing so the distinction of "best taiwanese" doesnt mean a lot in my book but if you have a hankering for taiwanese these 3 places all have dishes worth getting.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: silverlainy
                        bigjeff Mar 4, 2010 12:10 PM

                        thanks for your thoughts!

                        relevant thread covering some of the other TW joints in flushing:
                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/492283

                        1. re: silverlainy
                          l
                          Lau Mar 4, 2010 06:18 PM

                          you bring up a good point about gu xiang in that ive liked most of the dishes ive had here, but ive sort of stuck to a certain type of pretty simple stir fry type dishes and soups if you read what ive ordered in the two different posts. Sounds like based upon your experience and buttertart's experience you have to be careful what you order

                          1. re: Lau
                            s
                            silverlainy Mar 9, 2010 01:48 PM

                            Yes, I agree simple dishes are often better. Most chinese restaurants have huge menus so not all dishes can be hits. Unfortunately the only way to know that is trial and error or careful attention to others reviews.

                            Side note: Finally tried the far off Main St imperial (Bei Gang) twice and similar thoughts on hits and misses. Fried pork and chicken was meh but this dish of stewed pork belly and bamboo was great, melt in your mouth pork fat and skin. Had to stop myself from eating it since its so unhealthy. Would def go back and try more of the wall specials since the menu items are not always available, definitely need someone who can read chinese. The 3 cup chicken looked great but will have to try next time since my dad and uncle dont eat chicken!

                            1. re: silverlainy
                              l
                              Lau Mar 9, 2010 02:29 PM

                              totally agree with you about the menus being too big

                              taiwanese places in NY suffer from having the greatest hits of street food on their menu, but generally executing on them pretty badly and it seems like Gu Xiang is in that camp as some of the other posts seem to have had mediocre experiences here. Gu Xiang still reminds me of little hole in the wall restaurants in taiwan that make good simple dishes that i referred to in my OP, it seems to be a different type of taiwanese food than people are looking for (although its not anywhere near as awesome as actual food in taiwan of course)

                              if you go back to bei gang, try the cong ying tou (scallion fly head, i know weird name)...waitress told us it was their house specialty, its excellent
                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/601902

                        2. scoopG Mar 7, 2010 05:14 AM

                          Stopped in here to see what all the fuss was about and came away somewhat mixed. Although I will go back at some point I did not see anything here that blew me away. Especially considering the unique dishes to be found at other restaurants. As I waited for some friends to show up the Owner was hovering around me, as if I was trying to steal the tableware. Tea Smoked Pork with Garlic Greens was pleasant enough but I found that there was not that much difference in taste between the Spicy Squid Taiwan Style and the Eggplant with Basil dish. Their Lu Rou Fan was OK - the extra sauce served on the side being a happy addition but I think 66 on Prince street might be better.

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