Part 3 of 4: LA Native in NYC
Day three (Saturday 7/14) was spent largely in Flushing. For sake of continuity I intend to post here on the Manhattan board and cross-link on the Outer Boroughs since dinner was actually spent in Manhattan. I was originally going to explore Flushing with a friend but that didn't pan out so I wasn't able to eat as much as I would've liked.
Xi'an Famous Foods: I am aware of their other locations but wanted to see the original branch that launched the craze. Having spent time in Xi'an I am aware of the tastes and textures of this type of food so I was looking forward to it. Furthermore, in my hometown of San Gabriel, CA there are a few restaurants that offer this type of food but I was disappointed by my visit to one. My order consisted of the Cumin Lamb Burger and a plate of the Liang Pi Cold Noodles with added chili oil. My first bite of the lamb burger and I instantly recalled the memories of eating in Xi'an. The breading had a semi-crisp exterior that revealed a soft, but chewy bun that was not overly dense and chock full of tender, cumin-spiced lamb meat chunks. At Shaanxi Gourmet in San Gabriel, the bread portion was thin, lacked a crisp exterior and was without real substance. The meat filling itself was a bit mushy. None of those problems were present here and I happily ate the yang rou jia mo. The only critique I have would be that I prefer a slightly heavier hand with the cumin. The liang pi was served cool, with fresh crisp shreds of cucumber and chewy mung bean noodles that had picked up a good heat from the chili oil and was well balanced with the sesame flavors and acidity from the vinegar. The place in San Gabriel suffers from too much sesame paste IMO. The place was mostly empty so I had no trouble finding a seat and service was prompt in the sense that I got my food quickly and efficiently with no fuss. I would have no problems eating here again.
Lamb Noodle Soup: After my lamb burger and liang pi, I headed upstairs in the Golden Shopping Mall and found a shop serving lamb noodle soup. I ordered a small bowl and sat down to wait; there seemed to be a steady stream of individuals ordering noodles, mostly Northern Chinese mainlanders from what I could tell. After a 10 minute wait, I was presented with a steaming bowl of broth and noodles. First, I sampled the milky broth was pleased to find it was light, but full of that lamb “funk” I love. While a bit oily on the tongue, I found the broth to be well-flavored with some herbaceous notes from the cilantro and Gogi berries. The flour noodles themselves having been just hand-pulled were cooked well with plenty of Q. what I found interesting was that although the noodles were hand-pulled, they reminded me more of dao shao mian (knife-shaved noodles) with their thickness and texture. The lamb meat was tender and flavorful. The addition of chili oil added some welcome heat and acidity to cut through the oil. Unfortunately I wore a white polo that day and was met with some splashes from the slurping. Despite having just eaten downstairs, I devoured the bowl and would've emptied the fantastic broth had it been cooler. Maybe next time.
New World Mall: With a full stomach I headed over to the New World Mall to see what it held and was amazed to find the hubbub of activity in the food court. The food court itself held a myriad of food options and I practically cursed myself for not having a large enough stomach to sample some. The food court reminded me much of the newer food courts in Asia where food stalls are being brought indoors to maintain cleanliness and order. I did however order a small passion fruit iced tea drink from Snopo that was sweet, with a good passion fruit flavor and contained all sorts of fruit jellies and diced fruit. It was nice to get something sweet after all the savory eating I had already done.
Xinjiang BBQ Cart: Exploring some more of the area itself and I was drawn to the smoke and smells wafting from the cart off Kissena. Spying that the man was cooking meat skewers over charcoal and charging only a dollar, I had to make a stop. I placed an order for a lamb skewer, extra spicy and only waited a few minutes before handed a skewer of juicy, fatty, heavily spiced lamb meat grilled to perfection. The charcoal provided the smokiness and char that only it can give. For a dollar, this was a solid deal for the level of grilling skill. Having eaten plenty of these in China, I can attest that these are on par.
Fu Run: A friend of mine who lives in Queens told me about this restaurant and the Muslim Lamb Chop so I met up with her here for a late lunch. While I waited for her arrival, I placed an order for the Cold Marinated Cucumbers, Triple Delight Vegetables, Muslim Lamb Chop and the Sweet Taro (ba si taro). The cucumbers were fresh, sweet and crisp with a nice tang from being slightly pickled which helped cut the oil of the other dishes. The vegetable dish was well-cooked and had plenty of wok flavor. The potatoes themselves were soft without being mushy, the eggplant was a bit oily but delicious and the bell peppers maintained a slight crisp. The piece de resistance of the lamb chop was all I had heard it to be. Each rib was slightly crisp, yet super tender; spiced well but not overly so with a good heat from the chili flakes; the sesame seeds gave it a different type of crunch and provided nuttiness. Had I a larger stomach, I would've easily eaten the whole thing. The only thing I could say that would improve the dish would be to grind some of the cumin down so as to draw out more of that smoky goodness that is such a hallmark for the spice. The highlight for me though, and my friend agreed, was the sweet taro dessert otherwise known as ba si yu toh. Soft, earthy taro chunks were encased in caramel that hardened to create a candy-like shell. I am a sucker for all things taro and this was no exception. This dish originally crossed my path during my time in Beijing but they used apples mostly. I had heard that the apples version was inferior so I went with taro. No matter. The carmelized taro was excellent and I would actually have been happy just eating a plate of this. Service was helpful and prompt; no issues here. My eyes were much bigger than my stomach this day and we had tons of leftovers which my friend happily took. Definitely a must-try if one visits Flushing.
Mas Farmhouse: After all the “low-end” and Asian eating I had been doing up to this point, a change-up was welcome. After doing some research and checking whether I could get reservations prior to my trip, Mas Farmhouse with its farm to table philosophy seemed to be a good fit and an opportunity to try what New York has to offer. I was not disappointed. Upon arrival for my 615PM reservation, we were promptly seated in a dining area that was not overly large and sported a rustic, yet modern and comfortable interior tucked away in a quiet neighborhood. After perusing the menu, I settled on the four-course prix-fixe menu with the following selections: Fried Zucchini Blossoms Stuffed with Mushroom Duxelle and Mustard Greens, Huitlacoche-Black Trumpet Puree, Baby Spinach, Roasted Radish and Almond Foam; Roasted Wild King Salmon with Dill-Shallot Sauce, Grilled Baby Leeks, Shishito Pepper, Okra and Tomato; Roasted Long Island Duck Breast with an Apricot Gastrique, Braised Collard Greens and Baby Turnips; and Tristar Strawberries Macerated in Elderflower over a Cream Cheese Panna Cotta, Candied Pink Peppercorns and Lemon Shortbread for Dessert. The meal started with a complimentary amuse bouche from the kitchen consisting of a mini biscuit with a filling that I forget. It was a tasty bite and a good start. The zucchini blossoms were fried but carried no extraneous oil with a thin crisp exterior. The stuffing was sweet from the mushrooms with good umami and offered slight bitterness from the greens to offset the sweetness. The almond foam was characteristically light with a slight almond flavor. The salmon arrived beautifully presented nestled over the okra and tomatoes. All of the vegetables maintained their character and flavors but the salmon was just a hair undercooked. The duck breast was rich as duck naturally is with a nice layer of fat while the collard greens gave the dish a smokey note. I would've preferred more of the fat to be rendered and for the skin to be crispy but this was fine as the skin was tender without being rubbery. The gastrique was nicely executed bringing both acidity and sweetness. My dessert of macerated strawberries was sweet, floral with light herb flavors. The panna cotta was perfectly cooked and creamy while the lemon shortbread offered some textural contrast along with the pink peppercorns. At the end, the kitchen provided a small cube of homemade strawberry marshmallow which I grudgingly accepted (not a fan of marshmallows). Service was very attentive without being intrusive. What I found most interesting about the service was the pomp and circumstance with which they delivered and removed plates using two waiters at the same time when both diners were finished. I found it amusing although I'm sure it could be a bit much for some. I have to say the whole experience was excellent and I never felt rushed or uncomfortable. The din of the dinner room can be a bit loud when full but I didn't have an issue (the couple seated next to us who proclaimed they were “regulars” left after being seated for less than 10 minutes).
Chikalicious Dessert Bar: This was unplanned but since I had treated my friend to dinner, he decided to take me to a second round of desserts. Upon arrival at the dessert bar, not the club across the street, it looked as if we would have to wait but a spot for two opened up at the bar and we were seated quickly. After checking the menu, I chose the Honey Parfait in Chilled Honeydew Soup with Moscato Gelee and Green Grape. The amuse bouche was a melon ice cream quenelle over a cold custard soup. The ice cream while beautifully presented actually had a bit of ice crystal in it but with a good flavor. The cold custard was smooth and creamy. The honey parfait arrived in a beautiful flowery bowl. The parfait itself was similar to a custard and was creamy and sweet. The honeydew soup was light with a clear honeydew flavor with a slight tang. The moscato gelee was well done with a bright, sweet acidity. The green grapes offered a light crisp and texture contrast. The petit fours consisted of a coconut marshmallow, chocolate truffle, and three-spice shortbread cookie. All in all, although both Chika and her Japanese-speaking assistant definitely worked hard in compiling their desserts, I actually thought the desserts were just ok; nothing mind-blowing. Service was fine and Don was a great host. Chikalicious Dessert Bar is definitely interesting and worth a taste, but not destination worthy IMO. I felt the panna cotta I had at Mas was as good of a dessert compared to the ones offered here.