Main Street Imperial Gourmet-Great Taiwan/Fujien food NOT in downtown Flushing
This was a very good place in Flushing. Several people have called this the best Taiwanese, and my wife and her expert friend concur. I can't claim sufficient expertise to say, but this is a joint review with them. I have included my pictures. This was a very good meal. Went with my wife who grew up about 6 miles from Taiwan, just across the straights of Taiwan in Xiamen, Fujien, China. Taiwan and Fujien are pretty much the same culture, though historically, many different regions of Chinese migrated to Taiwan when the migration occurred in the 1940s of the Nationalists. Go here with someone who speaks Tawanese or Mandarin and knows the cuisine.
Amazingly, we saw a friend from Xiamen who we know who happened to show up. She enjoys this place and comes here regularly, and we didn’t know that previously. She owns a Chinese and Japanese restaurant, and has a good sense of food.
So we had two experts in the regional cuisine of Taiwan, or at least neighboring Xiamen (which can be actually seen visually across the straights of Taiwan). The chef came and spoke to my wife in their native dialect, though mostly in Mandarin, which I understood minimally. He was delightful, and cheerful. I heard him talk to his employees in an engaging way with the same kindness and decency that he approached us with. So the entire restaurant had a feeling of family. I admit that the waiters and other staff didn’t have that same demeanor. They were more like the standard for New York Chinese restaurant workers. Need I say more?
Every dish we had and that our friend had was good and very authentic, with subtlety, and at the same time intensity. Amazingly, each dish had very different flavors, which is unusual in Chinese restaurants with large menus, where many of the flavors are duplicative. I have some photos which I will show, though we didn’t take photos of our friend’s dishes, sadly. But I will describe them. I tasted two of them, and can give a brief thumbs up or down on them.
SAN BEI TOFU－三杯 豆腐 8.5 out of 10 points. We had “san bei tofu”. “san bei” means three cups. The three cups are soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar. Yet this had a delightful sourness from a light splash of vinegar. Instead of a high level of braising as with san bei ji 三杯鸡or three cups chicken, there was a light cornstarch fry of the tofu, with some spicing or salting. The chicken version is usually made with reconstituted dried black mushrooms, and is braised until tender in earthenware crocks. The dish is reminiscent of the highlands of Taiwan, and I first had san bei ji it in a mountain inn in Taiwan. It was delectable. I have had it in Flushing at Taiwan 101, where they do an excellent job. The sourness, was similar to the excellent sourness of Hangzhounese sweet and sour fish-savory, not sticky sweet like American/Chinese sweet and sour (or Suchounese sweet and sour). I think it’s made with a very dark colored vinegar similar to what my wife has in our kitchen. This was dark and savory, not sticky sweet orange or pink neon color as is common in American Chinese. So the dish was balanced, and elegant and delicious with a subtlety that was very nice. The sourness was elegant and not overpowering. There was a nice inclusion of basil. A little more basil would have gotten this to a 10 according to my wife.
SALT AND PEPPER RIBS-JIAO YEN PAIGU 椒盐 排骨: 8 out of 10. This dish was very delicious. It’s a batter fried marinated rib with salt and pepper for dipping. It was tender with a subtle and pleasant flavor and the batter was delicious. My kids loved it, and so did my wife. She would have liked more of the dried plum powder drenching that accompanies this dish. Traditional Tawan and Fujien dish.
FRIED CHICKEN-ZHA ZI JI 炸子鸡 out of 10. Think fluffy batter fried chicken pieces-ultra crispy with marinated tender chicken meat. Very Taiwan/Fujienese. Note, that this was the crispiest fried chicken I can remember including Hattie’s famous fried chicken in Sarotoga Springs. Her chicken recipe won in the “throwdown” with Bobbie Flay. But my fried chicken expertise is limited.
STIR FRIED CABBAGE- (no name): 8.5 out of 10. Delicious and well made.
NOODLE SOUP-HAI XIEN TANG MIEN 海鲜汤面 8 out of 10: Very homemade style soup. The broth was very rich and orange in color and had a richness in the broth similar to Japanese Tonkotsu style ramen broths. They are both made from pork bones and chicken. My wife’s cousin owns a ramen place in Philly. His broth, though he was trained at Santouku in the Mitsuwa Market, has that same kind of richness. This was very “hometown” Fujienese per my expert (wife). “It’s like my mom’s”. In Fujien, they are very embarrassed when they don’t include lots of ingredients in their soup. Here, there were lots of ingredients an and here we had shrimp, clam, squid and pork and Chinese “white cabbage” or “bai tsai” which is known in Cantonese as “bokchoy”. The broth has pork bone, like it’s cousin, Tokotsu. My wife extracts the heck out of her bones when she makes soup. I remember when I was 20 reading a Fujien-ese style broth recipe and was quite amazed at the amount of extraction that goes on. The Japanese do the same thing. Many many hours of cooking brings out enormous amounts of flavor in good Tonkotsu ramen (think Ippudo, and many others in NYC).
VEGETEREAN VEGETABLE AND TOFU SOUP: 6 out of 10.
BITTER MELLON STIR FRIED WITH FRUIT SEEDS-KUGUO: 8 out of 10. Small pomegranate like seed/fruits had a wine like flavor similar to marinated plums were cooked with bitter melon. They were sweet and delicious and most similar to plums that were marinated in wine, but these were the size and somewhat similar in texture to pomegranate seeds. This was delicious and most of the harsh bitterness was gone. Take note, diabetics, there is actual scientific experiments showing the bitter melon is helpful with blood sugar control. These studies were performed in India using “karala” which is the Indian word for kuguo. Sorry, we can’t remember the seed’s names. I recommend this for more adventurous eaters.
CLAM WITH BASIL-JIO CHEN TA: Very home town Fujienese dish. Excellent per our friend.
TOFU STIR FRY: Very good, but too much like the “sane bei tofu” for me to get into this.
PORK KIDNEY WITH A LIGHT GLAZE: This looked good and had a very low level of kidney “liveriness”. This was as good as the kidney I had recently in Quebec and L’Express which was excellent. Surprisingly elegant and understated.
STINKY TOFU, CHO DOFU: No, we didn't try it. There are numerous running jokes on our family about the smells and their similarities to other substances of similar textures.
This is a very good Taiwanese place. This is better than Taiwan 101, which may have lost their very talented chef who hails from a high class hotel in Taipei. The current chef there is not Taiwanese, but does a very good job with Taiwanese food.
The photos are not in order of review; the first is SAN BEI TOFU, the next is FRIED RIBS, the next is the SOUP, then stir fried cabbage, vegetable soup, fried chicken.