Northern Lights in Chinese Flushing

China, judging from most Chinese restaurant menus around town, would appear to extend from Hong Kong to Shanghai, but no farther north. To glimpse a wider, truer map, New York Chowhounds head for Flushing, Queens. scoopG is eating a swath through the city’s most diverse Chinese chow enclave, which has been pushing south from its original downtown base. He tips us to a couple of specialists in less familiar northern Chinese cuisines.

M&T Restaurant was opened just last month by a family from Qingdao in Shandong Province, between Shanghai and Beijing. M&T is short for mei er tai, or “beautiful and special.” The plain, six-table dining room may not be beautiful, but the food is indeed special as far as New York Chinese goes. Among the regional specialties listed only on the wall in handwritten Chinese is Qingdao xiao chao, a delicious tangle of stir-fried fiddleheads, pine mushroom, potato, and celery, with bits of pork belly and seafood. scoopG, whose informative report includes translations for the Chinese-challenged, also recommends stir-fried squid with Chinese chive; Qingdao cold pasta with special sauce (not a noodle dish, but cubes of grass jelly with garlic and vegetables); and salt-and-pepper fried Lao Shan ginseng, whose slight bitterness is set off by salt and a light tempuralike batter.

Around the block from M&T, Golden Palace works a different corner of Chinese cuisine, the northeastern Dongbei chow that Flushing veterans know from places like nearby Northeast Restaurant. scoopG describes rustic dishes including spicy tiger vegetables (chiles, cilantro, and scallions); triple delight vegetables, a piquant stir-fry of potato, eggplant, and green bell pepper; and simple, savory “egg with herb,” scrambled with garlic and a leaf vegetable called toon. The starch of choice appears to be yumi bing, a coarse corn flatbread that sops up the sauces nicely. Expect a casual vibe and a crowd of locals working on pitchers of draft beer and snacks like spicy pickled, shredded potato. “The whole experience was the closest I’ve had to being in a typical PRC storefront restaurant in the US of A,” buttertart observes.

Down the coast from these regions is Wenzhou, whose cuisine is the specialty at Chung Hua in downtown Flushing. fredid recounts a blowout feast highlighted by vinegary Wenzhou-style noodles, loofah with fish pancake (reminiscent of bean curd skin), Wenzhou-style fried tofu with wood ear, smoky-flavored intestine with pig blood, and a huge fish head in brown sauce, a red-cooked dish with undertones of five-spice. All in all, fredid says, “everything was very fresh and nicely prepared! It was great fun to explore this new-to-us cuisine!”

More familiar Chinese chow can be found at Yi-Jia, which makes Taiwanese standards like san bei ji (three cup chicken), flavored with soy, sesame, and basil. This version features tender meat in a very good sauce, Lau reports. He also recommends stinky tofu (chou doufu), water spinach (kong xin cai) simply sautéed with garlic, and smoked dried tofu with pork (xiang gan rou si), though this last dish could use a shot of chile. Shaved ice (bao bing) boasts superb powdery texture, but the toppings (red bean, green bean, condensed milk, black jelly) are just OK. His overall verdict: good, but not great, Taiwanese—not a bad thing in a town where great Taiwanese is rare. Yi-Jia spans two floors: a dingy street-level space and a darker, better-appointed upstairs room. Go upstairs, Lau suggests.

At My Sweet Home there’s no choice of floors, or even a door. This is a Taiwanese-run dumpling counter tucked into the back of Maxin, a Hong Kong–style bakery and café. ZenFoodist is hooked on its big, brilliant dumplings, “half moons of delicate dough stuffed with myriad fillings.” Standout flavors include the classic pork-and-chive, the not-so-classic pork-and-corn, vegetable (carrot, cabbage, spinach, zucchini), and fish, filled with sweet, delicious minced sea bass. They come freshly boiled or pan-fried, 10 for $3.50 to $4.75, or frozen in bags of 50. ZenFoodist says she and her “chowpup” have already put away 350 of them this summer. But who’s counting?

M&T Restaurant [Flushing]
44-09 Kissena Boulevard (near Cherry Avenue), Flushing, Queens
718-539-4100

Golden Palace [Flushing]
140-09 Cherry Avenue (between Kissena Boulevard and Union Street), Flushing, Queens
718-886-4383

Chung Hua [Flushing]
133-58 41st Avenue (between Main Street and College Point Boulevard), Flushing, Queens
718-888-9171

Yi-Jia [Flushing]
46-26 Kissena Boulevard (between Holly and Laburnum avenues), Flushing, Queens
718-886-1558

My Sweet Home [Flushing]
136-76 Roosevelt Avenue (between Union and Main streets), Flushing, Queens
718-461-0201

Board Links: New in Flushing: M&T Restaurant–A Taste of Qingdao
Review: Golden Palace in Flushing–Chinese Dongbei Cuisine
Chung Hua (Wenzhou food) -Very nice meal!
Yi Jia–pretty decent Taiwanese in Flushing
My Sweet Home Roosevelt Avenue in Flushing; my top summer ‘find’