I’ve gone over the rules of our Chow City group many times in these electronic pages. We look for $20 and under places. We do our best to unearth those that are under the foodie radar, which nowadays is practically impossible. We look for virgin territory in terms of cuisines, but after ten years, the only cuisines we’ve skipped are the big name items (French, German, “American,” nouveau or fusion anything).
But there was one clause that was really never discussed or spelled out in our unwritten rule book. It didn’t have to be; it was taken for granted. That was the concept of waiting in line for a table at a restaurant. It goes against everything we hold sacred when it comes to eating; it’s a shock to our eating sensibilities.
So when Rick suggested a very well documented—at least by foodies—noodles and dumpling place in Flushing called Nan Xiang Dumpling House, I gently pointed out that, from my knowledge of these things, the place has become a “foodie destination.”
Rick understood immediately and, knowing the unwritten (and never mentioned) rule, quickly dismissed his original choice and instead went with an alternate, quite literally, down the road from Nan Xiang, the road in this case being Prince Street, called Prince Noodle House.
Of our group, only Mike from Yonkers, who was called to an urgent co-op board meeting, did not make the trip to bustling Flushing. There was absolutely no wait or line to get into the Prince Noodle House and we were given a big round table next to a large celebratory party of Asians.
One of the reasons Rick decided on, first Nan Xiang Dumpling, and then the Prince Noodle House were the aforementioned dumplings; in particular soup dumplings. He wanted to experience the Shanghai-style dumpling where the soup is “frozen” within the dumpling only to melt inside when steamed. Prince Noodle had them on their menu, here called “soup buns,” so we ordered the crab meat mini buns and the “special” mini buns for the table.
While we ate the soup buns, improperly at first and not with the provided spoons, the soup bursting all over our plates, Eugene told us of his trip to Jefferson City, Missouri where he attended a wedding.
“It was ridiculous,” he complained. “The wedding was catered. All they had was Mountain Dew, a keg of beer, and franks and beans. Can you imagine that?”
We couldn’t imagine it especially for a man used to the all you can eat buffets on the cruise ships and all-inclusive resort he regularly frequents.
While Eugene railed about his Jefferson City experience, I peered behind me at the big table. They were given one of those rotating round trays so they could spin it around making sharing easier. How come we didn’t get one of those, I wondered? The food was beginning to assemble on their table and I liked what I saw.
I asked our waiter about a dish they ordered that was a mix of a green, spinach like vegetable combined with what looked like tofu.
The waiter pointed to something on the menu called “malantou (kalimeris indica) w. dried tofu.”
“Indica means cannabis, or marijuana,” Zio offered as if he really knew of such things.
I ordered one for our table along with five spiced beef.
Served at room temperature, the malantou, vinegary greens mixed with dried shredded tofu, was a refreshing appetizer, though did not induce the melancholic buzz worthy of its name. The five spiced beef, on the other hand, thin slices of roast beef, cured with five spice powder and a sweet soy sauce drizzled over it, also served at room temperature, were addictive in a more familiar way, at least for us, than what Zio had presumed we would experience with the malantou.
Gerry immediately had his sight set on the “sliced fish swimm hot chili pepper sauce,” that was on the menu, highlighted in red to indicate that it was spicy. No one had any disagreement with his choice or of Rick’s twice sautéed pork belly.
I thought we should at least try some of the noodles at Prince Noodle House and ordered hot and spicy pork noodle soup. I added a rice dish, snow cabbage with rice cake and pork, while Zio studied the menu for one last dish.
The waiter hovered over his shoulder. “I want this,” he said, pointing to something on the menu.
The waiter bent down closer to see what Zio was pointing to.“You want crap fish?” he said.
“Huh?” Zio immediately got flustered.
“The crap fish?” the waiter said again.
Zio looked at the menu. What he was pointing to read: “spicy bean paste Buffalo crap fish.”
“Yes, I want…number 102,” Zio concurred, indicating the number adjacent to the item where the a and the r had obviously and mistakenly transposed.
First to come out was the family-sized sliced fish that, in an enormous casserole dish, was literally “swimm” in hot chili pepper sauce. A few bites brought tears to Eugene’s eyes, a sheen to Rick’s forehead, and loud honking from Gerry’s prominent, yet distinguished nose.
The noodle soup was equally spicy and the noodles, hand pulled, gelatinous in texture, lived up to its princely reputation.
Relief from the heat came with the arrival of the pork belly and the snow cabbage and rice cake. Covered with a one inch layer of fat and glazed to a burnished reddish color, the pork belly was ultra tender; the meat kept moist by its fatty coat and marinated with light soy sauce, sugar and rice wine.
Last to arrive was the whole carp. Smothered in a bean paste and topped with scallions and ginger, Zio was the first to sample it. He didn’t have much to say as he picked through the many bones. Gerry tried a few bites.
“Hmmm, crap fish has a very unique taste,” he said with a straight face.
While we polished off almost everything but the unfortunate carp, the dishes on the rotating tray on the table behind us kept piling up. We were done and they were just starting on a huge platter of lobster. Despite having completely stuffed our faces, we gawked enviously as we paraded out of the now fully booked restaurant.
Good thing we didn’t have to wait, I thought to myself as I made my way back to the parking lot where my car was parked. Once inside my car, I stared through the windshield at Prince Street. I noticed a line had formed outside of the Nan Xiang Dumpling House. Maybe the soup dumplings and noodles were better than the stuff we just experienced at Prince Noodle House, but I wasn’t going to wait to find out.