Morten and Behnaz had been in New York City for little more than 12 hours—a period that was mostly spent sleeping—before I made them haul themselves on a hour-plus long subway ride to a neighborhood they knew nothing about. Why would I do that to my tired guests? WHYYYY?
Aw yeah...that's the stuff. Dim sum. My favorite group brunchtime activity. Sit and wait for ladies to aggressively push their steamer and plate-laden carts to your table. Choose what you want. Eat it. Wait for more. Repeat 10 times.
I picked Dong Yi Feng for my Weegie friends' first New York City dim sum experience, not because I liked it, but because I had never tried it. This is opposite of how I usually choose places for friends visiting from out of town, but since I don't have a favorite dim sum restaurant (I'd estimate that I've tried about 10 of them in the city), I figure I may as well try all of them. So far I've learned that I'm incredibly unpicky when it comes to dim sum. And thus my Chinese heritage continues to leak from my soul.
As I didn't want to disrupt the flow of food into my hunger-crazed friends (I could see it in their eyes—Lee Anne, Diana, Tristan,
There were a few plates of rice noodle rolls (filled with shrimp or beef), shrimp dumplings, crispy turnip cake (one of my all-time faves), sweet and fluffy roast pork buns, stewed tripe and daikon, spare rib nubbins, congee mixed with bits of thousand year old egg, and the good ol' dish to challenge dim sum n00bs with, knobbly, wrinkly-skinned chicken feet. Or, if a euphemism makes them any more palatable, phoenix talons. (I don't like chicken feet, by the way. My Chinese heritage, oh how it continues to leak.)
For dessert we shared delicately flaky mini-egg custard tarts, still warm from the oven, and the chewy glutinous rice-based blobs pictured above that I'm guessing were pumpkin-flavored.
Could we have eaten more? Ohhh yes. But knowing that more food awaited us, we kept our dim sum meal rather light for a total of only about $7 per person. (And with that admission, I can feel Zach Brooks's disappointed stare burning a hole of guilt into my belly. A one digit dim sum bill per person = FAILURE.)
After a quick stop at the $1 duck bun stand (if you haven't tried it before, you should get on that), we checked out the Xinjiang BBQ Cart where you can get grilled chicken, beef, or lamb skewers for $1 each. Your reward for inhaling billows of smoke (if you stand right by the cart's open grill—perhaps you shouldn't) is a stick of crispy cumin-flavored meat nubbins glistening in fatty juices. At least, the lamb skewer we tried was plenty fatty. In a good way.
No first timer's trip to Flushing is completely without checking out the Golden Shopping Mall and Xi'an Famous Foods in the basement. While there are other Xi'ans in Manhattan, I like the feeling of the original basement hovel the most. We shared an order of their cold liang pi noodles doused in that tingly-spicy oily sauce that makes every strip of thick, chewy noodle taste awesome. (PS: What to do with leftover sauce.) Besides being one of my favorite noodle dishes ever, it gets extra points for being vegetarian-friendly.
We ended our Flushing journey at Ice Fire Land to try their Taiwanese shaved ice, as given the number one spot in Lingbo's roundup of the best Taiwanese shaved ice in New York City. (Lingbo, one of our interns at Serious Eats this past summer, did the shaved ice testing over a few days, but I'll never forget the day she came back from Flushing after eating at five or so places in one afternoon. By herself. Her pained face said, "I am full of beans. Why I go do that?" She probably said that aloud as well, but with correct grammar. Ah, Lingo, you are irreplaceable.)
We split two bowls between the nine of us (Flushing resident Chichi had joined our fooding party), which was plenty for our ever-bloating stomachs. I'm not sure what fillings came with our brown sugar syrup-soaked ice, but there was definitely red bean, taro chunks, and various jelly bits. For whatever reason, we didn't get condensed milk—methinks this was at the suggestion of our waitress, although it's hard for me top believe that condensed milk couldn't improve any shaved ice concoction.
Overall, I thought it was good, but not as memorable as I would've hoped. Although the ice wasn't distractingly chunky like so many other places, it wasn't superfine either. (I may be being too tough—shave ice in Hawaii has raised the bar to levels that New York City will never match.) It was acceptably somewhere in the middle, though. If I went back, it'd be to try their hot pot, not the shaved ice. ...But I'd still order the shaved ice.
In case you were wondering if it's okay for a group of nine to go to a hot pot restaurant and just order two bowls of shaved ice, the answer is yes. Maybe. Ice Fire Land has this little cafe-like area near the entrance, and we took over two-thirds of it.
Lee Anne, Diana, Tristan, Morten, Behnaz, Kåre, and I headed back into Manhattan to hang out at Ost Cafe, where Lee Anne used to be a barista. As I don't like coffee, I just lumpily sat there and did the inhale/exhale thing, while most of the others ordered something coffee-based because that's what you do in a coffeeshop. Diana broke out her old Polaroid camera to take some snapshots.
- MAGIC. Bottom photographs by Diana.
And then POOF, they were tangible photographs, unlike these digital ones.
After the caffeine refueling, we moseyed over to Momofuku Milk Bar for a pork bun snack. While the pork buns may be overhyped like everything else from the David Chang Empire, I do think they're deservedly praised. Each bun consists of meltingly fatty pork belly chunks atop a layer of thin cucumber slices, sprinkled with chopped scallion and wrapped in a hoisin sauce-smeared steamed bun-flap. Every bite is a balanced combination of all the components, but what really sticks out for me is the light crunch and shot of freshness from the cucumber. I wouldn't say the $4.50 pricetag per bun (an order is $9 for two buns) provides four and a half times the pleasure of a $1 roast duck bun in Flushing, but that's probably an unfair comparison since those duck buns are absurdly cheap.
For dinner, we went to my favorite pasta and gelato spot, Otto. This isn't the place to go if you crave a big hunk of meat; the only meaty specialty on their menu is the meat antipasti, which is a much better deal if you get all five choices for $25 instead of one for $9. Our platter (they change periodically) came with prosciutto, lonza, coppa, testa, salumi. Overall, it wasn't bad, but if you're used to eating the best cold cuts and cured meats Italy has to offer like Morten, you'll probably be disappointed.
Don't pass up on the vegetable antipasti, though. There are over ten to choose from for $4 each. I couldn't tell you which ones are the best—you sort of just order what you like the most— but I always go with either fresh peas or corn, depending on what season it is. We shared the autumn corn & fregola, cauliflower "alla Siciliana", and radishes with bagna cauda (an anchovy and garlic-flavored sauce). The cauliflower was the best, surprisingly, although I probably ended up eating most of the corn because...I love corn.
For my main dish I went with the linguine puttanesca topped with anchovies, capers, olives, chiles, and roasted tomato. As always, the pasta was al dente to the second power. They generally cook pasta to just a microsmidge past being undercooked, which is why I love Otto—their pasta is cooked just right, sauced just right, and is a great deal for $9 a plate. Only once out of over ten visits did my pasta actually come out unpalatably undercooked, but I try to forget that ever happened.
AND THEN, IT WAS TIME FOR...
Pastry chef Meredith Kutzman can do no wrong when it comes to squeezing the best flavors out of fruits, nuts, herbs, and chocolate and turning them into rich, silky smooth gelato and sorbetto. When I saw concord grape sorbetto on the menu, something deep inside me went, "AaaaaaAAAAHHHH FFGM [GURGLE] YES" and then little hearts pip-popped up around my head. So I ordered that, along with olive oil and hazelnut stracciatella gelato. And they were all fantastic. You don't just taste it or smell it—you can feel the gelato IN THE NOOKS OF YOUR BRAINMEATS. I suppose that's as close as I'll get to feeling the effects of recreational drugs.
Dong Yi Feng
135-29 37th Ave, Flushing, New York NY 11354 (map)
Peking Duck Sandwich Stall
Main St & 40th Rd, Queens, NY 11354 (map)
Xinjiang BBQ Cart
Main St & Kissena Blvd (or thereabouts; if you roam around you'll probably see it/smell it), Queens, NY 11354 (map)
Golden Shopping Mall
41-28 Main St, Queens NY 11355 (map)
Ice Fire Land
13511 40th Rd, Flushing NY 11354 (map)
1 5th Ave, New York, NY 10003 (at 8th Street; map)