It started over an innocent glass of wine, as so many things do: The owner of one of my favorite Carroll Gardens bars proposed a food-based outing to Queens, and she didn’t have to ask twice. After months of text-message correspondence, we finally agreed on a day and hopped on the 7 train.
Armed with the print version of this list (the accompaniment to a New York Times article with a local angle on the Beijing Olympics, published last year) and looking every bit the tourists, we set off in search of Chinese goodies. First stop: Nan Xiang, for what are touted by some as the best soup dumplings in the city.
We walked in at 12:30, smack in the middle of lunchtime, and there was hardly an empty seat in the house. As we waited, dodging members of the waitstaff with their trays of bamboo steamers and protecting our place on line from would-be table-poachers, we managed to sneak more than a few glances at what everyone else was eating. It all looked amazing. The dumplings were a no-brainer: We ordered one of the pork ($5.50) and one of the pork-crab combination ($6.50), and when our waitress mentioned it’d be a twenty minute wait for those, we added a scallion pancake with beef ($3.75) and a bowl of beef and chile-pepper noodle soup ($6.50) to the list. Did I mention we were hungry?
Both came out at the same time, and it was hard to decide which to try first. After a taste-test proved that the soup was way too hot for human consumption, I scooped some into my little bowl to let it cool and went with the pancake. Lightly fried (though you wouldn’t know it from the lack of grease) and delicately flaky, with a slice of beef and more than a dab of hoisin sauce…I could’ve eaten two on my own, easily, if I didn’t know what was ahead of me.
The soup, once cooled, proved to have a lovely—though a bit oily—broth, with hints of sesame and star anise, and perfectly cooked noodles; the beef was superfluous, tender but without much flavor on its own, and the chiles didn’t have much of a kick, so it’s a testament to the rest of the bowl that neither of those factors detracted much from the soup as a whole.
And then, the main event. For those uninitiated in the ways of the soup dumpling, it’s exactly what the name implies: a bit of broth, a bit of meat, all ensconced in a (preferably paper-thin) wrapper. To eat without scalding yourself, bite off the top, blow on the innards, and, when slightly less hot, slurp out the liquid. Dunk the remainder in dipping sauce and have at it.
I found these wrappers to be on the gummy side, but the fillings were both great: the crab-pork broth was deliciously crabby, while the pork was rich and robust, exactly what you’d taste if you closed your eyes and pictured it. It took some restraint, but thinking ahead to the rest of the stops on our list, we limited ourselves to a few each and took the rest to go.
Our next destination was only a couple of blocks away: Flushing Mall. Sold on the promise of “Flushing fusion from Jilin, near Korea,” we headed for Chinese Korean Noodles & Dumplings. After some language-barrier-based verbal wrestling, one of the women behind the counter took a quick break from portioning out her dough, tapped their copy of our Times article—smartly positioned right under the menu—for reference and placed our order for pork dumplings with kimchi ($6).
We each took a batch to go, and even after spending several hours on the train and in the refrigerator, only to be subjected to reheating via microwave later that evening, these dumplings were impeccable. The translucent skins were still pliant after their long ordeal, the filling, heavy on crunchy greens and minced pork, still well-flavored and well-textured. When combined with the kimchi and the brick-red dipping sauce, the result was stellar.
Meanwhile, back in Queens, we were on to what would be the final point in our journey: Corner 28, for made-to-order rice wraps with shrimp. Though the “crepes” turned out to be underwhelming, the window counter is affiliated with a busy walk-in restaurant, with the steam table to end all steam tables, a congee station, Peking duck, and a handful of tables crammed into a corner.
Oh, and just a little bit of roasted pork.
When we each asked for a half-pound, the pig maestro turned to the carcass hanging behind him, sawed off about three ribs worth, then set it in a plastic carry-out container and uncermoniously dropped the whole lot onto the scale. Once he’d confirmed that the weight was correct, he handed the package off to his left, where a guy with a big knife hacked the meat into bite-size pieces, tossed in a thing of hoisin sauce, and bagged it up to go.
I snuck a bite on my way to the train, and it was just as good hours later as it was straight off the meathook: The Carnivore and I ate it out of the container, cold, for dinner that night (with those dumplings and kimchi) and the skin was still crackly, the meat juicy. Amazing.
So, out of the twenty places on our list, we only managed to hit three. This time, at least. We’re already planning the sequel.
Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao
38-12 Prince Street
Flushing, New York
Chinese Korean Noodles & Dumpling
Flushing, New York
40-28 Main Street
Flushing, New York