Tour for a Tour Guide.

One of the side effects of living in New York is a constant influx of visitors. A positive one, too: Whether I’m introducing guests to my favorite spots or testing out new ones, I do some of my best dining with out-of-towners. (Jill could’ve been semi-serious when she suggested that we incorporate food tours into our repertoire—someone is always passing through, and meals always need to be eaten. Two birds, one stone.)

FoJ (that’s Friend of Jill, naturally) Bethia Woolf, blogger and tour-leader extraordinaire, was recently in town to promote the Columbus food scene to various media outlets; Jill played matchmaker, and then left the two of us to make our own arrangements. As always, it was great to meet a member of the posse of foodies that Jill often crosses paths with, and one who’s an adventurous eater, at that.

Of course, expectations are higher with adventurous eaters; a restaurant won’t skate by on atmosphere or reputation alone. Selecting a type of cuisine wasn’t easy—it may surprise the folks who’ve been subjected to my food-Nazi ways to hear this, but I do often have trouble making unilateral decisions; as such, I probably overwhelmed Bethia with the sheer number and variety of options at our disposal—but once we’d decided on Chinese, a quick trip to Chinatown was the next logical step. (Time wouldn’t allow for an evening in Queens, sadly enough.)

We met at the Forsyth Street outpost of Xi’an Famous Foods, a four-location mini-chain that originated in Flushing and has since made the move to Manhattan, garnering all matter of positive press in the process.

Though I wanted to order at least four different dishes, Bethia gently reminded me that we’d need to save a bit of room for our next stop; logic won out, and we limited ourselves to two plates. (The cumin-scented lamb and the lamb burger would have to wait for another visit.) Despite the frigid, drizzly post-snow weather, we chose two cold dishes, and, contrary to expectations, both warmed us up considerably. The toothsome, hand-pulled liang pi noodles, studded with chunks of wheat gluten, tossed with bean sprouts and cucumbers, and doused in chile oil, had me craving seconds even while eating firsts.

Our other choice was the lamb-face salad. Though this plate also featured bean sprouts, cucumbers, and chile oil, it distinguished itself with the addition of sesame oil—and the gamey texture and flavor of the lamb. I didn’t mind the taste, but the mouthfeel of cold, fatty meat isn’t one that I overly enjoy.

For our next course, we headed to Joe’s Shanghai, that old standby, for crab-and-pork soup dumplings.

Though my experience with the genre is limited, I found myself disappointed with these particular specimens. You’ll notice that they look a bit deflated, and that’s for good reason—only one of mine revealed any broth when I bit off the top. Missing liquid notwithstanding, the filling was more porky/less crabby than I would’ve liked, the dumpling skins a little bit gummier than the ideal. Still, though, an adequate dessert.

I only wish we’d had more time, and maybe more of an appetite (my to-try list features three pages dedicated to Chinatown restaurants alone); nonetheless, it was great to give a mini food tour to a food-tour giver. And, not to be completely self-centered or anything, but I’m already counting down to my next trip to Columbus: I can’t wait to see what the pro has to show me on her home turf.

Xi’an Famous Foods

88 East Broadway #106
(entrance on Forsyth Street)
New York, NY

Joe’s Shanghai
9 Pell Street
New York, NY
212.233.8888

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