Monday, March 25, 2013

Dumpling Odyssey in Flushing

White Bear's award-winning wontons
Love Chinese dumplings? Have 2-3 friends who share this passion? Get yourself to downtown Flushing this spring for a walking tour of some of the finest cheap eats around.

A few months ago, Serious Eats published an essential Flushing dumpling guide. Use it as a starting point, but get inspired to digress as we did on a recent afternoon in this vibrant eating Mecca, where 80% of businesses are either Chinese or Korean owned. For ease of splitting, keep your group to 3 or 4 people as most dumpling servings are by the dozen. And everything is within a few block radius of the Main St.-Roosevelt Ave. intersection.

White Bear is the perfect starting point and has quite a following. Just two blocks from the Flushing 7 train station. Unassuming is an understatement. There's practically no seating in this mom + pop shop. It doesn't matter because it takes seconds to polish off the exceptional pork + cabbage wontons in hot oil ($4.50/dozen). The bits of pickled veggies and chili add just the right depth of flavor. It's very tempting to order a second dozen, but refrain, because there is so much more ahead.

Next stop is the food court wonderland on the ground floor of New World Mall. I recently visited Bangkok where the mall food courts tempted me at every turn. That same rush came right back here. Pork dumplings at Sliced Noodle are first steamed then fried in a thin pancake batter base for added texture.
Sliced Noodle's pork dumplings
At the rear end of sunny Maxim Bakery sits a Taiwanese dumpling counter called My Sweet Home. Sweet it is. Dig in to an order of cigar shaped pork and leek fried dumplings with a side of cold eggplant in bean sauce. Dumplings are just excellent - meaty and greaseless.

Excellent eats from My Sweet Home

As a detour, it would be a shame if you left Flushing without trying the $1 Peking duck bun at the Peking Duck Sandwich stall. So make a pit stop for a two-bite pillow of meaty goodness.
The famous Flushing $1 Peking duck bun
Our final stop was Biang, the upscale sister restaurant to Jason Wang's Xi'an Famous Foods chain. Biang is casually hip. Chunky wooden tables, and exposed brick and lighting keep a trendy crowd streaming in all afternoon. Here the spicy cumin chicken skewers and spicy and sour lamb dumplings do not disappoint. Wash down the tingling heat with sweet + sour hawberry tea.

Stylish Biang has a terrific menu 
Before leaving Flushing, poke around the shops or hit the massive Asian supermarkets including Sky Foods and Jmart.

White Bear
135-02 Roosevelt Ave.

Sliced Noodle
136-20 Roosevelt Ave.
New World Mall food court #12

My Sweet Home
136-76 Roosevelt Ave.

Peking Duck Sandwich Stall
Main St. + 40th Rd.

41-10 Main St.

Friday, March 15, 2013

An Afternoon at Bab al Yemen

Slow roasted lamb haneeth over rice and veggies
When my group of 18 curious diners poured into tiny Bab al Yemen in Bay Ridge for Sunday lunch, we were eager novices to Yemeni food. It paid off.

Scoop up lamb segar with brick oven bread
Our server Viktoria didn't skip a beat in knowing what to suggest for the table. A selection of their most popular appetizers followed by a variety of classics. First came the luscious bread. Blistering loaves of fresh brick oven flat bread. We started ripping it apart even before the appetizers arrived. No matter. Baskets were constantly replenished. The bread is a staple to the cuisine, used as much as a utensil as a filling carb.

Soon after, platters of hummus, each crowned with a fragrant meaty mixture, arrived. One held a giant scoop of lamb segar, tender morsels of spiced meat sauteed with tomatoes and onions. The second, curry yamaani, was our chef's inventive take on a mellow coconut chicken. It all required scooping with chunks of bread. I could have dined on the appetizers alone.

Mild coconut chicken curry yamaani

But wait, there's more. Lots more. A Yemeni omelet of ground meat and diced veggies was served in a piping hot casserole, allowing the freshly cracked egg to cook before your eyes. The fattah b'lahm, a baked lamb which incorporated flat bread with the jus, was so much more than soggy bread. It was hearty and full of flavor. Only the fahsah, a traditional watery lamb soup, turned up bland in comparison to the other excellent dishes.

The bill finally arrived. Under $20 a head. An impossible price for an afternoon of jovial gluttony. At the end of our epic meal, I pulled aside our obliging server with the beautiful black locks and kohl rimmed eyes to sum up exactly what makes up typical Yemeni cuisine. She threw up her hands and said, "I don't know. I'm Polish!" Love it.
413 Bayridge Ave.
Brooklyn, NY
718 943 6961
Open daily 10 am - 11 pm
Friday 2pm - midnight
Bab Al Yemen on Urbanspoon