Saturday, October 29, 2011

Revisiting a Dumpling House in the Heart of Queens

Since I moved to Queens eight months ago, one of my and Florence's favorite places to eat is a dumpling house on Broadway called Lao Bei Fang. I've written on it before, but never in any great detail. It's one of those places that seemingly reveals more everytime I go - I first went for the obvious dumplings, but quickly realized that they do a lot more. Next up was the la mian noodle soups - for an average of about $5, you can get a big bowl of soup and hand-pulled noodles, filled with anything from shredded pork to seafood to tripe and tendon.

Getting more adventurous, Florence and I decided to try out the restaurant's cold case. When you walk in, you are immediately confronted with what looks like a steam table - six or eight metal trays of food behind glass - but on ordering, you quickly realize that the trays are over ice instead of burners. Here the multiregionalism of the restaurant starts to show itself - although ostensibly a northern Chinese dumpling house, the cold case boasts such Sichuan classics as fuqi feipian (literal translation is "sliced lung by the married couple"). Here it is thinly-sliced beef tripe and tendon, dressed mostly with chili oil and Sichuan peppercorn. I already enjoyed tripe, but this dish has converted me to tendon. It straddles that line between chewy, gelatinous, and tender, and the flavor imparted by the chili oil gives it an addictive kick. In the non-Sichuan portion of the cold case, we've had liangban huanggua (cucumber with raw garlic and sesame oil), and several other combinations dressed the same way (another notable one is celery with slices of smoked pressed tofu).

Frequently at the end of last year's winter, I saw people getting bowls of soup covered with curls of sliced beef, was never able to find it on the menu. Last week we finally saw it being eaten by an English speaker and asked, and today for lunch I ordered "hot and spicy beef soup". Only appropriate, given that it's snowing outside(!). From leaning over the steaming bowl as I picked it up, I discerned that it was made ma la style, with chili oil and plenty of Sichuan peppercorn. Don't get this soup alone - even more so than the other dishes here, it is a gargantuan amount of food. The bowl is absolutely stuffed with ingredients: beyond the sliced beef, there is tofu, tofu skin, fried tofu (are we in Malaysia now?), zucchini, round bean thread noodles, bean sprouts, unidentified crunchy vegetable, lotus root, thick round coins of rice flour dough (like big round noodles), and plenty of cabbage ribbons and spoonlike leaves of bok choy. Lao Bei Fang also adorns the soup (as if it needs it) with two semicircular slices of soft, fatty, and very flavorful pork sausage.

I was going to say that the only thing I haven't had here is the hot pot, but just today I saw somebody eating what may have been a shaobing of some sort. It was a thin, crescent-shaped flatbread filled with what looked like Chinese chives. I'll have to find out what it is next time - this place always has something new for me.

Lao Bei Fang Dumpling House
83-05 Broadway, Elmhurst, NY

M/R to Elmhurst Ave. - Lao Bei Fang is located directly on the other side of the overhead LIRR tracks

Highlights: Fried dumplings, 4 for $1.50; La mian, $4.50-$6; Hot and spicy beef soup, $5.75; Scallion pancake (take it home and re-fry it for even better results), whole round for $2.50; Plates from the cold case, $2.75 for veggie only and around $3.50 for meat (plus you can get multiple items on one plate!)

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