Guan Fu Sichuan

People often ask where (and what) I’ve eaten recently, so in response, I’ve been posting photos of some of the tastiest dishes from my favorite restaurants under the category You Asked For It. You can find these and more on my Instagram account, @ethnojunkie.


Every once in a while, a new Sichuan restaurant comes along and it’s so good that you feel compelled to shout about it from the rooftops and tell the world. But seldom does a new Sichuan restaurant show up that’s so remarkable, so outstanding, so clearly superior in every way that you fall silent, awestruck, in appreciation of every skillfully prepared bite.

Such was my experience at Guan Fu Sichuan.

Here are a few favorites from my recent visit. (Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)

Kung Pao Lobster

Kung Pao Lobster (宫保龙虾). Not what you’d expect when you hear “Kung Pao” anything. Masterfully seasoned (no heavy-handed spice complication) and exquisitely plated, the contrast between the crisp peanuts and the melt-in-your-mouth lobster was perfection.

Sichuan Style Scallop with Minced Garlic

Sichuan Style Scallop with Minced Garlic (蒜蓉蒸扇贝). Each perfectly prepared, alive-moments-ago scallop is balanced atop a nest of noodles bathed in an ambrosial scallop broth – truly a culinary gem. They’re break-your-heart luscious but break-the-bank expensive at $10 apiece. But do take note: I resolutely champion the tenet that ethnic/world food should never be relegated to the “cheap eats” category. The talent and creativity (not to mention the quality ingredients) that go into making this – and every – dish at Guan Fu justify the price as would any equivalent experience at a schmancy French restaurant. In my opinion, Guan Fu rates a firmament of stars for its inventive cuisine and presentation.

Razor Clams with Green Pepper

Our appetizer of sweet, tender razor clams with mildly spicy green pepper (烧椒圣子皇) was delicate yet distinctive. I admit that I’m easy to please when it comes to razor clams but I’ve never had them prepared with such finesse. Again, an expertly crafted dish.

Fried Corn

You’ve heard of Candy Corn, right? Well, as far as I’m concerned, this dish is Corn Candy and it’s amazing. It’s called simply Fried Corn (金沙玉米) – sweet corn prepared with salted duck egg yolk and I could probably eat a whole plate of it myself. Simple, yet elegant, another Guan Fu must-have.

Spicy Oil Wontons

From the Snacks section of the menu, they’re just innocent looking dumplings, right? But again, at Guan Fu, they’re a cut above. Often you hear folks report whether the skins are thick or thin and that’s where the description ends. These Spicy Oil Wontons (红油抄手) (medium thickness and perfect chew) are swaddled in a delicious wrapper (how often do you hear people talk about how good the wrapper tasted?), stuffed to bursting with a savory meaty filling, and swimming in a not-too-spicy sauce.

Boiled Fish with Pickled Cabbage and Chili

Boiled Fish with Pickled Cabbage and Chili (酸菜鱼) is available with different kinds of fish – the least bony is the most costly, and even then you’ll need to be careful.

Mapo Tofu

I don’t like Mapo Tofu (麻婆豆腐) said nobody ever. Once again, Guan Fu’s rendering was exemplary. Fluffy, remarkably soft pillows of tofu in a sauce that was complex and flavorful that went well beyond the ubiquitous nondescript spicy versions.

Guanfu Style Bean Jelly Salad

Guanfu Style Bean Jelly Salad (川北凉粉) was a perfect way to start our meal.

Cucumber with Home Sauce

Cucumber with Home Sauce (沾酱乳瓜), essentially Persian cucumber with hoisin sauce, was the most uncomplicated dish I tried; tastes exactly as it sounds.

 
Guan Fu Sichuan is located in Flushing Square, 39-16 Prince Street G01, in Flushing, Queens.

 

Reverse Engineering Legend of Taste’s Smoked Pork with Garlic Leaf


Legend of Taste, located at 2002 Utopia Parkway in Whitestone, Queens, is fast becoming a legend in its own right. Arguably the most original Szechuan restaurant in New York City, finicky foodies have been flocking here to check out the hype (yes, it’s completely deserved) and enjoy the chef’s skillful spin on Szechuan classics.

As to my modest role in supporting this establishment (whose only drawback is its location: you need to drive there since it’s not near a subway line), I’ve brought several groups of food writers and photographers, restaurant reviewers, chefs, and Szechuan cuisine enthusiasts to sample as much of the “Legend Special” and “Chef’s Special” sections of the menu as we could and still fit through the door on the way out. You can see some of what we’ve sampled here.

It turns out that among the many amazing offerings we tasted (like the unimaginably delicious – may I say transcendent? – Szechuan Style Crispy Eggplant), the relatively simple Smoked Pork with Garlic Leaf never failed to garner tremendous approbation from the throng. As a matter of fact, a few folks asked if I had a recipe so they could try their hand at reproducing it. Although I discovered some similar dishes in my research, I couldn’t track down a proper recipe so I had no choice but to try to create one myself. I was fortunate that on one visit I had been able to carry out a bit for an A/B comparison while I was inventing my own take on it. (Sure, try and convince people that sacrificing a morsel of the dish for me to bring home and deconstruct would ultimately accrue to their benefit.)

What follows is my modest proposal for just such a recipe. (Actually, it’s more of an algorithm than a formal recipe, but you’ll get the idea.) The limited number of ingredients made the task seem less daunting. The real key is finding a version of smoked Chinese bacon that resonates for you. (No, I don’t have a favorite since I always buy a different one: it’s the best way to learn.) Now, I suspect that Legend of Taste smokes their own pork belly so you won’t be able to find a perfect match in Chinatown, but you can approximate it. In the market, you’re likely to find Chinese style bacon available in two forms, either Cryovac packaged or hanging by a string alongside other dried meats like lap cheong (Chinese sausage) and assorted types of poultry (see photos). Either one will work in this dish. The packaged versions differ from each other considerably – some are richer than others, some have added seasonings like cinnamon, soy sauce, wine, and there’s even a Szechuan style spicy má là version; it’s all a matter of taste. Note that these are not refrigerated in the market.

For the greens, head to the produce section. English names for this vegetable vary widely from “garlic leaf” to “green garlic” to “Chinese leeks”; in Szechuan province it’s known as suan miao, 蒜苗. You’re looking for a vegetable that has flat leaves and a purplish tinge to the outermost layer of the bulbs. The photo here (left) shows what you’re after. That shiny silver disk is a quarter placed there for the sake of size comparison; you can see that they’re much longer and thinner than garden variety American leeks. They’re more tender than regular leeks as well so they cook up much faster.

The only other significant ingredient that I could discern is dried salted black bean; you’ll find it packaged in plastic bags near the other dried items like lentils, starches, nuts, dried mushrooms, black and white fungus – things you’d cook with, not snack on.

Preparation: Steam the Chinese bacon over boiling water for 15 minutes; doing so will cook and soften it so that it can be worked with. Slice off a little of the fat and render it for use in the stir frying process later. As soon as it’s cool enough to handle, lay it on its side (or whatever technique works best for you) and carve thin slices (photo on the right). Don’t worry if your slices aren’t as thin and translucent as what you see here; do the best you can and it will be just fine.

The main difference between this and the pork in the dish from Legend of Taste is the sublime smokiness. (As a matter of fact, Legend of Taste’s outstanding Special Smoked Ribs and Tea Smoked Duck are so redolent of smoky goodness that, if you’re lucky and your timing is right, the aroma will seduce you as you enter the establishment.) Since I don’t have a smoker, I tried to come up with a process for enhancing my expeditious ersatz rendition. My first try involved adding a few tablespoons of liquid smoke to the steaming water; that helped a bit, but it needed more encouragement since the smokiness couldn’t really permeate the large hunks of bacon (although it most decidedly permeated my kitchen). A few tests later, I settled on a method of mixing a tiny amount of liquid smoke in a bowl with a little water, sugar, and smoked sea salt and briefly tossing the slices of pork all at once in the mixture, then steaming them again for a few minutes. Perfect? Of course not. And there are those among us who eschew liquid smoke at all costs; I can appreciate that. But if you don’t overdo it, my method will get you close. Incidentally, if you try this technique, I recommend that you not use a variety of Chinese bacon that has additional seasonings added.

As to the garlic leaf, remove the roots and wash it thoroughly. Cut off the bulb and quarter it so it will cook at the same rate as the leaves and stalk. You’ll get the best results working with the sturdier leaves just below the tips down through the stalk just above the bulb. The very ends can be wilted and in any event are too delicate for use in this dish; they get a little stringy and don’t hold up under stir-fry conditions. Save them for soup stock if you like. Or to use as ribbon on tiny Christmas presents. (Just wanted to see if you were paying attention.) Make one slice lengthwise through the stalk, then slice it and the firm leaves into 1½-inch pieces on the diagonal.

Rinse a small amount (perhaps a tablespoon or so) of the black beans and chop them coarsely.

The precise amounts of the components are up to you. Have a look at the photos and balance them as you wish.

Assembly: Heat a wok or a cast iron skillet until it gets impossibly hot. Add a little of the rendered pork fat – you won’t need much. Stir fry the sliced greens until almost tender (it won’t take long), and add the pork strips, black beans, a pinch of white pepper, a pinch of salt (depends upon how salty the bacon is), a pinch of sugar, and a big pinch of MSG. (Yes, really. You wanna make something of it?) Stir fry for a minute or two, just enough to introduce the ingredients to each other and until they develop a happy relationship. Serve with rice.

Remember that this is merely my take (bottom photo) on reverse engineering the dish so wonderfully crafted at Legend of Taste (top photo). If you have a recipe for it that you’d like to share, use the area below to send a comment. I’m eager to hear from you!

PS: I think it came out rather well!

Legend of Taste

People often ask where (and what) I’ve eaten lately, so in response, I’ve been posting photos of some of the tastiest dishes from my favorite restaurants under the category You Asked For It. You can find these and more on my Instagram account, @ethnojunkie.


So much has been written about Legend of Taste that I’m reticent to repeat it here. Suffice it to say that the culinary cognoscenti think it’s the best new Szechuan restaurant in NYC and I concur wholeheartedly. (The proof lies in the statistics, viz: the number of minutes I’m willing to travel by bus after riding the subway to the end of the line in the quest for outrageously great cuisine, times the number of diners I’ve lead there, to the power of the number of dishes we’ve enjoyed.) Yes, it’s a bear to get to by mass transit (the 7 train to Main St. Flushing plus a bus) but it’s unequivocally worth it. If you have access to a car, then it’s relatively easy; if you don’t, by all means convince a friend who does that you both need to go there posthaste! Otherwise, pony up a fare for the MTA; you won’t regret it. The only caveat regards the menu: it’s extensive and much of it exists to provide familiar offerings to the less intrepid. I’ve determined that some of their best dishes can be found in the Chef Special and Legend Special sections of the menu although there are exceptions. But if you stick with my recommendations, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

And as usual, I strongly suggest that you go with a large group; that way you’ll get to sample more of the amazing dishes I’ve tried! (Click photos to enlarge.)


Szechuan Style Crispy Eggplant

I’ve listed this dish first for a reason: even if you’re only lukewarm on eggplant I suspect you’ll delight in this dish as much as everyone else who’s tasted it. Don’t be afraid of what appear to be hot peppers! They’re quite mild and are an integral part of the experience. Take a bite that has some eggplant, some pepper, and some of the impossibly crunchy peanuts. I can still taste it! (But maybe that’s because I brought an order home with me.)


Smoked Pork with Garlic Leaf

This one is remarkable as well and satisfies those who want “something green”.
UPDATE: Read this post in which I attempt to deconstruct and recreate a quick version of Legend of Taste’s awesome Smoked Pork with Garlic Leaf!


Special Smoked Ribs

So tender! So juicy! So smoky! The stuff that dreams are made of.


Spicy Szechuan Pork Dumpling

Thick, chewy skins if you, like me, appreciate them that way.


Griddled Hot and Spicy Rabbit

There’s a section of the menu headed “Grilled Hot and Spicy Pot”. There you’ll find about nine dishes named “Griddled Hot and Spicy x” where x can be chicken, beef, fish fillet, pork intestines, rabbit, lamb, cauliflower, frog, etc. They’re all pretty much the same format (see photo above) and they’re all good. Just pick your protein and get ready for some serious spice. (And no, I don’t know whether they meant “Griddled” or “Grilled”. Neither really seems appropriate here!)


Chengdu Fish Fillet with Pickled Vegetables

Don’t be misled by the name: this is a soup, and a spicy one at that. But the combination of mild fish, pickled vegetables and spicy broth is unique. It’s served in a large tureen so one order is more than enough for a large group.


Tea Smoked Duck

Another smoky offering. Like the ribs, it’s delicious too, but you should probably choose whether you want the duck or the Special Smoked Ribs (see above) – unless you can’t get enough smoke!


Dry Sautéed Pork Kidney

Very mild as kidneys go. I’d call this gateway offal for timid but curious would-be kidney experimenters. Light and luscious.


Ants Climbing the Tree

No ants were harmed in the making of this dish! I’ve had drier versions, but this soupy one is good as well. The “trees” are cellophane noodles made from mung bean starch and the “ants” are ground pork. I once made this fancifully named dish for someone as part of a mini-banquet and she refused to eat it. I asked if it was because she thought those were real ants in there but she understood that they were merely bits of pork. However, she couldn’t get past the idea that maybe, just maybe, those noodles were made of cellophane. After all, she said, they did come out of a cellophane package!


North Szechuan Bean Jelly

Spicy!


Tears in Eyes

Like North Szechuan Bean Jelly (above) but even spicier! You don’t need to get them both.


And some other dishes we liked:

Shredded Beef with Long Horn Green Pepper


Chicken in Triple Pepper


Chengdu Style Hot and Spicy Prawn


Dan Dan Noodle


Famous Szechuan Pickled Vegetable

A great change of pace.


Hot and Spicy Dry Beef


Beef and Ox Tripe in Chili Sauce

In Chinese, it’s fuqi feipian, literally husband and wife sliced lung, but there’s no lung in it. A Szechuan málà classic.
 

And yes, there were more!

Legend of Taste is located at 2002 Utopia Parkway in Whitestone, Queens.