Chuan Tian Xia – Chengdu Dragon Handwriting

Instagram Post 9/26/2018

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These light dumplings came from recently opened Chuan Tian Xia at 5502 7th Ave in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. The combination of a little knowledge and more research leads me to think that menu item “Chengdu Dragon Reading Hands” (成都龙抄手) might be better translated as “Chengdu Dragon Handwriting” but that’s still not much help in determining their contents or the derivation of their fanciful name. Can anyone enlighten me?
 
 

Chuan Tian Xia – Fish Flavored Eggplant

Instagram Post 9/25/2018

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Fish Flavored Eggplant. Don’t be misled by the phrase “fish-flavored” – it neither contains nor tastes like fish; rather this delicious Sichuan yuxiang (魚香) sauce refers to a combination of ingredients, a little sweet and sour, a little spicy and salty, often used in preparing fish. New kid on the block in Sunset Park, Chuan Tian Xia at 5502 7th Ave, Brooklyn, did a nice job with this one.

Stay tuned; more to come….
 
 

Chuan Tian Xia – Mixed Fungus

Instagram Post 9/23/2018

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Classic Sichuan cuisine, this Mixed Fungus (巧拌木耳) from newcomer Chuan Tian Xia at 5502 7th Ave in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park is elegant in its simplicity. The wood ear fungus is lightly touched with a tangy soy/vinegar/sugar dressing and accented with red and green chili peppers, garlic, and a bit of red onion.

Stay tuned; more to come from Chuan Tian Xia….
 
 

Chuan Tian Xia – Pork with Garlic Sauce

Instagram Post 9/20/2018

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Sichuan restaurants are rare in Brooklyn’s Chinatown and Chuan Tian Xia at 5502 7th Ave is the newest in Sunset Park. First in a series, here’s an attractive presentation of Pork with Garlic Sauce; cucumber slabs provided the foundation for this creative bit of architecture.
 
 

Grain House

My Instagram posts are often brief takes on restaurants accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here, updated almost daily, by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But folks sometimes ask for fuller reviews and more photos, so in response, here’s a more comprehensive report on one of my favorites.


Have you heard about Grain House? It’s a remarkable Sichuan restaurant with roots in Queens and Uniondale, Long Island; they’ve recently opened a branch near Columbia University at 929 Amsterdam Avenue and I can state from firsthand experience that their food is excellent. Could this be the Upper West Side’s best kept secret? Not if I can help it!

Here are a few of the extraordinary menu items I’ve tried and want you to try too; suffice it to say they’re all great. (Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)


Hand Pulled Oil Splashed Noodles. Outstanding. The greens are a perfect foil for the spicy, thick, chewy noodles – an ideal combination.


Cumin Lamb. Is there anybody who doesn’t like this? It’s even got its own Instagram hashtag, #cuminlamb. And, no surprise, there’s nothing sheepish about the way Grain House does it.


This is one of my favorite Sichuan dishes, Chinese Bacon with Garlic Sprout. I know it as Smoked Pork with Garlic Leaf and I’ve actually made it at home. (If I’m not mistaken, the greens are suan miao, 蒜苗, similar to leeks but definitely garlic.) Needless to say, Chef Bob’s version is considerably better than mine.


Hot Spicy Jumbo Shrimp with Red Pepper. People at our dinner couldn’t stop raving about it. None of these was killer spicy, by the way; every one was perfectly balanced.


Sweet and slightly spicy, this Eggplant in Garlic Sauce was delightful.


Spicy and Numbing Pork Wonton was one of the delicious appetizers we enjoyed…


…as was fuqi feipian (夫妻肺片), literally “husband and wife lung pieces”. Choice of specific ingredients varies among chefs (not to worry, it never includes actual pieces of lung) but here Chef Bob does it with Ox Tongue and Tripe and it’s top notch.


Yi Bin Burning Noodle. Pleasantly spicy but not overbearing, so don’t worry about the allusion to “burning” in the name. Mix well for maximum enjoyment.


A suave change of pace: Chiba Tofu with Pork Belly. Melt in your mouth, slippery tofu accented with fresh pork belly – elegant and delectable.

Some folks often insist on a straight ahead vegetable dish, and who am I to refuse? Here’s Grain House’s version of Fried Cauliflower and it did not disappoint. The structure of Chinese cauliflower is less compact than the dense Northern European version you might be accustomed to and that makes for a more tender texture after cooking and allows it to soak up more sauce.

Salted Egg Yolk with Shredded Potato. Sichuan style shredded potatoes are meant to be al dente and these were perfectly cooked and delicious. Simple, but such a happy addition to our table.

So there’s the roundup of the awesome dinner we enjoyed at Grain House, 929 Amsterdam Avenue – and if it hasn’t convinced you to try this unique, standout Manhattan restaurant, nothing will!
 

Alley 41

My Instagram posts are usually brief takes on restaurants accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed, updated almost daily, here in the “Instagram” category – no signup required.) But folks sometimes ask for fuller reviews and more photos, so in response, here’s a more comprehensive report on one of my favorites.


It is my distinct pleasure to turn you on to Alley 41 in Flushing, one of the new breed of contemporary Sichuan restaurants, and not to be missed. Alley 41 describes itself as “authentic Szechuan cuisine with a touch of creativity”. I describe it as amazing, awesome, and astounding. And that’s just the As. Award-winning Master Chef Jiang has composed a menu of dishes that could make even the most stoic diner gush with delight; everything we ordered had a unique, personal spin and was wonderful. There are only so many synonyms for delicious, and toothsome fell out of favor half a century ago, so I’ll abandon verbal descriptions and let you ogle the photos. With a seemingly infinite menu, this is one restaurant I’ll never tire of.

Here are a few of the extraordinary dishes we tried. (Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)


Our first visit to Alley 41 occurred when Chinese Lunar New Year was just around the corner, and I recalled that enjoying long noodles portends a long life. These Sweet and Spicy Noodles are the longest and thickest I’ve ever encountered, so I gather I’m headed for a long (and chubby) lifetime! If memory serves, each was about a yard long (no hyperbole in this hyperbowl) with an awesome chew, napped with a sauce made of sheer happiness. I say that because their name, tiánshui miàn (甜水麵) taken literally character by character, means sweet water noodle, but the first two characters together can mean “happiness” and I’m sticking with that translation. It’s a Sichuan restaurant, but I’m told that these noodles hail from Dongbei.


Three of the appetizer/snack items we tried: Chinese Beef Burritos, Thousand Layer Pancake, and Chinese Leek Turnovers.

Seafood and Pumpkin Congee. Deceptively light, the unique blend of ingredients – savory seafood, crispy youtiao (Chinese cruller) for texture, scallion for a little punch, and that surprising pumpkin jook made for a delightful combination.

Pork Belly in Garlic Sauce was beautifully presented. Rolled up with cucumber, scallion and cold noodles, not to mention the perfect accompanying sauce, they were irresistible.

They may look simple, but the Smoky Wok Tossed Spicy Asian Green Chilies brought a touch of heat and a ton of flavor to what only seemed like a modest dish.

Spare Ribs with Salted Duck Egg. (Along with a few others, this one doesn’t appear on the current menu. If you’ve got some kind of portable internet access device and you’re eager to try these dishes, bring it along and pull up my photos; a picture is worth a thousand words!)

Sautéed Cauliflower with Soy Sauce. With this cauldron of cauliflower, folks at the table who cry “more veggies” were more than satisfied. The structure of Chinese cauliflower is less compact than the dense Northern European version you might be accustomed to and that makes for a more tender texture after cooking and allows it to soak up more sauce.

Lamb with Hot Pepper Sauce. Delicious and delicate, I wouldn’t have minded a little more heat, but I’m not complaining.

Sautéed Diced Chicken with Basil and Yib Veggie Buns (or so the menu read). I believe the name refers to Yibin, the city in Sichuan province. To me, the little buns looked like mini wotou, hollow, conical, steamed cornbread (and yes, you can buy those in food courts in Flushing if you know where to look).

Braised Tender Beef with Veggies. You’ll want some rice with this one to counterbalance the savory sauce. Good eats!

Frog with Dry Pepper. Green pepper, lotus root, leeks, bean curd skin and more combine with bits of frog in this tasty stir fry.

I admit it; I’m a sucker for dishes like this one. Steamed Fatty Meat (pork belly) with Sticky Rice – to me it tastes like the most unimaginably rich comfort food!

Flounder in Garlic Sauce. Crispy and light with just enough spice to complement but not overpower the delicately fried fish.

Stir-Fried Smoky Pork with Green Leek. With the one-two punch of smoky pork belly and zesty leeks, this dish makes its presence felt in no uncertain terms.

Spicy Lamb with Cumin Flavor. Sizzling, spicy, succulent, scrumptious! Seems to be a universal favorite.

Braised Pork with Chinese Chestnuts. Pork belly and chestnuts in a savory sauce turned out to be a wonderful combination.

Sautéed Prawns with Spicy Chili Minced Pork. Delicious head-on (is there any other way?) prawns with bits of pork in a gently spicy sauce with scallions and red pepper. Straightforward and elegant at the same time.

Sizzling Minced Beef with Black Pepper. Got this one because I wanted to see what the geniuses at Alley 41 would do with black pepper – not that I’m tired of red chilies or Sichuan peppercorns or any other form of kicked up goodness, of course – and I wasn’t disappointed. The flavor was surprisingly complex, not at all one-note which can happen with black pepper, the beef perfectly tender, and the onions were just the right accompaniment. The dish came to our table steaming and sizzling with bonito flakes dancing atop as if in celebration of our get-together. Naturally, the platter was extremely hot – not a bull you’d want to grab by the horns!

My highest praise for Alley 41, 136-45 41st Ave, Flushing. I guess I’m not going to be satisfied until I’ve tried everything on their 46 page menu. If you haven’t been there yet, I strongly recommend it. And if you have, isn’t it time to go back? 😉

 

Alley 41 – Part 5

Instagram Post 3/5/2018

I guess I’m not gonna be satisfied until I’ve tried everything on the menu at Alley 41, 136-45 41st Ave, Flushing. It’s one of the new breed of contemporary Sichuan restaurants and is absolutely not to be missed. Most recently we went with a group of 18 and a splendid time was had by all; I’m planning to bring another group in a week or two so stay tuned for more pix.

Here are a few photos of the delicious dishes I haven’t already posted. (Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

•Spicy Lamb with Cumin Flavor. Sizzling, spicy, succulent, scrumptious!
•Stir-Fried Smoky Pork with Green Leek. With the one-two punch of smoky pork belly and zesty leeks, this dish makes its presence felt in no uncertain terms.
•Flounder in Garlic Sauce. Crispy and light with just enough spice to complement but not overpower the delicately fried fish.

• I admit it; I’m a sucker for dishes like this one. Steamed Fatty Meat with Sticky Rice, to me it tastes like the most unimaginably rich comfort food!
• Frog with Dry Pepper. Green pepper, lotus root, leeks, bean curd skin and more combine with bits of frog in this tasty stir fry.
• Braised Tender Beef with Veggies. You’ll want some rice with this one to counterbalance the savory sauce. Good eats!

Note: Read the complete review here.

 
 

Alley 41 – Part 4

Instagram Post 2/20/2018

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)


Four more dishes that I couldn’t get enough of from one of my new favorites, Alley 41 at 136-45 41st Ave, Flushing, one of the new breed of contemporary Sichuan restaurants, and not to be missed. We went with a group of twelve and I’ll be assembling another throng in the next few weeks. With a seemingly infinite menu, this is one restaurant I’ll never tire of!

Sautéed Diced Chicken with Basil and Yib Veggie Buns (or so the menu read). I’m guessing they were referring to Yibin, the city in Sichuan province. To me, the little buns looked like mini wotou, hollow, conical, steamed cornbread (and yes, you can buy those in food courts in Flushing). It’s a combination I had never tried and when I go back, I’ll get more details.

Lamb with Hot Pepper Sauce. Delicious and delicate, I wouldn’t have minded a little more heat, but I’m not complaining.

Sautéed Cauliflower with Soy Sauce. A cauldron of cauliflower, folks at the table who cry “more veggies” were more than satisfied. The structure of this Chinese cauliflower is less compact than the dense Northern European version you might be accustomed to and that makes for a more tender texture after cooking and allows it to soak up more sauce.

Spare Ribs with Garlic Seasoning. Ah, but there’s so much more to that delicious coating. I believe I heard salted duck egg, but by golly, I’m just going to have to go back and find out for sure!

(More Alley 41 photos to come so stay tuned!)

Note: Read the complete review here.
 
 

Alley 41 – Part 3

Instagram Post 2/19/2018

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Three more treasures from one of my new favorites, Alley 41 at 136-45 41st Ave, Flushing, one of the new breed of contemporary Sichuan restaurants, and not to be missed. We went with a group of twelve and I’ll be assembling another throng in the next few weeks. With a seemingly infinite menu, this is one restaurant I’ll never tire of!

Pork Belly in Garlic Sauce was beautifully presented. Rolled up with cucumber, scallion and cold noodles, not to mention the perfect accompanying sauce, they were irresistible.

They may look simple, but the Smoky Wok Tossed Spicy Asian Green Chilies brought a touch of heat and a ton of flavor to what only seemed like a modest dish.

Seafood and Pumpkin Congee. Deceptively light, the unique combination of ingredients – savory seafood, youtiao (Chinese cruller) for a crispy texture, scallion for little punch, and that surprising pumpkin jook made for a delightful combination.

(I’ll be posting several sets, so stay tuned!)

Note: Read the complete review here.
 
 

Alley 41 – Part 2

Instagram Post 2/18/2018

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Alley 41 describes itself as “authentic Szechuan cuisine with a touch of creativity”. I describe it as amazing, awesome, and astounding. And that’s just the As.

One of the new breed of contemporary Sichuan restaurants, Alley 41 is located at 136-45 41st Ave, Flushing and is not to be missed. Award-winning Master Chef Jiang has composed a menu of dishes that could make even the most stoic diner gush with delight; everything we ordered had a unique, personal spin and was wonderful. We went with a group of twelve and I’ll be assembling another throng in the next few weeks. With a seemingly infinite menu, this is one restaurant I’ll never tire of!

Shown here are three of the appetizer/snack items we tried: Chinese Beef Burritos, Thousand Layer Pancake, and Chinese Leek Turnovers. There are only so many synonyms for delicious, and toothsome fell out of favor half a century ago, so I’ll abandon verbal descriptions and let you ogle the photos. (I’ll be posting several sets, so stay tuned!)

Note: Read the complete review here.