Thursday, April 29, 2010

A la recherche du poulet de pourpre

My friend Barbara Rachko, a wonderful artist whose work The Sovereign is featured above, is looking a little nervous as she waits for me on the Grand Central platform for the Number 7.

“Got your shots? Got your passport?” I inquire.

She nods, biting her lip.

“Then you’re going to be just fine.”

But the first index of our provincialism as Manhattanites is that we can’t figure out which train is an express, which a local. The one with the green circle around the number, or the red diamond? So we wind up on the local, and as we journey deeper into Queens, past the still-gleaming Unisphere, Barbara confesses, “You know I haven’t been out here since the 1964 World’s Fair.”

“Pretty pathetic,” I say. “And as you’re aware even diehard art-lovers had a hard time making the trip when MoMA’s temporary outpost was just a few stops away from Grand Central.”

We are returning to Flushing’s Chinatown--while Dave is cruising off the coast of Spain--to collect one of those damned silkie chickens for me and to try a more “upscale” restaurant culled from the Internet. I have found a recipe for the poor bruised-looking bird (one that promises to cure premature ejaculation, which is fortunately not one of my complaints at the moment), and I want to see how it tastes in a quasi-traditional Chinese recipe (the one I found calls for oyster and hoisin sauces, fresh ginger, soy sauce, and so on). But I can’t resist adding some frozen dumplings, Chinese sausage, ginger tea, oyster mushrooms, and other exotic stuff to my basket. I’m a little miffed that a scrawny little bird sells for $8.50, about the price of a small organic chicken or a cardboard Perdue roaster, but I figure it must have a very splendid taste or unusually fine medicinal qualities.

After making a few inquiries, we find the restaurant Spicy & Tasty (39-07 Prince Street, just a couple of blocks from the subway stop), and promptly get a nice big table toward the back and a pot of steaming tea. The menu has a lot of stuff you are not going to find in Manhattan (or Teaneck, for that matter): spicy pork kidney, diced rabbit with red chili sauce, duck feet with wasabi, duck tongue with basil, pork liver with spinach soup, and something called “Amazing Belt Fish.” But we are timid and decide on spare ribs, duck with green soy beans in spicy sauce, and sautéed shrimp Chengdu style.

“No ribs,” says the waitress. “Only on weekends.” She taps her pencil at the menu and virtually commands, “You try this.” It’s sliced pork with garlic sauce, and when it arrives it looks an awful lot like eggplant swimming in chili oil, with chopped scallions, peanuts, and garlic on top. It is surprisingly good, though rather fatty, almost like thin slabs of bacon. (Neither of us was smart enough to bring a camera on this trip, so you’ll have to make do with descriptions.)

The shrimp is spectacular, some of the best I’ve ever had—big, plump, pink, and tender—perfectly cooked and tossed with whole peanuts, onions, and green pepper. The duck has a subtle, smoky flavor, but it’s studded with bones and looks to be hacked mostly from the backbone and legs.

By the time our main courses arrive, the place has filled up, mostly with local families. One, made up of at least three generations, is passing a baby around like a sack of potatoes, and he’s loving it, grinning and giggling up a storm.

“Ever notice how other cultures seem to have a better time with their kids when they eat out?” I ask.

“Maybe it’s why white babies cry a lot,” says Barbara. “The adults don’t really include them in the festivities.”

“Unless you strap one to your chest and take it out on the campaign trail.”

The tab for two, with a couple of Tsingtao beers, comes to about $40, and there is plenty of leftover duck for Barbara’s lunch the next day.

Having determined that the red diamond means an express train, we look for one on the way back, and I realize we must be a strange sight—a couple of tall, bewildered-looking blondes carrying plastic bags stuffed with Chinese groceries. An MTA employee asks if we’re lost and then informs us that there are no express trains after rush hour, but I don’t care. I’ve got my silkie chicken. I have plans. I’m happy.

IF YOU GO: The #7 train takes about 20 to 30 minutes to get from Grand Central to Main Street Flushing. The Hong Kong Market is at 3711 Main Street, across from the Anglican church and inside a little mall of shops. Spicy & Tasty Restaurant is at 39-07 Prince Street, about two blocks from the Main Street subway stop.


Anonymous said...

As usual, Ann's post has me dying for that shrimp and duck! Fascinating what's available just outside precious Gotham!

Ann said...
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Ann said...
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Ann said...

My apologies, Marko: I was going to add the address for Cheburechnaya when I was called out of town. It is 92-09 63rd Drive, Rego Park (718-897-9080). Will fill in subway directions under that post now. A