I spent my formative years romping around Woodside and Sunnyside in Queens, NY. Long Island City then was just a series of factories we rode our bikes around. And like the Brooklyn - Queens disconnect, I developed a disconnect with Flushing, Queens. I'd only end up there for a big Chinese dim sum or dinner when the whole extended family would gather.
Nowadays, I go wherever the food takes me. And Flushing is a huge Chinese food destination in NYC. Coming off the last stop on the 7 train, you really feel as if you've gone to China.
Indeed, when we entered Guan Fu Szechuan, we were greeted with, "Ni hao!" When we responded with hello's, the staff seemed quite confused that we weren't Chinese, but they took it in stride.
Before I get into the food, I want to note that Guan Fu Szechuan is the fanciest legit Chinese restaurant I've even been to, aside maybe from Cafe China in Manhattan. However, Cafe China is: 1.) in Manhattan; 2.) a one-starred Michelin restaurant. Even then, Guan Fu Szechuan had real thin-porcelain teacups (not the thick glass ones with the same old design we're used to), with real heavy metal teapots, and the huge wooden seats you only see on Asian TV dramas. Fancy.
Did anyone else watch the original Iron Chef series? I remember a few episodes that featured authentic Szechuan / Sichuan cooking. They always talked about heat and spice. I thought I knew what they were talking about. I was so dead wrong.
I thought spicy was like, "I need 5 glasses of water right now!" Turns out genuine Szechuan is more like, "Why is my tongue tingling? Oh my God! I can't feel my lips! Or my tongue! Or my ears!" Gah. So disorienting. But it definitely excited by inquisitive Gemini heart.
It was so spicy that my dining companion, who collects all kinds of chili oils and adds chili to everything, stopped eating. With his rice half-eaten. Woah.
I thought it was hilarious.
The trick is not to scarf down the food. Savor, enjoy. Take breaks. Sip tea. When you can feel your tongue again, start over, and the food is that much better.
First up was the razor clams with green pepper in home sauce. This was the only cold appetizer we ordered, and it turns out it was a really good move. In later courses when my mouth was burning, I was so glad I had something cold and soothing to return to.
The staff brought the other dishes out in rapid succession. We had the salt fish with stinky pepper (you know I had to try it!), my favorite mapo tofu, and pigs feet.
I loved the salt fish. They should have said spicy pepper, rather than stinky pepper. Does anyone else have trouble deboning fish with chopsticks?
The pigs feet came out covered in red chili. I should have known. It should have been a sign! But I plunged in anyway. And halfway through a chew, I couldn't feel the right side of my mouth. So I stopped. Took stock. And couldn't feel the left side of my mouth, or my lips, or even my ears! It was so damn exciting! You know how you go to the dentist, and they shoot you with lidocaine? That kind of lip-numbing? This was it!
It was at this point that I noticed my dining companion looking about in dismay, as he realized he couldn't handle it. Poor thing.
I took a break and dove into the mapo tofu. All Asians know that if the viand is too salty or too spicy just eat more rice. I usually like my spoonful in proportion: one part viand, one part rice. But for this mapo tofu, it was more like one part tofu, four parts rice. And I kept coming back for more!
Four dishes, one coke, and three bowls of white rice amounted to about $100 including tip. And we had a lot left over to take home. More pricey than the other restaurants in Flushing, but definitely still cheap compared to everything else in this city. And so completely worth it!
I'm looking forward to another round. Anyone want to come?