Pro tip: If you’re going to lunch with what has now been officially christened the Flushing Eating Club, bring a takeout menu to the table and circle every dish ordered. Otherwise you’ll be like me, looking at photos and remembering extraordinary flavors/textures but with no idea what the names of the sensations were.
The most recent example was at Grain House, way the hell out past Flushing in Little Neck, where six of us convened in relative swankiness on a Sunday afternoon when the place was nearly empty while lines were out the door at the dim sum halls just down Northern Boulevard. The cooking is Sichuan, but you knew they meant business by the dessert card on the table promising the likes of “purple potato pumpkin pudding.”
We started with extraordinary noodles heaped with a spicy meat sauce, but damned if I can find that on the menu. (Pan-fried vermicelli?) And I am also not sure what the whole fish dish we tucked into was (spicy boiling fish?), but I do know the red brodo it was swimming in was exceptional. I’m clearer on the excellent cumin tofu, crisply cooked cubes mounded with dried red chilies, and on the buttery-tasting loofah although I can’t find it on the menu, either. I passed on the ox tongue and tripe starter, but it appeared chopsticks-licking good.
The one dish easily detected on the menu and that now haunts my dreams was the “salted duckling smoked with Lauraceae tea.” The meat and skin were seriously smoky and very tender; it was definitely among the top renditions of this since Hong Kong (and very reasonable at $17.95). I am not a shrimp eater but had to try the big basket of fried guys with corn crunchies, and that bite was both fresh and not at all chewy. Pork and vegetable dumplings, fried at our request, also surpassed any you could get in Manhattan’s Chinatown.
The tab was much higher than usual, at $31 a head, but that was partly because we got three of each of the two desserts we had to order because how often do you get desserts offered in a Chinese resto? The PPPP was odd but cerebral; the other, which of course does not show up on the menu, was like a sweet soup with weird but oddly seductive textures. As always when someone at our table speaks Mandarin, the service was also worthy of more than a 20 percent tip.
WIGB? Bummer they were out of the stir-fried milk. And that we never asked about the “sting in hot pot.” And as good as the food was, the $20 it cost to get there and back did give me pause. The best of Flushing is slow food at $5.50 RT.