Last night I had dinner in Flushing with two fellow food writers at a newish Sichuan restaurant that shall remain nameless for the purposes of this dispatch. Almost everything we ordered was stunning save for one item. As luck would have it, it was the one dish that I, Queens’ foremost Caucasian expert on Asian food insisted on ordering. I expected a pork belly creation like the one pictured above. To be sure what came to the table was pork belly in a steamer, but all resemblance ended there. For one thing it looked like a washed up version of mofongo and tasted rather like an English school lunch sitting atop bland mashed peas. The entire lot had been steamed into flavorless submission.
What I’d expected was something like a dish I’d had at Hunan House a while back: xiang shan ma la fu zi rou, or “Hunan house Old Master Fuzi meat dish.” It consists of pork belly and rice powder steamed for so long that the rice powder has melded with the pork fat, and vice versa. Each slice of the fanned out pork belly is rich and unctuous and can just barely retain its form. It’s tasty, but superfatty, which is where those pickled chilies come in. It’s the type of thing that’s best eaten with rice and shared with more than one person.
As for the nameless Sichuan restaurant, all I can say is not every dish can be a winner. It was just such a shock to see such a weirdly lackluster dish emerge from an otherwise accomplished kitchen. And it was of course a slight slow to my ego. I suppose such occupational hazards are part and parcel of being The Guy Who Ate Queens.