Many guests on my food tours of America’s Greatest Chinatown—aka downtown Flushing—have had soup dumplings. Xiao long bao virgins get a quick tutorial. Since the wrappers at my favorite spot in New York Food Court are super thin, I encourage people to avoid using chopsticks and gingerly pick up the package from the top with their fingers and place it on the spoon.
They may or may not choose to cool their dumpling in the accompanying black vinegar, but the next step is always the same: “Bite a tiny hole in the side like a vampire and slurp the soup out.”
When it comes to Chinese sandwiches in New York City there are few real standouts: gua bao as made by everybody from Eddie Huang to Taiwanese grannies, Xi’an Famous Foods’ cumin lamb burger, and the $1 Peking duck buns from Flushing’s Corner 28. So I was very pleased to discover an outstanding American-Chinese mashup of a sandwich—Red Star’s sesame chicken ($8.50) —although I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I travelled to Boerum Hill to get it.
Red Star Sandwich Shop is the brainchild of brothers Gibson and Johnson Ho who grew up eating a combination of Chinese takeout and traditional Fujianese food that their parents and grandparents made. Sesame chicken was a childhood favorite says Johnson. “It’s so American.”
Red Star takes the American-Chinese classic and turns up the heat a bit creating a sesame chicken sandwich that got my attention without blowing my head off. The tender sesame-studded chunks of fried dark meat came with a sauce more spicy than sweet piled high on a roll from Carroll Garden’s institution Caputo’s Bakery. The whole lot’s dressed with pickled peppers, jalapenos, and lettuce.
I’ve eaten sesame chicken and wonton soup together, but not quite like this. Unlike the wonton soup from the corner takeout, Red Star’s is a delicate Fuzhou style version with thin skinned pork dumplings floating in broth made from pork and chicken.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Red Star’s stupendously good p’tater tots ($3.25), which take a school lunch favorite and elevate it to the zth degree. They are twice fried resulting in a fluffy interior and a crispy outside.
Before I left Johnson and I talked for a bit about Fuzhou food. “It’s not sexy,” he said. I nodded eating the last of the tots. And then I told him that if his brother Gibson, an alum of Ippudo and Momofuku Noodle Bar, could make such ethereal tater tots surely he could make Fujianese food sexy.
Red Star Sandwich Shop, 176 Smith St, Boerum Hill, 718-935-1999