09/02/13 12:39pm
MIKEPASTA

Maspeth’s most decadent veal ravioli sings with the flavors of sage and speck.

My buddy Josh Ozersky likes to say I’ve forsaken my Italian heritage to eat weird Chinese food in dodgy Flushing basements. He’s only partially right. I grew up in a home where soy sauce and hoisin were as common as Sunday gravy and the hunk of Pecorino we called “grating cheese.” Now and then I am turned on to a dish that makes me proud of my Italian heritage. Most recently it was the pasta—specifically the ravioli di vitello burro, salvia e speck ($13.95)—at the newish Osteria Italiana in Maspeth, a neighborhood that’s more Polish than Italian. Of all people it was my adopted Jewish mother, Times Ledger food critic Suzanne Parker, who turned me on to this lovely dish. Perfectly al dente triangles are filled with veal and sauced with butter and sage. Salty, smoky bits of speck top it all off. Buttery and decadent, it’s nothing like my Italian mother’s pillowy red sauce ravioli, but every bit as good.

Osteria Italiana, 57-57 61st St., Maspeth, 718-894-4391

01/24/13 9:43am
Are the pork and crab soup dumplings at Kung Fu Xiao Long Bao Flushing’s finest?

Are the soup dumplings at Kung Fu Xiao Long Bao Flushing’s finest?

Last week my friend and neighbor Suzanne Parker, TimesLedger food critic and author  of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, New York,” called me to rave about Kung Fu Xiao Long Bao’s pork and crab soup dumplings.

“Seriously,” I said, “their soup dumplings aren’t all that, they’re good, but certainly not the best.”  The best I’ve had in Queens, I pointed out, can be found at Diverse Dim Sum in the Flushing Mall. This got us to wondering whether either of us really knew where to find the best xiao long bao in Flushing. So we decided to find out. I should point out that we are both certified  Kansas City Barbecue Society judges and certified food enthusiasts (Suzanne, it should be noted flies the foodie flag, while I abhor the word).

We very roughly modeled our judging criteria—filling, broth, wrapper, texture, and taste—on the KCBS categories and set out to evaluate four xiao long bao joints.  The plan was to savor just one dumpling at each restaurant so as not skew our judgment by becoming overly full. The remaining dumplings would be taken back to Suzanne’s house to reheat and reassess. I had the brilliant idea to eat two dumplings at each stop, one with vinegar and one without. I did this not because it enabled me to judge the dumplings better, but because I am a glutton. So without further ado C+M presents the Xiao Long Bao Battle Royale.

Nan Xiang Dumpling House  ain’t what it used to be.

Nan Xiang Dumpling House ain’t what it used to be.

The first stop on our soup dumpling survey was Nan Xiang Dumpling House where an order of pork and crab soup dumplings is $6.50 for 6 pieces. At one time I could say with confidence—and home borough pride—that Nan Xiang had the best soup dumplings not only in Queens, but in all of New York City. Sadly, that time has passed. The first thing we noticed about the xiao long bao here was that they were huge. The second thing we noticed is that they were abysmal. The broth was completely devoid of crab flavor, and mine even had a bit of gristle in it. What was once a great soup dumpling joint has clearly been spoiled by its own success. It was all I could do to not remove Nan Xiang’s Michelin sign on the way out.  Nan Xiang Dumpling House, 38-12 Prince St., Flushing, 718-321-3838

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