“My Mom has a new place, you have to come try it,” Zhū Dà Jiě’s son told me about a week ago. “Call me, she’ll make you a few dishes to taste.” Big Sister Zhū is widely known among Flushing aficionados for making some of the best Sichuan food around. She has had a succession of small-scale food court stalls, and was most recently at a Chinese bakery. And that’s the type of set-up I expected to find on Prince Street. When I saw that her new place was a full-scale restaurant, Láo Chéng Dū, I was very excited indeed.
When I entered the place the staff were wondering why I was outside taking photos. In a combination of Mandarin and English I made it understood that I was friend of Big Sister Zhū. I was so happy when I saw her. After following her and her fantastic food around for several years we have a connection. Lately I have come to realize that seeing her and eating her food reminds of eating homemade pasta with Big Ann, my mother’s aunt. And just like my Italian-American family Big Sister Zhū and the staff decided to kill me with kindness laying out way more than a few dishes.
Kǒu shuǐ jī ($8), or mouth watering chicken is aptly named. It is listed on the menu with the unspectacular sounding name “poached chicken and peanut with chili sesame soy.” Rest assured it is quite spectacular and spicy.
Shuǐ zhǔ yú piàn, or water poached fish, is exquisite.Tender filets sit in a lake of chili broth along with cabbage nad other vegetation. Just in case it’s not spicy enough the whole lot is dusted with crushed red pepper. It appears on the menu as “fish filet in fresh hot pepper” ($14). Similar preparations of eel and frog are available for $20.
Chuān beǐ liáng fěn, spicy mung bean jello salad ($5), is fun to eat and refreshing. The slippery blocky noodles will prove a challenge for all but the most adept of chopstick users.
“I don’t know the English name, we call it suàn cai là ròu,” the waitress said of a lovely lightly smoked bacon dish. Sweet, salty, and smoky it was a good foil to all that brash chili heat.
The showstopper out of all these dishes was Láo Chéng Dū shāo jī gōng, or house special ChengDu Chicken ($28). It’s a veritable cauldron of broth containing hacked up pieces of chicken, taro, and other veggies. There is also an absurd amount of dried chilies and just the right amount of palate-tingling Sichuan peppercorn. Nonetheless it is a complex soup, sour and flavored with aromatic spices in addition to the fireworks. It strikes me as a perfect dish to have in the next couple days during winter’s last gasp.
Láo Chéng Dū, 37-17 Prince St. Flushing, 718-886-5595