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Golden Palace (Flushing NY)
||140-09 Cherry Avenue,|
Reviewed by: Harley Spiller
Winter Volume: 2007 Issue: 14(4) page: 15 and 16
This restaurant is on a relatively quiet side street just off the hustle and bustle of Queens Chinatown's Kissena Boulevard, a main street parallel to and one block east of Main Street. Called Golden Palace, it recently joined the Waterfront International Enterprises restaurant on nearby Prince street, as New York Cityís first restaurants specializing in foods from the Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang, provinces. These three provinces comprise China's Dongbei region, a cold Northeastern area akin to northern New England in the United States. You may recall reading about them in Flavor and Fortune's Volume 14(2) on pages 26 and 36. There was some confusion as to name then, but that is all squared away now.
Liao Ning was mounted on their sign a couple of days before we ate there; forget that, they now have an even newer one; looks virtually identical to the one seen in Volume 14(3) on page 7, but this one has its new name. Seems they embraced the name of their predecessor and are no longer Liao Ning Restaurant. Their new eat-in laniard-edged menu reflects that; the smaller take-out one looks just like an earlier incarnation.
Never mind their name, keep in mind that we surely were among the first non-Dongbei natives to dine there. Our editor advises she ate there several times before and never saw other Caucasians other than those in her party.
Like Waterfront International's house special, Crispy Lamb with Chile Peppers, this restaurant's Crispy Whole Flounder uses liberal amounts of cumin seed, a spice that features prominently in the cuisine of this region. The classic Chinese combination of ginger and scallion becomes irresistible and quite possibly addictive with the addition of cumin. Their Crispy Flounder is fried to such perfection that you can even eat the bones, and we did. They shatter into harmless shards like the thinnest of potato chips.
Language barriers make ordering difficult but the staff tries very hard and was able to recommend a homey cocoa-colored chicken casserole with loads of those little-known sword-belt mushrooms that are dried, dark brown, and musky. A server whisked the pot away after ten minutes and before it was finished. This caused great consternation among our hungry crew. She returned it a few minutes later, having reheated it for us. This enabled all to continue enjoying it, once again, and still piping hot.
We also tried a six buck dish of Tiger Vegetable. It turned out to be loads of ultra-fresh cilantro, doused in a salty, spicy, scallion laden oil. Unusual it was for Chinese food, in that the herb was served raw. It worked well as a palate-cleaning intermezzo. Another excellent starter was Jelly Fish in Hot Sauce. Braised Pork in Brown Sauce, and Gu Da Tang, a favorite soup in Dongbei, were only so-so.
The highlight of the meal, without any doubt whatsoever, was a dish that had been served to nearly every group of diners in the restaurant. Small platters of glistening brown-black spirals, the size of large grapes, were slowly being chopsticked by everyone except us; that got our goat.
At first I did not look too closely because I didnít want to be nosy and interrupt folks at the other tables relishing what turned out to be their comfort food. However, as more and more plates of what appeared to be a type of snail in spiral shell came out of the kitchen, my curiosity got the better of me. I stood up and tried to ask a couple what they were eating. Alas, we did not share language, but I did start to have a good idea of what I was staring down at. I gestured to one lady's shiny shirt and inquired "silk" and was met with a rousing "YES" in return. Seems no one from China's northeast can resist fresh silkworms fried in their own cocoons!
So I did order a plate of these can yun in can jian. Yes, I actually did ask for a dish of these silkworms in their silkworm cocoons. Fifteen minutes later nothing appeared while other tables received theirs. So I ordered it again, from a different server. I was thwarted once more. Finally, I could stand it no longer, and stood up and cornered the owner, pointing at the dish on another table and requesting it in no uncertain terms. The dish finally arrived and we felt part of the scene. Well actually, we became the scene because waiters and customers alike stared us down, eagerly awaiting our reaction.
I had tried silkworms in the cocoon once before. While sharing some beers with Korean friends who opened a can of Bun Dae Gee and offered one to me. It was awful. I tried another and was no less deterred. The canned variety had, for all the world, the taste and texture of soaked wet cigarette filters. My friends laughed and laughed at my gag reflex. They continued to pop the little critters, home and all, noting that they are an excellent source of calcium.
I must confess that the fresh version are not much better. Before the glistening platter appears, alert nostrils pick up a vaguely malordorous waft. They do not look so bad. Their thin outer 'shell' crunches away, unleashing the interior with a fuzzy texture unlike anything else. The mild flavor creeps up on your taste buds with a gentle funk. Talk about acquired tastes! We ate a few apiece but no one was able to acquire any lasting affection for these beasties.
Legend has it that five thousand years ago, a Chinese Empress named Xi Ling was enjoying tea under a mulberry tree when a silkworm cocoon fell into her cup. She noticed it beginning to dissolve into fine thread, marking the discovery of the silk, a discovery that catapulted China into a position of world leadership. The interior of the silkworm's cocoon is made out of silk (not unlike a spider's web) and each cocoon can have fifteen hundred yards of silk threads, or more. No wonder the snack has a fuzzy, cotton-like consistency, not ordinarily found in other foodstuffs.
We are not alone in our cultural bias. A Memphis newspaper critic who saw these photographs and read my description of the meal wrote, "what was the location of this mastication? Does not sound very promising, but I do like crispilicious crispiness." A Taiwanese artist wondered where the restaurant sourced their cocoons and if there were any government regulations about consuming silkworms in their pupae? Do Dongbei immigrants even consider that restrictions on eating such insects might be in place? A full report on the high-protein snack, recommending it as a perfect accompaniment for beer, is available online at in the "donít eat it' section at www. thesneeze. com Seems silkworms in the pupae stage really bug some people.
Thanks to Adam Buckman, John Beifuss, Nancy and William Grimes, Tehching Hsieh, this magazineís editor and her husband; also David Perlmutter, Micki Spiller, and Effie and Chi Yeh.