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Taste of West Lake (Flushing NY)
||136-21 41st Avenue,|
Flushing, NY 11355
Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Winter Volume: 2005 Issue: 12(4) page: 23
The awning overlooks a tiny entry and a stairway that descends into this Queens restaurant. Hardly the type of entrance one expects for a restaurant with foods of one of the most beautiful cities in China. Never mind, just hustle yourself down. This is a small place with, for a Chinese restaurant, a small menu. The West Lake in question, Xihu, in Chinese, is gorgeous as is its city of Hangzhou. It is one that Marco Polo and others have raved about.
The food in this eatery is primarily of the Zhejiang province, and the city of Hangzhou, its capital. Hanzhou is in eastern China and a city on the Qiantang River at the southern end of the Grand Canal. It is a city with a lovely lake that once really was a river, however, one-end filled with silt.
At the real West Lake, a favorite spot, one can view the lake, see the Autumn Moon on Calm Lake Pavilion, and the Wen Lan Ge or Pavilion for Storing Imperial Books, or one of the other seven imperial libraries. This particular pavillion holds the thirty-three thousand-plus volume Chinese encyclopedia. No small feat, it took ten years to complete.
The foods we ate in Hangzhou some ten years ago are finally making their way into the larger cities of the United States. Chef Yu Wei Guo, a native of Hangzhou, brings some of them to enjoy at this lower level lively place. Though his menu is not encyclopedic, it is one with fascinating entries. Actually, it is in two parts, and not all are Hangzhou specialties.
Try the West Lake Family Dinner. It requires selecting among six soups, and at least three dishes, all for $16.95. Any of the other twenty-four selections do add five bucks to the tab. The other part of the menu includes a la carte choices. There are eight cold dishes, seventeen West Lake Entrees, four casseroles, seven ‘Over Rice’ items, five Fried (Soup) Rice Cake dishes, and ten West Lake appetizers and desserts.
The Wintermelon and Salted Pork Soup, on the dinner, is a big bowl of thin squares of this vegetable/fruit, sticks of reconstituted dried bamboo shoots, and pieces of cured ham. Forget the Hot and Sour Soup, it is too ordinary while this winner and the others are very good. The Squash and Puff Bean Curd one is loaded with silk squash and long-cooked fried tofu puffs; it is luscious.
Salted Fish in Beancurd Casserole can be called a thick soup or a thin stew, take your pick. Especially good, is the Ground Pork Tofu Hang Zhou Style. The dish is not true to its name, the pork is not ground, but rather is yummy slices of belly pork long-cooked with winter bamboo, napa cabbage, many slices of garlic triangles of firmer pork thigh, cloud ear mushrooms, and lots of slivers of chili pepper. Piquant it is, perfect, as well.
Here, the Braised Whole Fish is fantastic. The Tender Chicken w. Chestnuts is good, and the Bean Curd Sheets and Snow Cabbage with pork, and the Sweet and Sour Baby Ribs are worth consideration. The Chinese adore the aromatic bean curd and here it is available as Fried Smelly Bean Curd. Pumpkin with Salted Eggs, Napa Tofu Sheets also has a distinctive flavor. Jalapeño Beef with Sliced Potato offers piquancy but little else..
We adored their Scholar Su’s Pork, a dish also known as Dong Po Pork. Here, the sauce is made with soy sauce and XO sauce, among other things. It becomes dark and delicious, the fatty pork squares virtually melt in the mouth. West Lake Fish Head Soup, Shredded Eel with Shrimp, and the Crab with Bean Curd Casserole are popular and worth trying. The Gourmet Scallion Pancake is a cut above most others, the Smoked Fish as good as any we have ever had. The Soy Bean Pods in Wine are addicting, and a local speciality. Then there is the, Salted Raw Crab. The ladies with me one day were less than pleased but game to try it. Glad they did, they found it as we often have, something to adore.
Many items not specifically from the West Lake are among dishes to be skipped. That means the burden is on the diner to ask before ordering if a dish is from Hangzhou. One meal with others was a disappointment. One item we ordered on that occasion called Petals and Pears was a fancy dessert name that actually was more sugar than it was worth.
This subterranean spot does a fine job featuring foods from Hangzhou. Its foods from this place about fifty miles southwest of Shanghai are worth descending here to enjoy. Delight in the unusual nature of finding more than two or three foods specifically from Hangzhou, take advantage, and enjoy these local delights. And, if raw crab is available, try it; and as the expression goes, you will like it.