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Chinese Food Court Debut

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Chinese Food in the USA

Fall Volume: 2002 Issue: 9(3) page(s): 25 and 26

Asian malls with food courts are not new on this continent, and far from new or novel on their home turf, be that Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, or Malaysia, to name but a few. As a matter of fact, every month, three hundred thousand-plus tourists and locals flock to just one particular one in Hong Kong, alone. That culinary food hall, Whampao Gourmet Place, serves up a dozen types of food from Dan Dan Noodles and Wonton Soup to Stir-fried Crabs in Spicy Sauce.

There have been a few Chinese and other Asian food court eateries, particularly on the east and west coasts of Canada, specifically in the suburbs of Toronto and those surrounding Vancouver; but having one in Manhattan’s Chinatown had yet to happen. Finding one a-building in Flushing Queens was, therefore, awaited with baited breath. When it did finally open, and the food court was ready, it was a delightful surprise and a culinary event worth celebrating.

After a few months, readers wrote, sent a fax or two, and many e-mails telling us about it and asking us to help them select the best of the dozen places in this particular food court. However, we did not do so because the Flushing Mall became an advertiser and editorially it seemed inappropriate. We have changed our mind because a torrent of e-mail and letters beg for help in assessing this foodie heaven ala a sophisticated Singapore food court. We relent and bow to their beseeching.

Food preferences are personal. We work but a mile from the place, and can afford to try them all over and over again, in a rather short period of time. We have eaten at each individual place at least three times so we know them well and now bend to all requests. However, we offer a warning that the menu they give out is already out of date because it lists Maria’s Mexican Fonda; it is no more because it lost too much money.

Take our advise and read the lists of posted offerings, check out what others are eating, then select what looks good to you. Doubt that you can taste it all, even we have not hardly scratched the surface in that regard. Recently, Flushing Mall’s Marketplace opened next door, so we know chances to do so are dimming because this component of the Flushing Mall makes planned indulgences greater. For those who go to either or both, here is our current perspective; but keep in mind that the food court owner changes things as soon as a place makes less than an adequate return on his investment. In any case, use our suggestions or send us yours! One last note, we tend to make food selections here at both ends and work our way towards the middle because beverages and dessert items are central to selections and to the physical space.

What is good to eat, you ask? Lots of things. Starting, if you enter at the left end, you will find fine Japanese food at Sushi King, it is quite popular. There, patrons select blue, black, pink, white, yellow or whatever colored plates of freshly made sushi. Check the wall to learn the cost of each of them before selecting them if price is important. Here, color determines the tab. Selections cost from a dollar to three and two-bits; and all are good. Our only complaint, the size of many match their prices. Our compliment, prices are affordable and do allow lots of chances for tasting.

Next to that are Ramen Taisho and Teppan-Tei. Where many Japanese Bento Box meals, big Rice Bowl dishes, and even bigger Ramen or Noodle Soup indulgences ready to be made, awaiting your selection. As in Japanese restaurants, these are more expensive. The Ramen dishes begin at $4.95, the Donburi or Japanese-style rice bowls are a buck more, and the Bento Boxes complete with California Roll, grilled or fried salmon, shrimp, chicken or whatever, along with rice, miso soup, and salad still another dollar. They are good, but so many other less expensive dishes make us move on.

Around a bend from the Bento and its brothers, is a small spot called Cheng Du. Featured, are a pile of small bamboo-looking plastic steamer baskets filled with delicious Sichuan-style dim sum delights. Also, one can order dishes such as Fried Bean Curd with Ma-La Sauce, Steamed Spare Rib Tips with Spices, and other southwestern Chinese temptations costing anywhere up to four fat dollars.

Next to this is Taste Good Shabu Shabu. Many nearby tables hold heaters and pots for the soup to cook it in. Every portion, when we ate there, came with cabbage, tong hao, which is the garland chrysanthemum, more vegetables such as taro and tomato, fish balls, vegetarian crabmeat, bean thread noodles, and dry bean curd. Cooking these in one of those pots is done in whichever spicy or house special broth you order. All this for less that a fin, no tax or tip needed, makes this a beloved super popular place and one of the best bargains in New York City. Extra’s such as a plate-full of ultra-thin pork, beef, lamb, or seafood, easily fills you up, and they are just a couple of bucks extra. There is no limit to the amount of soup you consume, waitresses replenish it, as needed, other vegetables are yours for a dollar more, so cook what you like, take all the seasonings and sauces you want, and do pace yourself.

At the right end of this continuous curved collection of creative culinary spots sits Taiwan Treats. Here dishes can be had such as Pork Over Rice or anything else similarly served as can many different Noodle Soups, one called Cambodian Special, lots of Fried Noodle selections, and the most gorgeous-looking roasted Meats and marinated varieties anyone could want. The Fish Soy Chicken has an unusual name and a beloved flavor, the Soy Sauce Duck is demanding it be tasted, the BBQ Spare Ribs a phenomenal find, and the many other steamed and roasted goodies from squid to pork chops just begging you to bite them.

Next to that is more Taiwanese Cuisine, the menu calls them Champagne Palate and on its right Dragon Shanghainese Dim Sum. Both sell classic dishes, Try the Spicy Pig’s Ear, Drunken Pork Shoulder, Gluten Puffs, Salted Cuttle Fish, and Broad Beans with Scallions at the Taiwan place, Soy Bean Pudding, Pan-fried Meat Dumplings, Baked Scallion-stuffed Biscuits, or Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf Shanghai style or select from a large assortment of cold Shanghainese appetizers. The menu lists many, some of them and many others appear daily so you can indulge any desires for continued variety, even those not listed.

In the middle area, is the place to satisfy thirst and a sweet tooth, it is called Passion. There, women wait to make you black or green tea either hot or cold, with or without fruit and fruit concentrates. They have juices, ice cream, Taiwanese Ice, even hot red bean soup, cold milk shakes, milk tea, and five different flavors of what they call 'Icy,' all awaiting their action after your selection. We are addicted to the Mango Icy. Three friends of mine, when together, always order different items and share them. They take three empty bowls from the shabu shabu area and make their own multi-mix creations. They call it a CBC, which is a pun on the ABC or American-born Chinese abbreviation as they are China-born Chinese.

To the right of Passion, is Congee Court, a new addition replacing Maria’s Mexican Fonda. That south of the border eatery lost money and was quickly replaced by this Asian offering. A bowl of Sweet Potato Congee is all too filling for lunch but a true comfort food, as are the more than a dozen different congee selections. It does sit next to Hector’s Hot Dog Pizza & Bagel spot, but by the time you read this, that may be history, too.

Michael, the owner-operator of all these food court contributions believes that until he finds the right mix of money-making modalities, he will keep replacing units, as needed. By now, you should have figured out that every one of these individual stations is owned and operated by a contract with one company and one manager; all the foods are prepared in the same back kitchens, too, or they are made in a commissary he owns.

The management at this food court began at Ollie’s in New York City and originally was owned by Artie Cutler. Michael Wong worked for him and rose to the top managing/owning of the food court, the Chao Zhao restaurant down a couple of blocks on Main Street, a central commissary kitchen nearby, several Ollie restaurants in Manhattan, and other Chinese eateries.

The Mall itself is under the ownership of ‘e888 Institutions, Inc.’ This triple eight group runs it, the Marketplace next door that also has a few food spots such as my favorite ice cream, Hershey’s Chocolate Marshmallow, some nice tea and bubble tea bastions, clothes, jewelry, shoes, and a huge museum-quality Chinese gallery that is a huge must-see spot.

Back to the original requests about the Flushing Mall Food Court, and where and what to eat there. If you are lucky to live or work nearby, as we are, then you can work your way both ends to the middle for drinks and desserts. If not, go with a few hearty eaters and spend five minutes walking up and down seeing what each counter offers. See what catches your eye, then spend another five minutes looking at what the locals are eating. Choose what appeals to you, and enjoy this oasis of Asia in Flushing.

One last thing, we heard rumor that this management owns land down at the river and is considering bringing boats in to take folks out past the three-mile limit for you know what, gaming! Sort of the way some do at a Brooklyn pier spot. If they do, we are not the betting type, but those boats can have great food and drink to fill the bellies of the bettors. Therefore, we will go along for the ride. We bet that just like the successful Flushing Mall Food Court, they will have another winner on their hands.

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