Thursday, June 13, 2024

Throwback Thursday: Guan Fu

This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on July 30, 2018.

I can't believe the amount of food that I consume when I'm with my friend Daisy. It's as if I sprout a second stomach to hold it all. I liked this place a lot, so of course it closed. :( 
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I have always loved Chinese food and can still remember the taste of my very first shrimp in black bean sauce. I was on a "date" with my Dad. My mother had shooed us out of the house so she could have some quiet time with my newly-born baby brother; this makes me about 5 at the time. I had already eaten plenty of American-style Chinese food by that age, but the piquancy of the fermented black beans was a new flavor to me. And I liked it.

Sichuan food appeared on my table sometime in the late 70s, and though may palate was not yet accustomed to heat, I appreciated that the flavors and ingredients used were a bit different from the usual celery, onions, and starchy sauces used in familiar dishes like moo goo gai pan and chow mein. Though the Sichuan and Hunan dishes I ate in my youth were quite different from the ones I ate as a small child, they were still fairly Americanized.

In 2018, there doesn't seem to be as many Chinese restaurants in Baltimore as there used to be. Certainly no good ones (I am sure someone will be happy to argue that point). I've had a hard time finding even mediocre food in my neck of the woods. Thankfully, there is some really good Chinese food to be had outside of Baltimore. I've spoken here many times of my love for Grace Garden in Odenton, and for Hunan Taste in Catonsville. Asian Court in Ellicott City is my place for dim sum. And of course there are plenty of places in Montgomery County, which is a bit of a hike. Chinese food has gone from being a regular weeknight meal to something for a special occasion, but that makes me appreciate it all the more.

New Yorkers, however, don't have to struggle to find really fine Chinese food from many different regions of that vast country. There's a Michelin-starred Sichuan restaurant in Midtown, for god's sake, not to mention the five locations of Xi'am Famous Foods! Flushing, Queens, a half hour subway ride from Midtown, is rife with Chinese restaurants, which made it a bucket list destination for me.

My friend Daisy knew I wanted to eat good Chinese food when I was in NY, so she took me to Guan Fu, in Flushing. The New York Times gave it three stars, which normally doesn't happen to non-European ethnic restaurants. It had to be good, right?

And it was.

The restaurant is full of dark wood, with large tables to hold ample feasts. There are also comfortable wide chairs--which easily accommodate ample posteriors, like mine. The menu has photographs of every dish, which is nice, but only makes one's choice more difficult. Everything looks great.

Daisy had eaten at Guan Fu before, and had tasted a good deal of the menu. I was happy to let her decide what we would eat. Or over-eat, as the case may be. We ordered five dishes, and did a pretty good job of finishing almost everything. It helped that only two of the dishes contained meat, and only one as the star of the dish, but none of them were small.

Dishes were served family-style, arriving at the table in the order in which the kitchen finished preparing them. The bean jelly noodle salad is served cold, so that came to the table quickly. It was spicy yet refreshing, the gelatinous texture of the noodles holding a chill quite well--much appreciated on a day that had reached 98°F.

The Guan Fu style fried yolk corn was perhaps the most intriguing and unfamiliar dish. It was also the largest. The giant plate contained a mountain of fried corn kernels dusted in dried egg yolk; they were both sweet and salty, with a crisp-tender texture that made them a perfect snack. Except eating this dish was slow going, as chopsticks made it difficult to pick up more than one kernel at a time.

Speaking of chopsticks, Guan Fu has a novel approach to them. Rather than using coarse wooden disposable chopsticks, or plastic ones that require washing, they use chopstick handles with replaceable wooden tips. The tips come in little paper packages, which the diner removes before screwing the tips into place. This way they use much less wood and paper than traditional disposable sticks, and there's no doubt that the tips are sanitary.

We also ordered Chinese black fungus in Guan Fu sauce, a quite spicy (three chile peppers, according to the menu) dish of snappy-textured mushrooms (also called wood ears, commonly used in moo shu preparations) with raw onion and chiles in a clear, ginger-forward, sauce.

Our lone meat dish was a stir fry of chicken with Sichuan prickly ash. Prickly ash is a member of the citrus family, which explains why Sichuan peppercorns--which are actually buds--are somewhat lemony in flavor. Oh, and they have a numbing quality, too, with which those who have tried them are familiar. The combination of Sichuan pepper numbing and chile pepper heat is known as ma la, and this chicken dish was loaded with it--but not in an uncomfortable way. There were also bits of crispy potato and even crispier lotus root in the dish, which added some textural contrast.

My favorite dish was the dumplings, which, oddly enough, appeared in the dessert section of the menu. I have been looking for a dish of dumplings in hot chile oil like the one served at a place called Szechuan Best, in Randallstown. We went there semi-regularly in the 80s, and I had to get the dumplings every time. The sauce was hot and oily and redolent of five spice. I think. It's been a long time, but I would know the flavor if I tasted it again. The dumplings at Guan Fu were not the same, though the delicate wrappers filled with pork seemed somewhat similar. The sauce, however, was its own thing. No five spice, and actually quite mild to my palate, but eminently slurpable. Now that I think back on it, I can understand how their relative mildness (only two chile peppers) might be a relief after eating an otherwise highly-spiced meal.

Overall, I liked Guan Fu. I think it's on par with Grace Garden and Hunan Taste, and I'm happy to have been able to compare them so favorably. However, each restaurant has its own personality. I'd definitely like to go back to Guan Fu and get to know it better.

Guan Fu
39-16 Prince St g01
Flushing, NY 11354
http://guanfuny.com/

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Wednesday, June 05, 2024

A Pet Peeve

generated with Adobe Firefly AI
This may be my briefest post ever.
It's BELGIAN waffle/chocolate/whatever, not BELGIUM, dumbasses. Ya don't eat CHINA or MEXICO food, you eat CHINESE or MEXICAN food. BelgiUM is the country. BelgiAN refers to things that come from Belgium.

Sheesh.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Throwback Thursday: New Designs at Redbubble

This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on March 21, 2018.

Hey! My Redbubble store is still up and running, and has a lot more cool designs than just the ones linked below. I did pretty well selling masks during the pandemic, but these prints also look great on shower curtains and fleece blankets. Please check them out!
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Not only do I write about food and take photos of food, I use those photos to create fabric designs. The four below are some of my latest designs and can be found on everything from travel mugs to duvet covers and more. I particularly like them on scarves, tote bags, and sofa pillows.

Check out the links below every photo to see my whole line, sold by Redbubble.com.

Good Morning

Koreatown

Little Italy

Taco Tuesday


* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

Posted on Minxeats.com.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Throwback Thursday: MidiCi Neapolitan Pizza Co. at The Avenue in White Marsh

This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on March 15, 2018.

It's a shame this place couldn't make it. Mr Minx and I liked it quite a bit. The pizzas were tasty and the salads were huge and interesting. I think the odd fast casual-ness of the ordering process was its downfall. Had there been a more normal sit-down dining experience, I think this place might have lasted longer. Though the pandemic might have closed it anyway, hard to say. Also, the name was mighty weird and I'm betting 0% of people knew how to pronounce it properly. 
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There's been a real push toward Neapolitan-style pizza in the last few years and I am so happy for the trend. The thin but pliable crust with a scattering of tasty scorch marks has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid. When the trend shifted to fresh dough pizzas in the 80s, I lost interest in pizza altogether. Now we have several places in the Baltimore area that are embracing Neapolitan again, like Paulie Gee's in Hampden which imported wood burning ovens from Italy. MidiCi Neapolitan Pizza Company, with a brand new branch on The Avenue in White Marsh, is the first chain that I'm aware of that's attempting to spread this style of pizza nationwide on a large scale.

The Minx and I were recently invited to check out their space and sample their food and drink offerings. The space is clean and inviting, with a curving bar that runs along most of the dining room. The design allows patrons to watch the pizzas being prepared and cooked in their authentic wood burning ovens, just behind the bar. The menu itself is stripped down and very much reflects Northern Italian cuisine. Instead of crab pretzels and sliders, the appetizer menu has a selection of meat and cheese plates and several pairings with fresh burrata. There's also a nice selection of salads, but the main focus is the pizza.

Of course, diners do not live by pizza crust alone, so there is a wide selection of beer, wines, and specialty cocktails. The Minx and I sampled a few, including the Angel Margarita and Devil Margarita. The Angel is a fruity and refreshing concoction flavored with blackberries, while the Devil has some serious heat thanks to the whole Fresno pepper floating in the drink. We also sampled an Italian variation on the whiskey sour that incorporates an herbal liqueur known as amaro, and a Tequila Mojito that has a bright, citrus kick.

In addition to the meat and cheese boards, MidiCi offers an appetizer of meatballs with fresh mozzarella. The meatballs are made with angus beef and are a bit firmer than the meatballs you might get at a red sauce Italian place, but I'm fine with that. The dish is accompanied by their house-made wood-fire toasted bread with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

Speaking of meat boards, the one we tried featured prosciutto, spicy Italian salami (calabresi), Neapolitan salami, and rosemary ham. The board included two types of mustard and a smattering of kalamata olives as well. This and a nice glass a wine is perfect start to a lively evening with friends.

Okay, let's get down to business. MidiCi offers about 15 different specialty pizzas as well as five classic Neapolitan pizzas that can be modified with a selection of toppings. The Minx and I tasted several, with the shrimp scampi pizza being a particular favorite of mine. The Minx enjoyed the Egg 'n Bacon pizza which also included Italian sausage and fingerling potatoes in addition to applewood smoked bacon and a freshly cracked egg on top. While I typically do not go for margherita pizzas, the freshness of MidiCi's ingredients made theirs quite appealing; the version with prosciutto and arugula was even tastier.

While eating all that pizza can be quite filling, MidiCi also has a selection of desserts to finish off the meal, including gelatos and sorbettos. If you're more into the concept of a cheese plate as a perfect end to a meal, there's also burrata with pear and honey. Their signature dessert, however, is the Nutella calzone with fresh berries. Made from the same dough as their pizza, the calzone is filled with Nutella and fresh berries, topped with more of each, and drizzled with a balsamic reduction. 

MidiCi is a rapidly growing franchise, but they haven't skimped on the details, like the choice of ingredients, the design of their restaurants (even the bathrooms are special), and the quality of their wood-fired ovens that make all the difference in preparing Neapolitan-style pizza. I'm looking forward to trying more of their specialty pizzas and diving into their wide selection of salads.

MidiCi The Neapolitan Pizza Company
The Avenue at White Marsh
8139C Honeygo Blvd.
Nottingham, MD 21236
(443) 725-5456

Posted on Minxeats.com.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!