Getting my friends to come on food adventures in Flushing is like pulling teeth. Most of them live in Manhattan or Brooklyn, and are very proud of the fact.
"I don't do outer boroughs," says one.
"I don't leave the Upper West Side," says another.
"Why take the train for Chinese food when you can just get it delivered?" asks a third.
Since my life revolves around food, I probably have a distorted view of how far the average person should go for an ideal bowl of noodles or enlightening dim sum. (Queens residents, you're lucky.) Most of my trips on the 7 train are spent all by my lonesome, catching up on the New Yorker or, in the absence of reading material, fastidiously checking email on my phone. So I was pretty excited when Kian of Red Cook suggested we head out to Flushing in search of some restaurant a Taiwanese friend recommended that may or may not have an English name. Sold!
As we pounced up the stairs at the Flushing - Main Street stop, I was already famished from the longish ride from Times Square and ready to eat. "Oh, I forgot to mention," Kian said. "There's a bus transfer. Haha..."
Trying to figure out where to catch the 44 bus, on a packed street corner with seemingly a dozen bus stops, was certainly not a picnic. Neither was spacing out from good conversation and overshooting your bus stop by 30 blocks, until a good samaritan decides to tell you to get off the bus already and go back the other way.
After an hour-long detour, we found out the restaurant was actually only a 5-minute ride from the subway. And it did have an (albeit long) English name: Main Street Imperial Taiwanese Gourmet.
Here are the three dishes that made the journey worth it:
1. (above) Spicy Fried Flounder and Tofu - This was server's recommendation. If you come here, ORDER IT. The fish was lightly breaded cooked till just done. The tofu was simmered in the serving sauce, a blend of sweet chili sauce and fermented bean paste (dou ban jiang), a nod to Sichuan cooking. The sauce was flavorful yet light enough to not overwhelm the silky textures of both the flounder and tofu. Outstanding.
2. Stir-fried bitter melon with salted egg - I rarely encounter bitter melon that is not steamed or braised, since that's how it's usually done in Cantonese cooking. Here, stir-frying does make the bitter melon retain more bitterness, but the flavor works well with the earthy bits of eggs. Yes, bitter melon is an acquired taste; this is a great dish for anyone lucky enough to have acquired it.
3. Three Cup Chicken - This Taiwanese favorite gets its name from being braised in equal parts soy sauce, sesame oil, and white rice wine. The chicken here was as tender and flavorful as other versions I've tried overseas, and had a good amount of Thai basil. (You can also try this Three Cup Chicken recipe at home.) As with the other dishes, the portions were very generous and we had plenty left over to doggie-bag.
So the moral of this story is that good food is sometimes worth taking two trains and a bus to find. And that it's a good idea to pay attention to your bus stops.
Main Street Imperial Taiwanese Gourmet
59-14 Main Street (near 59th St.)
Take the 7 to Flushing - Main Street, then catch the 44 bus near the SW corner of the Main St. and Roosevelt Ave. Get off just past the Queens Botanical Garden (approx. 5 minute ride).