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Noodle Wizardry

Dyspeptic General Tso unmasked, nowhere near Chinatown

Thwap! Thwap! Thwap! The dude in the window slaps the yellowish rope of noodle dough mercilessly on the stainless-steel counter. A line of gawkers begins to form outside on 32nd Street. Heck, it's a free show. But the guy isn't there to flaunt his noodle-making abilities. The diners who enjoy eating cha chiang mein insist on it being freshly made, and this guy is living proof that the production is ongoing. These delicate mein magically fall apart into square strands as they are beaten, briefly boiled, then sauced with an inky concoction rich in onions, pork, and bean paste. Whether you choose the prosaic-sounding "noodles with brown sauce" ($6.50) or the enhanced "noodles with special brown sauce" ($6.95), you'll get something that, with your eyes closed, tastes eerily like Chef Boyardee. For the extra 45 cents, the "special" version includes a handful of julienne cucumber and comes in a two-bowl presentation that lets you mix the noodles and sauce yourself. It takes a lot of elbow grease.

The Chinese restaurant aimed at Korean diners called Kum Ryong ("Golden Dragon") is a disappointment compared to the Chinese-Korean restaurants of Flushing. While the Queens spots offer an aggressive combination of fiery Sichuan, dusty Uighur, and assorted northern Chinese specialties focusing on lamb, goat, and game, often with hot pots as the centerpiece of the menu, Kum Ryong seems more like a neighborhood Chinese restaurant in Manhattan. Thus the menu showcases tidbits of meat or chicken battered thickly in cornstarch, deep-fried, then fried a second time in the wok. Diners seem to appreciate the grease-absorbing properties of the breading. General Tso's chicken ($13.95) is the most famous of these fiascos, named after a wildly successful 19th-century imperial Chinese officer notable not only for suppressing Muslim insurgencies but also for suffering bouts of dysentery. Insert your own joke here. General Tso's chicken is no 19th-century Chinese invention, however: The stir-fry is thought to have originated during the 1970s at Peng's, a restaurant on East 44th Street.

There are a handful of great things on the menu, though it might take you a few visits to ferret them out—anything designated "Peking" or "Mongolian," for example. Mongolian beef ($13.95) is a magnificent heap of tender, well-browned beef fried with a surfeit of vivid green onions, which become pleasantly mossy with tallow. Using similar ingredients, shredded pork Peking-style provides an interesting contrast, since the scallions are thrown raw on top of the cooked pork, making what amounts to a Thai salad but without the fish sauce. Another favorite is "crispy duck" ($14.95). The Koreans are fond of supersizing their food (sushi, for example), and this humongous roast duck is conceived along similar lines. Kum Ryong's Koreatown ducks are like SUVs compared to the Volkswagen ducks of Chinatown, and they arrive with a thick, crisp skin, voluminous wads of gray-brown breast meat, and far less fat than you might expect. The sweet dipping sauce seems like an afterthought .

Mein attraction
photo: Steven Sunshine
Mein attraction

The best thing on the menu, though, is also made in the window with noodle dough. Formed into purses and stuffed with pork and scallions, the dumplings can be had either fried or boiled. You won't be surprised to find that they're gigantic, so that the nine-dumpling allotment ($6.95) will provide a satisfying appetizer for you and several friends.

 
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