Hardly a week goes by that my mind isn’t blown by one of the city’s new Chinese restaurants. I’d just gotten used to the idea of excellent Sichuan in Bensonhurst and superior dim sum in Sunset Park, when a Hunan restaurant unlike any we’ve ever seen popped up on Flushing’s Northern Boulevard. The latest shock concerns Shandong, a province that points like a nuclear missile into the Yellow Sea, just opposite the border of North and South Korea. Lying southeast of Beijing, the region was once home to the German “concession” (mini-colony) of Tsingtao. The bustling port city (now known as “Qingdao”) currently hosts Korean-owned factories, while still brewing Tsingtao, the tasty Sino-Teutonic beer available in nearly every Chinese restaurant in town.
Located in a mainly Korean sliver of a neighborhood along Kissena Boulevard, Golden Palace is one of two restaurants offering the cuisine of Shandong, along with nearby Liaoning. There’s no hint of its geographic origins in name or décor—it looks like the usual neighborhood Chinese restaurant. But the minute the free bowls of spicy pickled daikon and oiled bean sprouts hit the table, feeling very much like Korean pan chan, you know you’re in for a culinary treat of major proportions.
The cuisine is nearly rice-free, for one thing. To go with your meat, fish, and vegetarian entrées, order “corn bread,” as the menu comically calls it (two for $2.50). What arrives are magnificent puffy domes of steamed dough with a slight yellowish tinge, a toned-down corny flavor, and a texture so fine you won’t believe it’s cornbread. The fluffy interior proves to be the perfect sponge to mop the leftover grease from your sautéed lamb with hot pepper ($11.99), one of the northern Chinese standards on the menu. The tender swatches are flavored with black Asian cumin seeds, widgets of garlic, and a numbing touch of Sichuan peppercorns.
Northern Chinese are inordinately fond of eggs. Who could resist ordering something called “scrambled eggs and Chinese toon leaves” ($7.99)? The flocculent eggs enfold young leaves of Toona sinensis, which taste vaguely of spring onions, but have a meatier texture. Another egg dish, confusingly dubbed “sautéed sliced pork eggs and black fungus,” scrambles chicken ova with pork tendrils, crunchy Kirby cukes, and the biggest cloud ear ‘shrooms you’ll ever have the privilege of digesting.
As you might imagine, seafood is important to a maritime province, and so are frogs and freshwater fish like carp and tilapia, since the Yellow River winds through the region and often overflows its banks. Yellow fish with soy sauce ($12.99) is a substantial tilapia swimming in a lake of black, sweet sauce. The flesh has been pried from the fish’s flanks prior to frying, making it easy to remove, and you might not be surprised to learn that the entire creature has been coated with what tastes like beer batter.
Dumplings are a major preoccupation of Golden Palace, many featuring stuffings you won’t find in the traditional dim sum canon. There’s a loofah dumpling, for example, that’s quite delicious, though it eventually dawns on you that the deliciousness is due to the slivers of salty fish contained in the dumplings, which are bargain-priced at 18 for $6.99. Soups form a prominent part of the menu, but they’re mainly of a more substantial sort than those that lubricate a Cantonese meal.
One that my crew and I loved goes by the quizzical name of “dough drop soup.” The broth is milky, and toon leaves float in its limpid expanse—but more important are the ragged noodles. When I first espied them, I thought of the Korean soup called sujebi. But it gradually dawned on me that the noodles really owed more to spaetzle, the free-form dumplings served in soups or as sides in German meals. Once I realized that, my eye raced over the menu in search of other Teutonic influences. One that readily presented itself was pork skin aspic ($6.99), a collection of wobbly translucent cubes heaped on the plate and garnished with cilantro, like something left by a spaceship. The cubes were ramified with tidbits of pork skin that glowed surreally white. The dish is clearly a cousin of German headcheese.
What to wash it all down with? Tsingtao beer, of course. It’s available not only in bottles, but in big frothy pitchers, one of which sat in the middle of every table on a recent evening at Golden Palace. If that’s not German, I don’t know what is.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 15, 2009