There are no boisterous greetings or bubbling cauldrons on display at Gui Lin Mi Fen (135-25 40th Road, Queens; 718-939-2025), a roomy, whitewashed noodle shop that opened this year in Flushing off Chinatown’s crowded main drag. No hushed conversations held over a staccato chorus of hastily slurped alkaline noodles.
There are, however, freshly killed chickens.
Chef and co-owner Li Liang Zhou chooses the live birds every morning before dispatching them and heading back to the restaurant. After gently poaching the birds, he breaks them down with a cleaver, the better to divvy them out atop the restaurant’s namesake carbohydrate: skinny, springy mi fen rice noodles. Zhou also serves the hacked chicken cold in quarter, half, or whole bone-in portions, with a zippy garlic-scallion dipping sauce that wakes up the supple meat. Those averse to the gelatinous texture of poached chicken skin will want to stick to the noodle soups, all of which come topped with a hodgepodge of roasted soybeans, chopped pickled green beans, parsley, and spongy, flat cloud ear mushrooms (a more delicate relative of the wood ear). Letting the pieces soften in the hot broth yields a tamer chew.
The soup is a specialty of Guilin, a southern Chinese city surrounded by lush scenery punctuated with massive, pillar-like limestone karst formations. It arrives at your table in two separate bowls. One holds the noodles and toppings, with a piquant soy marinade lurking at the bottom; the other contains a cloudy broth made from a combination of chicken, pork, and beef bones simmered for twelve hours. Your server will instruct you to mix the noodles with the hidden sauce before flooding them from the soup bowl. He will not tell you to take a sip of the broth before you complete the assembly, but I will: The soup base is gentler than its cooking time might suggest, registering several notches below the heavy pork-based tonkotsu broth popular among our current wave of ramen-ya, which leaves a sheen of liquid animal fat on the lips of anyone who consumes it. Milky-white and thick with collagen, Zhou’s stock counters its rich texture with a light flavor. It makes for a great hangover-cure breakfast — Gui Lin Mi Fen opens at 11 a.m. — or a belly-settling bookend to a day of marathon eating of the kind for which the neighborhood has become popular.
The “House Special” pairs thinly sliced brisket and pork belly flaunting a crust of bubbled, golden-brown skin as crunchy as fried chicken. It’s the heartiest of the eight varieties offered, followed by a version fanned with thin slips of rosy, smoked pork streaked with a thick vein of fat that melts into the broth as it’s stirred. Gui Lin Mi Fen also invites carnivores to cram any bowl with as many meats as they please, at $2 or so per add-on.
Though excluded from Zhou’s soup feast, strict vegetarians may avail themselves of mi fen sans broth with a $5.50 version that doubles down on pickled green beans and a handful of Chinese broccoli stalks. (All soups are priced below $9.) An adequately fiery “Good Friends” mi fen ($7.25), meanwhile, hosts slivers of pepper-spiked bamboo shoots. Daredevils can boost the heat level with spoonfuls of mashed chiles, a searing mixture stationed at every table next to shakers of black vinegar.
Precede your soup with any of fifteen appetizers. These include omasum (the cow’s third stomach) as well as a curious coupling of fried-then-steamed pork belly and taro, a popular wedding banquet dish. It’s worth clapping for here, too, the streaked pork and starchy tuber rendered tender and glazed with Shaoxing wine and sugar. It makes for a fairly unctuous plate, one that benefits from a counterpoint of a lighter order, say, mildly vinegared cucumbers or a chilled salad made from cloud ear mushrooms. And every would-be forager should try Zhou’s salad of finely diced dried tofu and Indian aster. When cooked, the herbaceous plant has a texture similar to boiled tea leaves, with a dry and grassy finish. Folded with the bouncy bean curd cubes and served chilled, it’s a refreshing start to a meal here.