Back in NYC!! Woot! My parents celebrated this by taking me to my No. 1 place to get a Chinese breakfast: No. 1 East Restaurant (Ren Ren Xiao Guar). Aside from dimsum restaurants, we have been coming to this restaurant since I was about three, even before it changed its location and became featured on the NY Times 20 Great Things to Eat in Flushing.
We ordered the usual, starting off with the Beef with Toasted Sesame Cake, since it’s always the fastest. Throughout the years I’ve noticed a decline in its quality that could possibly be correlated with its increase in preparation speed. There is definitely a lot less meat and tian mian jiang (literally “sweet flour paste”, this is a rich sweet sauce usually served with Peking duck) compared to the shao bing (sesame cake). And the shao bing itself is not that good because its rather tasteless (unlike some shao bing that tend to be salty or sweet).
Once upon a time, they were a lot more generous with meat and sauce. Perhaps they need to be more frugal with the influx of customers. Or perhaps the chef no longer has time to prepare simple dishes like this one, so a newbie worker might be doing it. Who knows? It’s just not what it was… Nonetheless, we still get this sandwich every time, for tradition’s sake.
We also got the usual Flaky Radish Su Bing, a favorite of my dad’s and mine. My mom also thought we could try something new and got the Sweet Red Bean Su Bing as well.
I loved the radish. It was layered with a nice sheet of flaky crisp and toasted sesame on the outside, that became softer and warmer as I made my way to the core. The soft warm radish was really flavorful and slightly gooey, so the experience is similar to eating chicken pot pie, only the innards are not as heavy and creamy and the su bing is not exactly the same as pie crust. The radish-to-su bing ratio was just right: generous amount of radish with a decent layer of dough and flake. It was great!
The red bean was less impressive. Although the filling of sweet red bean paste was pretty delicious and seemed hand-made (because I found pieces of red bean inside), the ratio of filling-to-su bing was off. As opposed to the flatter radish su bing, the red bean su bing was rounder, and had a greater amount of layered dough concentrated on one side. It would have been a lot better if the red bean paste was more evenly distributed, and the su bing thinner, espeically since the red bean paste was particularly warm, smooth, and delicious. From a holistic point of view, this dish was pretty good, just not amazing. And I definitely know better places for red bean-stuffed pastries.
I washed these pastries down with a bowl of hot sweet soybean milk, something I’ve accustomed a taste for with my stay in Beijing this summer. It was very soothing and delicious compared with the store-bought carton, but no match for the freshly-ground bags made every morning in China.
My dad ordered a bowl of dofu-nao, or Salty Soybean Curds as it says on the English menu. Yes, the thought of eating “curds” seems gross, but hey, cheese is basically mold and yogurt is made from bacteria. Anyways, the dofu-nao is basically pieces of intensely soft and tender tofu immersed in a soy sauce-like solution and small savory shrimps. I tasted a spoonful of it and thought it was even better than my soymilk. The tofu was slippery and jello-like, only intensely tender and light. The soup was also clear and broth-like, seasoning the tofu. It was like savory light porridge.
Then there was the chive box (as directly translated from Chinese), or Fried Buns with Chives and Eggs (the English name on the menu). This is my mom’s favorite. I feel like the chive box is also a dish that declined in both quality and quantity over the years at No. 1. The stuffing of chives, egg, small shrimp, and vermicelli seems to have become less flavorful. This might be due to the decrease in oil used, which I suppose is beneficial from a health perspective. However, that does not explain why the boxes got smaller! The shape has also been changed to fit less chive stuffing!!
There is definitely an underlying profit-motive here. It always saddens me to watch as a small personal restaruant/cafe turn into a bigger business. I mean, it makes me happy for the owner who diligently worked his/her way up, but it also feels like a part of the place’s personality is lost as well…
Still, I’m glad I got to eat chive boxes again! Try them after pouring some white vinegar into the stuffing. It’s really good!
Last but not least and also my dad’s and my most favorite dish: Steamed Spinach Dumplings ! We love it so much we got two servings. Featured on NY Times (see link above) and Serious Eats New York, I think most people would agree that these are No. !’s best dish.
These are amazing! Thinly ground spinach, vermicelli bits with eggy shittake undertones wrapped in a soft thin layer of dumpling skin. My dad and I agree that only No. 1 knows how to make them unique and delicious. Part of their awesome-ness probably comes from how thinly ground and blended all its stuffing components are. I can’t even see the mushroom, but I definitely taste a strong shittake flavor with each bite that is perfectly harmonious with juicy spinach.
And the best part is, they have not changed.
Grade: A+ spinach dumplings!! The overall grade I’d give it is A-, especially when the decline of some dishes is taken into consideration…
41-27 Main St
Flushing, NY 11369