Wednesday, February 26, 2014
It's me again. Still alive, back with another post on the 'glorious number one blog in Best Korea.' Actually, I don't know if that's true. It probably isn't. Anyway, if you're curious what took so long between posts and guessed laziness, well you can shove it - you're wrong. I've actually been re-inventing the wheel and rewriting my own blogging app. Why? I'm not 100% sure anymore, part of it is my incredible amount of hatred for Blogger (even though it's run by the same folks who pay me the big bucks - part of that is a lie). Another part of it was because I've gotten somewhat rusty with skills applicable to my job and figured I'd practice some non-work coding, but most of it was due to sheer underestimation of how difficult it would be to write something that a) worked and b) didn't look like the ass end of a CSS trainwreck. Long story short, I thought I was smarter than I actually am and, not unlike Achilles, my hubris will bring about my demise. In any case, let's discuss a topic entirely unrelated to my personal ineptitude - for the last few years, I've had a side project of sorts to find 木須炒餅 (mu4 xu1 chao3 bing3) in New York. In case you're not familiar with the brilliance of said dish, it's basically if you took fatty strips of pork, stir fried it with mixed vegetables, and then... instead of using some lame-ass noodles, you take a deep-fried golden scallion pancake and cut it up into thick strips and used those. Long story short, I've found it... in Elmhurt, and it is nothing short of magically delicious.
Why has this been my Moby Dick of foods? I've written about my encounters with it in the past, but I don't think I full extolled the brilliance of the dish. Not unlike how Batman would be shit-tier without Robin, or how Sherlock would be nothing more than a high-functioning sociopath without Watson, some of the most incredible things come in the form of duos. While a generic scallion pancake is nothing to write home about (although I have before) and the idea of 'mushu' pork is rather mundane and elicits bad memories of sketchy takeout Chinese joints, when you force them into a relationship greased with copious amounts of oils - something beautiful happens. A melding of souls, flavors, textures, and ultimately indigestion. While the simplicity of a deep fried mixture of nothing more than scallions and dough into a savory golden disc of flavor is a scientific miracle on its own, slicing it into thinner strips changes the texture and character. If you combine that with what amounts to little more than mushrooms, cabbage, and slivers of rendered pork fat? Aunt Jemima ain't got shit on these pancake noodles, shit's too cash.
Keep this in mind, this place isn't even well known for their scallion pancakes. What they're really dope at is their noodle soups. Hand-pulled? They go big here. When you're at Lan Zhou (that place on East Broadway), your meal is consistently punctuated with a nice solid slapping sound of the dough striking the countertop. At Lao Bei Fang, they use a massive slab of dough several times larger and just punish it, beating it harder than a teenager at home alone. The result is a thick and dull thud whose sound just dies on impact. Their noodles are no less springy and offer a similar tensile resilience as Lan Zhou's (which I consider one of the best hand pulled places in the city), they're just a bit better at scaling. Their knife cut noodles come from the same batch, but instead of lengthening it like a Stretch Armstrong doll, they just use a giant hand cutter to slice off thick ribbons of dough. What good are noodles without broth though? Theirs is solid if not spectacular - a deep, rich, soy based broth that's heavy on beef and star anise flavor. Weirdly enough, there seems to be a hint of pork flavor in there... as if they floated pork chops in their broth to add to the richness (what a ridiculous thought). The meat is decidedly random and varies in quality - exactly the way it should be. The reason I say this is because beef noodle soup is supposed to be a meal you get on a budget at a random corner shop, not haute cuisine that demands high quality meat. If your shit ain't a little bit sketchy, then something has gone horribly wrong. Anyway, in summary, their beef noodle soup is - for lack of a better word - good. It isn't going to make you blow your load because of any specific reason, but it does every little thing right.
Some people are drug addicts, some people are alcoholics, some people have a fetish for used panties... I admit it, I have a problem where I will always want to eat dumplings. If you ever see me at a restaurant and there are dumplings on the menu, I don't care what anyone says - I will be ordering them, that is fact, and that is non-negotiable. It's going to happen. Lao Bei Fang's dumplings are amazingly over-sized - the type of dumplings that walk into the locker room and make everyone else feel inadequate. They're so wonderfully large that it would be foolish to try and eat them in a single bite (although I definitely tried). The skin is the thick doughy variety you'll find in Northern Chinese cuisine... which makes sense considering the restaurant's name translates loosely to 'Old Northern.' This blanket of dough insulates a blazing hot ball of pork, which is proportionally immense in size to the skin, sitting in a shockingly significant amount of broth. If you've had a shitty soup dumpling that leaves you more disappointed than Evil Hercules, then this is the inverse. You bite into it expecting a traditional pan-fried potsticker, but you get something much closer to a 生煎包 (tiny fried buns for the non-Chinese readers). Quite simply, their fried dumplings are the tits. They won't dethrone the dumplings at Lan Zhou, Tasty Dumpling, or North Dumpling, but that's because they differ enough to fill another void in my heart. I have plenty of arteries to clog yo.
What more do I have to say? This place if freakin' nostalgic for me - they make shit that no other game in town does, and they do it well. If I had my way, everyone else would get on their level and start using scallion pancakes instead of noodles. That's some next level thinking right there. Seriously, only good can come from introducing more fried things into a dish that's already stir-fried. The fact that they kick so much ass at everything else they make is just icing on the cake for me.
Lao Bei Fang (老北方)
83-05 Broadway, New York, NY 11373