A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Jul. 2.

Gum Fung and Dumplings

Squid and Seaweed and Clams and Shrimp

Cheung Fun and Jell-O

Lunch -

Gum Fung - 13628 39th Ave, Flushing, Queens
Har gow (Shrimp dumplings), Sui my (pork dumplings), Vegetable dumplings, Seafood dumpling in soup, Squid with seaweed salad, Salt-baked shrimp, Clams in brown sauce, Fried dough cheung fun, Shrimp-stuffed eggplant, Nor my gai (Chicken-stuffed rice wrapped in a lotus leaf), Fried shrimp rolls, tri-colored Jell-O, peanut-filled glutin balls, a Tsingtao

I like to pretend I’m a snob. If one of my friends invites me to Brooklyn, I might roll my eyes and say, “Has something happened to all the other boroughs?” If the destination is Queens, I might decline with, “Maybe after I’ve eaten at every place in Manhattan twice.” And I can’t even write what I say when Staten Island is suggested.

But the truth is I love heading out to the outer boroughs. It feels like a mini-adventure, always introducing me to some community worlds apart from the East Village. More importantly, the food is usually better and more authentic due to cheaper rents, more diverse ethnic neighborhoods and newer influxes of immigrants.

On Saturday morning, I caught the 7 train to its last stop. I was meeting Manny and his friend Seth in Flushing to check out Gum Fung, which is reputedly Queens’ best dim sum. By extension, this may mean New York’s best. The three of us convened at a glaringly early 11:45 to see if its reputation was deserved.

From first appearances, the main dining room reminded me a lot of spots in the city such as Golden Unicorn. Situated in a massive space, it resembled a hotel banquet room, gaudily decorated with golds and reds. Old Chinese women patrolled the floor, maneuvering their carts of dumplings and fried chicken feet up and down the wide aisles between tables.

The women were peddling their offerings like they made a ten-dollar commission from every sale. They would hold bamboo steamers an inch above our table, saying “You want. You want,” a declaration rather than a question. Even when our banquette was overloaded with food, they kept coming with snails and with fried rice, with pork buns and with strips of beef. When we turned down a dish, insisting no, we really didn’t want it, they would flash us a look like we had just impregnated their daughters. It's a classic part of the dim sum experience and I loved it.

The food unfortunately was more hit or miss. Most of it fell into the category of good but not great and more surprisingly, little of what we had stood out from the fare you’d find in Manhattan’s Chinatown. All the dumplings we tried were tastily filled, but they had been sitting in the steamers too long, making their skins stick to the base of the pots. The squid with seaweed salad was good enough although I noticed that none of us was rushing to finish it. Manny rightly dismissed the rubbery clams we got as subpar and I was the only one who bothered to pick at the large portion we received. I did enjoy the salt-baked shrimps, with their heads and skins left intact. (At one point, we got to watch a cook drag a net through a giant aquarium to refresh his supply of shrimp.) The eggplant stuffed with shrimp was also a step above average and we all enjoyed the chicken-stuffed rice stewed in lotus leaves. My favorite item though was the cheung fun, which had fried dough wrapped in a white noodle. It was something I’d never tried and I really enjoyed the mix of textures here. It was even stranger and better dipped in the hoisin sauce that came with it.

Nonetheless, no matter what we tried, we all ended up underwhelmed. Back on the 7, Seth, getting his Ph.D. in comp lit, waxed rhapsodic about the healthier and better dumplings at Dim Sum Go Go (see Dinner, Mar. 19). It was one of the first times I’d heard someone go to an ethnic outer borough outpost and still come away preferring the Manhattan version. But he was right. Dim Sum Go Go served much cleaner and often more interesting food. Even for people who prefer the full dim sum experience, Golden Unicorn proved itself comparable to Gum Fung. Best of all, with each of these much closer options, I could sleep in and keep my snobbery intact. 6/10


Blogger Drew said...

I assume 'dumpings' is just a typo and you're not describing what the food did to you later on.


10:11 PM  
Anonymous chef 'em out said...

Drew, very observant and funny.

8:51 AM  
Blogger Lonesome Hero said...

Ha. A little from column A and a little from column B... I'll make the change.

10:22 AM  
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