NAN XIANG XIAO LONG BAO
38-12 Prince Street
Flushing, NY 11354
If you've ever been to Canal Street in Manhattan and said "oh my God, this place is a disgusting crowded pisshole," then you aren't alone. Between the throngs of tourists, the guys hawking knock offs, the seemingly incessant reek of decaying fish, the shoulder high piles of rotting garbage, and the necessity of carrying an umbrella to keep off the rain of spit, Chinatown is as close as one can get to living in an active landfill. If it wasn't for its admittedly convenient location, Chinatown would be in the running for the worst neighborhood in the borough. Lucky for us, there are other boroughs and in the one called "Queens" there's a neighborhood called Flushing. Flushing is a more refined Chinatown. Twice the size, half as dirty, and inconvenient enough to keep away all but the most determined tourists.
Getting out of the 7 Train at the last stop is not what you would expect from Queens. The traffic is insane. The buildings are tall and midtown dense. The sidewalks are crowded. Shops and restaurants fill the blocks three stories high. It doesn't feel like New York so much as photos of the streets of Hong Kong. A few minute walk from that 7 Train is the Nan Xiang Dumpling House, widely hyped as one of the best places to eat Chinese food in the entire city. Pike and I showed up early one recent Monday evening to find them not full but far from empty. We were quickly led to a clean new table in a barren, artless room that had all the charm of a North Korean nursing home cafeteria where we proceeded to try and figure out how much we could order without looking like crazy fat Americans. Still, we were obligated to order as much as possible. This is a blog, after all.
We started our meal off with a piping hot bowl of Sweet Soy Bean Milk. Yup, sweetened soy milk. And you know what? It was good. Very good. Imagine you've just had Frosted Flakes and you've finished all the flakes. Now you've got this bowl of sugary milk that you know you're gonna drink because it's delicious. Now make it five degrees out. Now make that milk hot. That's what this is. Then along came the Scallion Pancake with Sliced Beef and the Sweet Sticky Rice Roll. The scallion pancake was wrapped like a burrito around thinly sliced beef with a hoisin sauce dressing. Pike liked it more than I did by a wide margin. I liked it, but for something that was supposed to be their signature dish, the sauce was too much and wiped out the taste of the pancake. Next time, I'd probably want to get the beefless one. The sweet sticky rice roll is unlike anything I'd had until that point. Imagine, if you will, sticky rice. A tube of sticky rice. Inside of that tube is a piece of fried fish. Now, imagine this rice-fish corn-dog type thing glazed in sugar to the point that you can feel the sugar crystals crunch between your teeth. I can't say it was my dish of the day, but if you think that this is the most amazing dessert-cum-appetizer-cum-sandwich the world has ever seen, then you should get it. But don't tell your dentist.
Up next, the Steamed Pork Buns arrived in a round bamboo steamer tray, stacked atop its companion, the Steamed Crab Meat and Pork Buns. Soup dumplings are what Nan Xiang gets a lot of Yelp shout-outs for and we were gonna dive right in. First, they were delicious, let's just say that. Filled with meat and broth and scallions, they were like little wonton bowls you could fit in the palm of your hand. Don't so that though. They're scalding hot. Not only did they explode with boiling soup, they exploded with flavor. When I go back, this will be on my order every time. But that said, which one? The truth is, we couldn't tell the difference between the plain ol' pork or the tarted up crab-pork. Save a buck and stick to the regular pork. Beneath these guys on the menu was the Pork & Vegetable Wonton Soup, which I believed to be a soup dumpling similar to what we had been having just previously because it wasn't in the "soup" section of the menu. But it's a soup. Well, I like wonton soup, but this was just not good. Pike didn't mind it so much, but he ate so little of it that I have to wonder. The wontons were good, but the broth was awful. Fishy and seaweedy. It tainted the entire experience. Clearly, people like their wonton soup with a hunk of seaweed tossed in, but I am not one of them. I let the wontons dry out so they could be enjoyed and the broth went all but untouched. We also tried the Rice Cake with Pork, Shrimp and Fish. To show you how ignorant I am, I was expecting some sort of dense, cake-like rice dish, perhaps with all the various meats tucked away inside like chocolate chips in a cookie. What it actually is is a stir-fry dish where the cake, made from rice flour, which has the consistency of partially-cooked gummy dough, is sliced up and tossed like gnocchi with all of the dish's other ingredients. It was fantastic. Not what I was expecting (I thought that they got our order wrong for about ten minutes), but fantastic. Also, it's heavy. I took most of it home.
Did Nan Xiang live up to the hype? No. It had a miss or two. I didn't faint at the table. It would have been helpful if the waiter had spoken a tad more English. But it was very good. And dirt cheap. Our whole meal, which was seven dishes, plus soda, plus tax and tip, came to $48. I'd go back in a second. I just wouldn't get the wonton soup again. Or that rice/fish/sugar tube thing.
Nan Xiang is cash only.