Hardly anything is what I know about Taiwanese food. And that's a lot more than what I knew before I rolled into Taiwanese Gourmet, in Elmhurst, Queens.
The fantastic blog Chopsticks and Marrow had a brief and very convincing post on this little Taiwanese restaurant, which compelled me near-immediately to cross the 13 or so bridges that it takes to get to Elmhurst, and, as it turns, out have essentially the same meal.
I went in thinking Taiwanese Gourmet is BYO, but alas they do serve beer. The "Taiwan Beer" that we spied in the fridge seemed to be a good a choice as any. As with many Chinese beers, it's a bit sweet, and goes perfectly well with spicy foods. Better than Bud, you are assured. I mean it says "World Class" right on it, so, there's that.
The amuse-bouche (what's the Taiwanese word for amuse-bouche?) was a good indication of what was going to come. Crunchy vegetable of some sort in a sweet, sour, and spicy oil. Just enough in all departments to really get the juices flowing. And flow they did while we scanned the massive menu.
The menu was filled with all sorts of everything that I wanted to put into my facehole. But, as there were only two of us, we could only order four dishes.
First up was the "Taiwanese Hamburger." I would have never ordered this had it not been for reading the Chopsticks and Marrow post. I would have wrongly assumed that it would be, well, a hamburger of some sort. I would not have correctly assumed that it consists of some braised pork belly, cilantro, on a Chinese steamed bun. Topped with ground peanuts, and a mince of pickled vegetables.
The classic Taiwanese dish called "Three Cup Chicken" hit the table, with its glistening fat and bones.
The missus wondered aloud "What part of the chicken is that."
"All of them," I replied, not too far off from correctly. This dish has deep, dark, reduced flavors. It wasn't our favorite, as we typically enjoy bright, acidic, spicy notes. But I powered through, nibbling on pieces of bone fragment and chicken skin. With glee, I should add.
Salted crispy chicken (pictured above) was much more to our liking. A hacked up chicken, coated in a crunchy, salty batter--which is just as good off the chicken as it is on--dressed with scallion and basil. A fantastic and satisfying fried chicken for sure.
The highlight for me was the fermented tofu, aka, "Stinky tofu." When I ordered it I asked for the "fermented tofu," just as the menu says, and the waitress said "Stinky tofu?" Yes, yes indeed.
The stank hit the table before the dish did. That funky, rotting smell wafted and delighted. The flavor is much more subtle than the smell, which I suppose is a good thing. These little nuggets of putrid (in a good way) lightly fried tofu are dressed with an acidic and spicy chili sauce, and a bit of pickled vegetables on the side. Lots of flavors and textures here. This dish is a real pleasure and eye-opener.
We are fortunate here in North Jersey to have access to a place like Queens. The number of restaurants is staggering, and the variety of cuisines makes my head spin. Driving over those crappy bridges and dealing with the traffic is a small price to pay for the experiences that lie ahead.
Taiwanese Gourmet : 8402 Broadway : Elmhurst, NY : 718.429.4818