Posted by: Jeffsayyes | January 26, 2010

The Inaugural Ambassador – M&T Northern Chinese Wrap-Up

Special thanks go to our Ambassador for the evening, Joe DiStefano. He took us on a culinary trip through the Qindao province courtesy of his dinner table away from home, the streets of Flushing. This was our first Ambassador program, where a person of considerable knowledge of a cuisine takes out a group, orders their dream meal for the table, discusses what they are eating and why they are eating it, and, most importantly, has a gay ol’ time.

M&T is a tiny shop, no more than 8 tables but word is spreading fast of the atypical Chinese food which they prepare, thanks in part to NYC food writers such as Joe Himself, Robert Seitsema and chowhounds all over the tri-state. At meet time, we were bursting out of the biggest table they had and as even more of the group started to come, it became apparent we were taking over the restaurant. When other customers began to shuffle out, the staff put together every square tabletop they could find to make our king’s table. It’s fine, if we were going to do this right… it had to happen.

Joe came prepared and ordered his favorites and most interesting of the fare. I wonder if it was exciting or boring for him. Joe, like me, is a food explorer. Whenever I go out, I always get something new from a restaurant, unless it’s something like a Katz’s pastrami sandwich. It’s difficult to sit back and enjoy without learning something. I believe 90 percent of the table Joe knew what he was getting into, so was this the ultimate satisfaction of our ambassador? Either way, he showed us a good time in Qindao proper. Besides, we were lucky enough to have Melissa our translator who helped with ordering and fact finding, so I’m sure Joe learned a few things to put in his scrapbook.

Joe giving the rundown

above photo courtesy: Judy Ruminates

Joe put in the order and went over what we were about to eat. He explained how we might be familiar with Tsingtao beer which comes from the Qindao province (Tsingtao is actually the western name for Qindao) and that the name M&T stands for Mei Er Te (beautiful and extraordinary). Beyond this, he talked about other dishes on the menu and on the picture board and the exact preparations of some of what we were soon to encounter.

There are nearly 200 items on the pink menu to choose from with even more pictured on the wall plus daily specials; with so many potholes and goldmines to navigate, what are we supposed to do? This is exactly why we are doing this Ambassador thing. Here is what we ordered:

Salt and pepper flounder

photo courtesy: Judy Ruminates

This was one of the favorites of the table. The fried fish held it’s own, but the big peppers took the torch. They were only mildly hot – you could easily eat them like chips. I believe they are called Fragrant Crispy Peppers which are imported by the restaurant themselves. Now, these big peppers, emote fear to the heat conscious, but once those with this affliction at our table overcame it, they were casually enjoying it like popcorn. Not much heat at all. I don’t believe this is on the proper menu yet, as it was our own personal translator who, with calls to her mom who called her dad, told them that this fish was called “A Flounder“. They could only describe it as brown, flat, and lurking on the ocean floor. They know the name now, so if you tell them Flounder, you will probably get this version.

Salt and pepper Laoshan ginseng

Above photo courtesy: Judy Ruminates

The ginseng was another favorite of the table. It held as the standard for anything fried in this batter. The flavor wasn’t overpowering, but still kicked the batter in the butt and twisted it into a springboard for the taste buds.

Sea Shrimp with Chili

These were great, a personal highlight. Because they were fried so, you can safely eat the shells, even the head – like sweet shrimp at a sushi restaurant. The shrimp’s chili-crust zests your mouth and the shrimp itself cools you down. The Sichuan peppercorns on top disrupts any mouth relaxation and fried shrimp shell adds a crunch that gives a freshness to your mouth. Eating bone gives you calcium, so this is good for you too. sorta.

Qindao Style Spicy Eel

The staff said this was a favorite of American customers. I agree that eel is a food that Americans generally like, once they get enough courage to try it. Surprisingly, though, this was one of the only dishes for them to take away without the plate being clean. The sauce reminded me of barbeque, but eel can be smoky in general. Watch out for bones. Not a bad dish at all.

Shrimp Skin with Hot Pepper

above photo courtesy: Judy Ruminates

First of all, this should be renamed Hot pepper with shrimp skin. The green peppers just packed a bit of kick, but had a crisp freshness that is expected out of a dish mainly of fresh peppers. The dried fish bits added a salty fishiness which counteracted the plant’s water base nicely.

Lotus root – an easy palate cleanser

photo courtesy: Judy Ruminates

Peanut with celery

photo courtesy: Judy Ruminates
This was another example of the food not being greasy. Other than the fried ginseng and fish, the vegetable dishes stood out for their simplicity and flavor. I believe this had a dash of vinegar, balancing out the meal well. BTW, Isn’t it weird that a pepper is a fruit??

Pumpkin pancakes


above photo courtesy: Judy Ruminates

This was one of the more anticipated dishes. The pumpkin was not sweet as expected, more savory. Nice little crunch in there was a warm guest of the table.

Pork Chop with Shrimp Sauce

photo courtesy: Judy Ruminates

People were fans of the frying style, both with the batter and without (as seen here). I originally thought I missed the shrimp sauce or the staff did. But as it turns out, as Mr. DiStefano once graciously documented, the sauce not a condiment, no, it is in the batter. That being said, the pork was not as juicy as I’d like, moreso crispy on this occasion.

Qindao Special Course


above photo courtesy: Judy Ruminates

A melange of ingredients, including planks of tofu, sprouts, pork, carrots, peppers. It seemed like a collection of sticks from the entire forest. This was a highlight of mine for the diversity of the plate, although I believe I was the one with the last five chopstick pulls from this dish.

Clam Bake Chicken

Surprisingly distinct flavoring with the chicken broth and then the mussel shells on their own.

Shan Yao (Chinese mountain root/yam) with tomatoes

This had a sweet flavored sauce keeping the cooked tomatoes warring with the thicker yam texture. It gave a much-needed softened coating to my insides.

Qingdao Cold Pasta

This dish had the most leftovers. Enough for one of our guests to take it home. Let me tell you this: it’s not for everyone. The pieces were stiff, the plate cold, and frankly I’m surprised that this is called pasta. I had trouble discerning what exactly I was tasting, but it did have some sort of flavor. This cold pasta is actually plant from the sea. I’m not sure I disagree with keeping it there.

Pork’s Head Meat with Cucumber

Another cold dish, with cucumbers providing the crunch and the fatty pig’s head pieces giving it some slide through your teeth. One of the more popular sayings around the table became different iterations of “Can you pass the pig face?” or “hey, get me more of that face!” or “mmm, just what I’ve been wanted all night. Pig Face. I can’t get enough that face.

Lizardfish – Children, look away

This fish was not juicy as I would like. Most people agreed that the ginseng was a much better choice for the insides of this same fried batter. These pieces of fish were bigger and a bit denser than the flounder, but has a light flavor more subtle but not totally dissimilar.

Dessert

This was pureed Chinese mountain root/yam with some syrup topped with wolfberries. It was sweet and thick, almost like mashed potatoes with simple sugar on top. The region is not known for dessert and this might possibly be the only known one in existence. I’m still not totally clear on what this was because it’s not on the menu, but the staff liked our eating habits so much, they gave this to us for free. Thanx!

Our cost was $14 per person for the food and a couple more for each drink (with us covering Joe’s share).
—————————-

It’s obvious there is much more at this tiny restaurant still untapped. It was clear that on our dinner, the subtle and strong flavors and the freshness of this cuisine to our palates kept all of our interests piqued. The owners enjoyed giving us recommendations and the depth of their kitchen seems virtually limitless. As we left, more than a few people came out, cheering their desire to come back for more. Thanks again to Joe DiStefano for showing us around M&T Restaurant.

Stay tuned for more Ambassador Programs. Send me your email if you want to be put on the Ambassador mailing list. Depending on room, sometimes I will advertise events publicly and sometimes I will keep notice only through email. Our attendance is limited, so you’ll need to be quick on the trigger to get in.

Looking forward,
Jeff Orlick

Links:
Visit Joe’s blog, World’s Fare
Qindao wiki
Joe’s SeriousEats article on M&T
Become an Ambassador
Chowhound discussions
NY Times article
A homecooked meal at our translator’s home
World’s Fare blog post A table for 14 at Flushing’s M&T


Responses

  1. You’re welcome Jeff. Reading your recap has succeeded in making me hungry!

  2. Lovely write-up, Jeff. It was my pleasure to translate as best I could. Those ladies were so happy to learn the word “yam”, right down to me spelling the word out.

  3. you missed the seaworms!


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