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Dining Out: Hong Shun: Exotic Shandong Chinese fare in Flushing

Impending holidays always trigger our cravings for the relevant cuisines, and Lunar New Year is no exception. As Queensites we can choose from a myriad of Asian dining experiences including many regional Chinese cuisines. Among foodies, the current buzz is about the flavors of Shandong Province, and at least three such establishments have recently opened in downtown Flushing. Food critic Ruth Reichl was spotted lunching in one of them just the other day.

Had we been more Chinese-culturally savvy, it would have been obvious to us that Hong Shun Restaurant featured Shandong dishes by the lighthouse on its awning. The Chengshantou Lighthouse, at the tip of the Shandong peninsula, is the symbol of the province. Inside, Hong Shun (which confusingly is called Lu Xiang Yuan on the menu) is small but freshly and attractively decorated with Chinese art and artifacts, mirrors and, right now, bright red Chinese New Year decorations.

Since Tsingtao beer comes from Qingdao (same name, different transliteration) in Shandong, we felt obliged to down at least one with our meal. Good call.

We started off with Qingdao mussel meat mixed with cucumber. Cold mussels are mixed with chunky cucumber slices in a bracing vinegary sauce. This is a tangy yet cooling preparation style favored in the region. Vinegar is very important to this cuisine. Here you can have also sea oysters or sea intestines (more about that later) prepared similarly.

This was our second encounter with sea intestines. Our first was with the above preparation style, so we chose a hot version this time around. What are sea intestines? They don’t come from the internal organs of any creature. They are actually a type of sea worm (urechis unicinctus) much favored in the region and also in parts of South Korea. They are served with both ends chopped off, and anything that might have been inside removed, so that they resemble thin-walled ziti. In the hot version, they came stir-fried with Chinese chives and garlic. They have little flavor of their own and are mainly enjoyed for their texture, which is like a thin, chewy tube of calamari.

Back in China, Hong Shun’s chef competed in some cooking contests. He took top prize in 2001 on a show that by its description sounded like “Top Chef Qingdao.” The dish that won him the prize is absolutely gorgeous. A whole fish of seemingly untranslatable (at least by the wait staff) nomenclature is first roasted, then slathered with mayonnaise. You eat it by first plucking off a rose petal with your fingers, then filling it with fish and mayo and popping it in your mouth. It is a feast for the eyes, but would probably be better as a party dish where everyone samples a petal or two rather than something to be eaten in quantity.

How could we resist ordering a dish with a name like “Love for all Season,” especially with Valentine’s Day coinciding with Chinese New Year? This is a lovely, delicate stir-fried vegetarian dish of Chinese lily and sticky rice cakes laced with massive quantities of garlic and a few carrots and cabbage shreds. Garlic lovers will revel in this dish, but other kinds of lovers should make sure they will both be indulging before ordering.

Garlic and spicy shredded pork is a good bet for those looking for something that has more in common with neighborhood Chinese restaurant fare. Very tender strips of stir-fried pork mingle with shreds of carrots and greens, loads of garlic and enough chilies to give it zing.

Open dumplings look like mini blintzes or tacos sautéed until golden and filled with ground pork. They come with a vinegary dipping sauce. These are also a reliable bet for the faint-hearted.

As is the custom, soup was the last thing served. In this case it was milk fragrance pumpkin soup, a Shandong specialty. It is a thin, delicate, pumpkin-flavored soup reinforced with small chunks of carp.

The Bottom Line

For adventurous eaters seeking the authentic tastes of an exotic cuisine, Hong Shun is a real find. Conservative diners will find the menu intimidating. You know who you are. Sun Nien Fai Lok (Happy New Year)!

Hong Shun Restaurant (aka Lu Xiang Yuan)

42-87 Main St.

Flushing, NY 11355

718-359-2108

Price Range: Appetizers: $5-16, Entrees: $8-28

Cuisine: Shandong-style Chinese

Setting: Small main space and two small private dining rooms, pleasantly decorated in Chinese restaurant style.

Service: Friendly, helpful, limited English

Hours: 11 a.m. - 11 p.m. daily

Reservations: No

Alcohol: Beer & wine

Parking: Street

Dress: Casual

Children: Children’s menu

Music: No

Takeout: Yes

Credit Cards: Yes

Noise Level: Acceptable

Handicap accessible: Restrooms downstairs

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