RETURNING TO CITI FIELD
Savor Superb Sichuan at Spy C in Forest Hills
BY JOE DISTEFANO
As the Culinary King of Queens, I’m so
very fortunate to live in the most diverse
and delicious destination in all of New York
City. Really I’m not royalty though, I’m
an ambassador, and a hungry one at that.
Today, we take a trip to Sichuan, China, via
a most unlikely location, Forest Hills.
Th e leafy streets of Forest Hills are worlds
away from the madding crowd of downtown
Flushing’s Chinatown where more than a half
dozen restaurants traffi c in the fi ery fare of Sichuan.
Nevertheless they’re home to one of the
best Sichuan restaurants in Queens, Spy C.
Before I ate there I was skeptical of Spy C
for two reasons: the name and the location.
“What a goofy name, and how good can a
restaurant in a neighborhood with so few
Chinese people be?” I groused to myself.
Then I tasted the ma po tofu from Chef Zhen
“Tom” Lei. The creamy curds of soybean
bathed in a red chili sauce and shot through
with ground pork sang with ma la, a combination
of chili heat and Sichuan peppercorn
tingle that’s a hallmark of the cuisine. I also
thoroughly enjoyed the fu qi fei pian—listed
on the menu as beef tripe with chili oil—a
cool tangle of tendon, innards, and meat
slicked with chili oil—better known among
Chinese food cognoscenti as husband wife
offal slices. Chef Lei turns that old warhorse
spicy cucumber salad into a thoroughbred
thanks to homemade chili oil and a perfect
balance of sour, sweet, and spicy flavors.
Th e cool sweet and spicy cucumbers are a great
counterpoint to some of the more incendiary fare
like dry pepper chicken, golden brown chunks of
fried chicken riddled with dried red peppers and
fl avored with Sichuan peppercorn oil. A chicken
wing version of the dish is even better.
Other standouts include Hunan style
braised fish with pickled mustard greens—a
study in sour and spice flavored with pink
peppercorns and of all things sliced lime—
and crispy shredded beef. The latter, crunchy
tendrils of fried beef, is great with beer.
While the focus is squarely on the fiery
bold flavors of Sichuan, not every dish relies
on chili heat. One of the best things is the
house special braised pork belly, wobbly mahogany
colored chunks of meat resounding
the flavor of five spice and soy. The deeply
comforting dish, which Chef Lei says draws
on the flavors of Shanghai, is one I will return
to again and again this winter. The same goes
for the deceptively simple sounding braised
beef with tomato noodle soup.
All of the dishes at Spy C are remarkably
balanced and often as as good or even better
than their Flushing counterparts. That’s because
the 34-year-old Chef Lei, who learned
to cook at a top culinary school in Beijing,
developed the menu for several of that neighborhood’s
restaurants, including Szechuan
Even though we do not speak the same language
I’ve gotten to know Chef Lei over the
course of several visits. We share a more important
common language, a passion for Chinese
cuisine. When a mutual friend told me
Chef Lei was pretty critical of most restaurants
in Flushing, I struggled with whether
to tell him about my favorite Sichuan spot
Chengdu Tian Fu, which closed over the summer.
Like a nervous schoolgirl I showed him
a photo of their infamous cold noodles on my
cellphone. “Oh, yeah that place was great,” he
said through a translator. Even though I still
really miss my favorite Flushing haunt, I’m
glad to have a new favorite Sichuan spot in
Address: 72-06 Austin St., Forest Hills
TIMESLEDGER,QNS.COM NOV. 15-21, 2019 51