Hand-Pulled Hit Parade

by James Boo on July 21, 2011 · 0 comments

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Bei Mian - Making Angel Hair Hand Pulled Noodles - Uncle Zhou Restaurant - 83-29 Broadway - Elmhurst - Queens, NY
He went from zero to vermicelli in 60 seconds.

With two small white cords buoyantly stretched between his hands, a quick turn of the wrist swung one end towards the other. Fingers silently grappled the dough, producing strands that swept over the table below. Strands became noodles, noodles became strings, and for a brief moment a blanket of angel hair swayed from the arch of his hand before landing on the table, once again a malleable heap.

Then, just after the huddled applause at Uncle Zhou Restaurant had died down, a second cook emerged from the kitchen, picked up the dough and began to make it dance, like a b-boy on the A train tagging in for the second verse.

Broad Hand Drawn Noodles - Uncle Zhou Restaurant - Henan Cuisine - 83-29 Broadway - Elmhurst - Queens, NY
They’re good enough to make me clap my hands. Hand-pulled noodles are commonplace in Manhattan’s Chinatown, but the crew at Uncle Zhou’s, making several types of noodles in house on the daily, outdoes the entire island when it comes to supple, tender strands of all inclinations. Zhou’s broad, “hand-drawn” belt noodles are especially great, offering maximum body for a consistent chew and maximum surface area to attract sauces and oils.

Big Tray of Chicken - Uncle Zhou Restaurant - Henan Cuisine - 83-29 Broadway - Elmhurst - Queens, NY
These noodles are natural fit for Uncle Zhou’s $12 “big tray of chicken,” on which they form a bed for well-salted bites of potato, moist chunks of chicken on the bone, chopped chilies, the occasional clove of roasted garlic, and sprinkling of fresh cilantro that never overstays its welcome. Additional noodles for the leftover juices and chili oil are mandatory.

Spicy Beef Knife-Shaved Noodle Soup - Uncle Zhou Restaurant - Henan Cuisine - 83-29 Broadway - Elmhurst - Queens, NY
Knife-shaved noodles are available as a default option in spicy beef noodle soup, the restaurant’s sleeper hit. Zhou’s clean-tasting beef broth, stunned with Sichuan peppercorn, lingers on the tongue with a citrus-accented heat. The irregularly shaped noodles, a hardier breed than their broad cousins, are a joy to slurp and chew, and the slices of stewed beef tucked beneath are more delectable than any counterpart in Manhattan’s Chinatown. It’s comfort, curiosity and quality in one incredible bowl.

Baked Noodle and Fresh Fish in Sweet and Sour Sauce - Bei Mian Angel Hair Hand Pulled Noodles - Uncle Zhou Restaurant - 83-29 Broadway - Elmhurst - Queens, NY
“Baked noodle & fish,” a Henan specialty, showcases the aforementioned bei mian (angel hair hand-pulled noodles) as a blanket for fried fish. This particular serving of the dish was a testament to the hospitality of owner Steven Zhou, who, in generosity towards masterful Chowhound Joe MacBu (our meal’s curator), switched out fish chunks for fresh whole whiting. Rested in a not-too-sweet-and-sour sauce and taken with the crisp haystack of noodles, it imparted a lighter touch to the table.

Spicy Cucumber - Uncle Zhou Restaurant - Henan Cuisine - 83-29 Broadway - Elmhurst - Queens, NY
The same goes for Uncle Zhou’s fresh cucumbers. Very thinly sliced and very lightly brined, they’re something of a thoughtfully refined half-sour; sweet and tart flavors of sugar and vinegar are backed by a warming spread of spice and provide the perfect counterweight to heavy trays of fried chicken and fried rabbit.

Said tray of rabbit, not pictured, is one of the menu’s pricier dishes-for-four ($16.95), and it’s well worth the cost. Well marinaded chunks of rabbit meat, fried to a uniform brown and brightened by a heap of chilies with chopped green onion and cilantro, is just as flavorful as the chicken, and surprisingly juicy considering their starkly crisp edges.

Another highlight not pictured is Zhou’s “braised vegetable with black mushrooms,” a dish with just the right amount of flair. Each time I’ve visited, the vegetable has been Chinese cabbage – cooked just past crunchy, animated by chopped garlic and served with hearty shiitake mushrooms in a pool of its own braising liquid.

Dial Oil Hand Drawn Noodle - Uncle Zhou Restaurant - Henan Cuisine - 83-29 Broadway - Elmhurst - Queens, NY
Perhaps my favorite vegetarian option at Uncle Zhou, “Dial Oil Hand Drawn Noodle” is normally served with a thin, ramen-like strands, but the staff will gladly switch out this type of noodle on request. I prefer mine with broad belt noodles, all the better for soaking up the dish’s flavorful blend of crushed chilies, vinegar, oil and garlic. Think of it as a subtle flip-side to Xi’an Famous Food’s no-holds-barred approach to liang pi: Once mixed together, the combination of flavors puts a very lively foot forward without ever breaking its casual stride.

This much applies to Uncle Zhou as well. The food is excellent. Past that, the owner is friendly and patient, the staff encouraging of newcomers, and the cooks – like the noodles they so deftly pull from clumps of dough – stretch from Henan to Elmhurst with elegance, skill and pride.

Uncle Zhou Restaurant - Henan Cuisine - 83-29 Broadway - Elmhurst - Queens, NY

Uncle Zhou Restaurant
83-29 Broadway
Elmhurst, NY 11373
Neighborhood: Elmhurst
718.393.0888

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