Xi’An Famous Foods is one of the greatest success stories in New York’s authentic Chinese cuisine scene. From its humble beginnings in a claustrophobic stall in Flushing to its expansion across Manhattan following some incredible press from chefs like Anthony Bourdain, the sky is truly the limit for 24-year old restauranteur Jason Wang.
It was no surprise, then, when I found out he had recently opened a spin-off restaurant called Biáng! on Flushing’s Main Street. Its website promised a more upscale dining experience, complete with an expanded menu and (wait for it…) waiter service. In short, we couldn’t wait another moment to try it out. So, Stephanie, Michelle, Augustin and I boarded the 7 train for the long trek to Flushing, myself as giddy as I’ve ever been about the prospect of new dishes and flavors from my favorite chef in the business.
Walking into BiÃ¡ng! is a completely different experience from that of any of the Xi’An stalls we’ve been to around the city. Comparatively, it’s massive – plenty of room for over a dozen groups, large or small, to sit and eat together, undisturbed by neighbors. It’s also very modern and chic… the kind of thing many of Flushing’s youth have been waiting for, and it showed. The place was packed with a young, energetic crowd. It also has no fluorescent lights, perhaps the most shocking change from Xi’An, and almost every other Chinese restaurant in town. Lastly, it’s menu is bigger – a lot bigger.
That isn’t to say that you won’t find classic Xi’An favorites, however. Biáng brought the now famous Spicy Cumin Lamb Burger along for the ride, and though they’re smaller than Xi’An’s, they’re every bit as good. This time, they come in pairs. You’ll get 2 for $6. Once you’ve satisfied your need for a bit of nostalgia, you can begin exploring the new worlds of flavor that Biáng has to offer.
On the first page of the menu, you’ll notice that Biáng seems to be most excited about its skewers. You’ll find 6 different varieties in all, an eclectic mix of meats and spicy sauces. Remember, you’re in Flushing, so you needn’t be afraid to try something that may catch you off guard. With that in mind, start with the boiled beed stomach skewers (3 for $3). Drowned in spicy fermented tofu sauce and Szechuan bean sauce, they pack more punch than anything else on the menu. You’ll note flavors of chili, sesame, garlic, and a touch of peanut sauce on your first bite. Impeccable.
If you’re looking for a more traditional skewer, try the lamb or chicken (3 for $3 once again). Each of these meats is barbecued over an open-flame grill and spiced with cumin, red chili powder and a mysterious mix of Xi’An’s secret, proprietary spices. Keep a glass of water nearby, and enjoy two of the best skewers we’ve ever had.
It’s not all about skewers, though. Biáng’s nearly virgin Foursquare page includes a few tips from first movers, most begging users to try the quail ($6). Marinated and roasted moments before it arrives on your plate, you rest assured that these superbly flavored little birds gave their lives for a noble cause. It’s paired with simple salad of cilantro, celery, green peppers and scallions.
It was the final dish in our order, however, that really got us excited about the work Jason is doing at BiÃ¡ng! Don’t miss your chance to try the Ã„ n chÃ… n dÃƒ n rÃƒ ²u chÃ¡ng kÃ„Æ’o mÃ³ piÃƒ n… don’t worry, we had no idea how to pronounce it, either. Just point at the thing. The dish features toasted slices of mantou (aka a steamed bun) piled high with homemade spicy pork sausage, and finally topped with a perfectly fried quail egg. You’ll get 3 for $5 (additional ones are $1.50 each). The result is one of the most exciting, inspired dish we’ve seen on our travels so far, and well worth your time.
If you’re still hungry, grab an order or two of the boiled lamb meat dumplings. Served in a sour, spicy dumpling sauce (the best we’ve ever had), they’re the perfect cap to an afternoon of menu exploration. Unfortunately, they’re not pictured, because I was far too excited about the experience to remember to snap one last photo. But you can trust us – they’re quite beautiful.
If Biáng is any indication of what’s to come from 24-year old Jason Wang, we’ll be the first to follow each and every move he makes. BiÃƒ ng! is successful in that it brings the very best from Xi’An Famous Foods, and injects it into a dining experience that Flushing residents and the city as a whole have wanted for some time. Four of us ate as well as we’ve ever eaten, and managed to sneak out of there just shy of the $50 mark. Affordable, upscale dining? New Yorkers, may this be the future of our city’s culinary scene.