Tung Shing House
Rego Park, NY
Review by Diana DeRiggs
In the borough of Queens, there is a major Chinatown area in Flushing. It's well known and rivals Manhattan's Sino enclave. There is also a smaller Chinese area in Queens, in Elmhurst. A great Chinese grocery store -- Kam Lun -- is there, complete with live fish to be pointed out, netted, clubbed and evicerated for tonight's dinner.
In contrast, Rego Park is where second-generation Chinese live in relative obscurity. Many are still pursuing the American dream, and want to be schooled and to live the American way. They buy condos and houses here, esconcing their hard working parents and "look, I'm a hip-hoppin' dude" children in their two-family dwellings. They are as American as the Irish, Italians, Germans, Polish, etc. who came before them.
Yet they know they could eat better than any European descendant. That's where Tung Shing House comes in. Located in the Lefrak Building on Queens Boulevard, its a popular place for banquets and casual dining. They do have a buffet two or three days a week, but it's pretty expensive, as "all you can eat" type of places go. They have changed over the years -- the "Polynesian" themed cocktail bar is gone now, replaced by a sushi counter, there is a "garden room," though the banquet room in the back is still really very busy. (The 1940s to 1970s were the height of the Polynesian concept, which was actually a mixture of Chinese food combined with Hawaiian ingredients, most especially pineapple, cornstarch and red food coloring! It is also responsible for the gaudy drinks served in tiki cups and coconut shells, garnished with umbrellas -- so it's not all bad!)
But they still make stuff to order! We asked for the Pu-Pu Platter for 4: today's selection included skewered chicken mignons, pork dumplings, a pile of sweet and sticky spare ribs, fat wedges of shrimp toast, crumbed and deep fried scallops. An iron vessel in the center contained pink sterno jelly, set alight! You toasted your preference to char it slightly and heat it up, then transfer it onto your plate. It can be awful -- dry, stringy, or oily and slimy. Or it can be as it is at Tung Shing House -- crisp, moist, well-cooked. It's almost enough for the whole meal, but there were all those other dishes to try.
We ordered "ants on a tree" -- a granular beef stew in a thick sauce, poured over fried, crispy rice noodles. The stew is poured over the tangle of white, puffy noodles, making it collapse into a crunchy and slippery textured dish. Spareribs and scallions were offered on the specials board -- they came just meaty enough to chew off the bone, with no fat, marinated in anise and five-spice powder. The "special vegetable" was sauteed watercress, sauced in thickened chicken broth, and came out steaming and delicious. The nice thing about the peppery green is that it retains its strong flavor, the leaves do wilt, but the stalks retain their al dente texture while still bright green. Crispy duck was not really crispy -- it had not been grilled long enough to crisp up the skin, but it was highly flavored and really tasty. Hot and Sour Soup for two is simply the best we've ever tasted -- full of mushrooms and crispy bamboo shoot slivers, thickened slightly, with the distinctive spicy and sour flavor.
We really, really tried, but we simply couldn't finish the big portions, put on the table for all to share. The waiter packed up the leftovers in Chinese take-out containers for us, so we could enjoy them another time.
The only complaint concerns the carelessness of the waitress assigned to our table. We asked for water and she brought one glass with a chip of ice, and we often had to look for her and take pains to signal her. The room captain corrected this later. So be sure to get one of the guys in the tuxedos -- they speak English and care that you're happy. The waiters in red jackets are often just off the boat -- relatives of the cook type of people -- and thus don't tend to speak or understand English all that well. They normally do try though, and the restaurant is so crowded they often have to hop to it!
Tung Shing House is a nice combination of kitschy "Trader Vic" style Polynesian and classical banquet Chinese dishes. The Chinese community likes it, it's reasonably priced, the food is great and consistent. Highly recommended!
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