By Suzanne Parker
One of my lifelong dining pleasures has been an experience that falls sort of halfway in between fast food and fine dining. It involved a tasty yet inexpensive meal being brought to me by a server in comfortable, modestly decorated surroundings. It was known as going out to a neighborhood Chinese restaurant.
Somewhere along the line, things started to change. Local, familyâˆ’friendly Chinese restaurants started to disappear. By and large they have been replaced by other alternatives. Chinese takeâˆ’out places with a few uninviting tables if you were insistent on eating there have proliferated, as have fancy fusion places where for a steep price you can sample Chinese and Southeast Asian dishes and sushi. Or you can go to an ethnic Chinese restaurant which, while it can be an exciting culinary experience, can be intimidating to unadventurous nonâˆ’Chinese diners.
Andy’s Seafood & Grill, on the Queens Boulevard restaurant row across from the Marshallsâ„Sears Mall in Rego Park, is a newly opened Chinese restaurant that is making a serious attempt at bridging that gap. It’s a cheerfully appointed space decorated with an eclectic mix of giclÉe prints, some Asianâˆ’themed and others of musical instruments or chess pieces. But what really counts in my book is they have a few booths — just like old times!
Andy’s menu is nothing if not comprehensive. They offer every Chinese dish we’ve ever encountered on an American Chinese menu, plus plenty of more exotic options. Many of those options are Szechuan. Depending upon your preferences, it could be a plus or a minus that all the Szechuan specialties we ordered were only mildly spicy. If you like very spicy food, tell them so, or tell them to make it “ma la,” the Chinese term for spicy.
We started off with plump, juicy Szechuan dumplings. These crescentâˆ’shaped boiled dumplings are filled with pork and Chinese chives. What distinguished them from ordinary boiled dumplings was a drizzling of red oil on top for spiciness. Not that spicy, though. Their crab rangoon was pretty standard issue, but should have been hotter (in temperature). The seafood and tofu in seafood tofu soup swam in a wellâˆ’crafted broth but the seafood consisted only of a few small cut up shrimp, and equally small pieces of sea legs (ersatz crab).
Tea smoked duck is one of my favorite Szechuan dishes, prepared by smoking it with tea leaves. Andy’s version does them credit. The half duck presented was aromatic and succulent. Lamb with cumin sauce, although only vaguely spicy, had a lovely curryish flavor. Very Silk Road. The quality of the lamb merited improvement, as it was very chewy in places.
My first visit to this restaurant happened to coincide with a party being held by a Chinese business for its employees. To say it was raucous was like saying a death metal concert was a little loud. They brought in their own alcohol (Andy’s is unlicensed) and partied hearty. My ears are still ringing. But in the midst of all that, I couldn’t help but notice that the party folks seemed to be getting some interesting dishes that I didn’t see on the menu. My curiosity was piqued.
I returned on a subsequent occasion with a Chinese friend in tow, determined to learn what I missed. What we discovered is that Andy’s has a second menu, equal in length to the first, and also including English translations, but featuring mostly Taiwanese style cuisine. They don’t usually offer this menu to Westerners, as the Taiwanese have a penchant for offal and other items not very popular with nonâˆ’ethnics. Also, the names, or at least the English translations, are sometimes not very enlightening as to the exact nature of the dishes.
At the suggestion of my Chinese companion, we started off with a soup identified on the menu as “Taiwanese pork soup or noodle.” We were rewarded with something that I would have described as a pork kreplach (Jewish meat dumpling), if such a thing existed. The broth was satisfying and the contents dense and pleasantly chewy. We moved on to an oyster pancake, a very traditional Taiwanese dish. It is more like an oyster omelet, covered in a thick, sweet brown sauce. Tasty indeed.
The dish that was really causing me to eyeball the Chinese partiers came in a stainless steel hot pot over a Sterno burner. Who would have expected it to be called “Fish filet in dry bean sauce?” A whole filleted fish, probably flounder, with snow peas mounded with some crispy crumbles that resembled Oriental bacon bits. The sauce was subtle, allowing the flavor of the fish to predominate.
The Bottom Line
Andy’s Seafood is a refuge for Chineseâˆ’food lovers of the authentic or Westernized persuasions. The enormous number of dishes available assures finding something for everyone’s taste, but the Taiwanese and Szechuan are where they excel. During the week, they offer a $4.75 ($5.50 with soup) lunch menu with some tempting options. They also have a $1âˆ’perâˆ’item buffet. You’ll find good eats here at recessionâˆ’friendly prices.
Andy’s Seafood Kitchen
95âˆ’26 Queens Blvd.
Rego Park, NY 11374
Price Range: Entrees $5.95âˆ’$25.95; Budget lunch and dollar menu
Cuisine: Taiwanese, Szechuan, and Westernized Chinese
Setting: Bright, cheerful, and comfortable
Service: Attentive, English spotty.
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily
Reservations: Recommended for large parties.
Alcohol: No license, BYOB
Credit Cards: Yes
Noise Level: Acceptable (usually)