Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Day-long Chinese feasting, part 2: Pearl East

Pearl East is a restaurant I doubt I would have ever entered on my own: the place, with its faded Art Deco signage proclaiming "Chinese Cuisine" and "Cocktails," looks like a 1920s lounge whose specialties are chop suey and crab rangoon. But MH's parents had chosen it as the location for a celebratory graduation dinner for their daughter, and so only a few hours after my dim sum feast at Pacificana, I found myself headed out to Long Island for a full Chinese banquet.

When I entered, the place was filled with non-Asians, usually not a good sign for an Asian restaurant. After taking one look at me, the host directed me to the back room (where MH's parents had reserved five large tables) without even having to ask where I was headed.
IMG_4669.JPG IMG_4671.JPG
IMG_4672.JPG IMG_4680.JPG
After most people had arrived and gotten settled, several cold plates were brought out: braised tofu skin stuffed with water chestnuts and mushrooms; marinated sliced jellyfish; large shrimp in a sweet sauce. There were also adorable hot, flaky pastries filled with savory shredded turnip.

As you can tell from the above photo, Pearl East is big on presentation: that peacock, carved out of raw pumpkin, was only one of the many different animals that would show up on our table that night. And I'm not sure why there were strawberries around the jellyfish, but again, wacky, incongruous plating abounds here.
IMG_4674.JPG IMG_4679.JPG
The classic marinated cucumber salad had been given a unique twist: the slim cucumbers had been cut in half lengthwise and then each somehow sliced almost-through as thinly as potato chips. They were delicious—gently sweetened and vinegary with a cool, snappy crunch. With a cherry on top to boot.
The soup course came out in individual, hilariously ornate vessels, whose glass lids were ceremoniously removed by the servers. I'm not sure what kind of soup this was, but it was light and well-balanced, with small chunks of tender pork floating in the broth.
IMG_4682.JPG IMG_4686.JPG
Instead of a steamer-full brought to the table, each of these two dumplings was plopped directly onto our plates by the servers. While the purses were pretty cute, I'm not sure making food into little animals is desirable...I could barely bring myself to eat the delicate, shrimp-filled swan. (Um. But I did.)
Shrimp, two ways: on the left, in a sweet and sour sauce; on the right, broiled with chopped celery and bacon. The large, plump shrimp in the sweet sauce were pretty good, but the bacon ones were much too salty.
IMG_4694.JPG IMG_4701.JPG IMG_4702.JPG IMG_4718.JPG
And meat, so much meat! Garlic roast chicken; orange beef; spare ribs; bbq pork ribs. The sticky-sweet spare ribs were much too salty, and so at the request of MH's parents the dish was replaced by the bbq ribs, which were tender and smoky and all-around much better. The roasted chicken was really good too, with a thin, garlicky sauce that went perfectly with the super-moist white meat. The beef was just alright, but had the most curious plating of all...I can't even guess what the heck that was supposed to be.
By this point, the few Korean friends sitting at the table—unused to the timing of formal Chinese banquets—were antsy from what had to them begun to feel like the longest meal in history. And I, who had arrived still full from the afternoon and was now beyond full from sampling what had come out so far, thought I was going to die. But then we received another "something, two ways" dish; this time featuring fish in a sweet brown sauce and in a light garlic sauce, and I ended up having a few more bites. I think this was one of my favorites of the night, as the delicate fish, which had been dipped in cornstarch and gently fried before being sauced and sautéed (I think), nearly melted in my mouth.

Oh, and that's a pheonix, I believe. Made of pumpkin. Who carves these? Do they reuse them? Can you guys tell that I was amused by all of this?
IMG_4721.JPG IMG_4723.JPG
To my relief, after the vegetable/peacock dish arrived (with inedible, mushy white asparagus—why, Pearl East, why?), the customary rice and noodle dishes came out, which meant the end was near. This time "rice" was a giant portion of steamed glutinous rice in a lotus leaf, and "noodles" was a plate of sloshy, stir-fried udon. Having eaten the rice-in-lotus-leaf at Pacificana earlier, I all but groaned when I saw Pearl East's placed on the table.
IMG_4726.JPG IMG_4727.JPG
To everyone's relief dessert followed shortly after: a fruit platter, and scoops of assorted ice creams plopped unceremoniously onto a glass dish. Seeing as how all the other dishes had come so carefully presented, this last arrival seemed most amusing of all. "Here, eat your damned American ice cream!"

So at Pearl East, the trick is to trust the food, and not the appearances. Most of what we ate was quite good, a big surprise for me given my first assumptions. Despite our huge meal, afterward we all managed to waddle out of there with some semblance of dignity. Of course, then we went drinking in Flushing, which turned into a whole other story....


  1. the beef dish looks like a chinese lantern to me

    great photos and descriptions btw!

  2. Oh! Helen, I think you're right about it being a Chinese lantern!

  3. i'm so excited you wrote about this! especially after i saw all the pics on your flicr site. i'm going to have to make up a random excuse to have a big banquet meal there. andy's friend davin loves meat so he can eat all the meats while i savor the swam dumplings. i have no qualms about biting its head off. i showed this entry to andy, he has now subscribed to your blog =)

  4. I'm so sad I missed Monica's graduation party! Boo! I really like the cucumber presentation though...gonna show my mom so she can make it for me.haha