Three Tofu Dishes I Have Loved
[Photo by Robyn Lee]
1. Pressed tofu with Chinese celery (pictured). Metro Café, 4924 8th Ave, Sunset Park.
This is one of those bland-sounding dishes that rarely get mentioned in the heavy-artillery display that is the Chinese restaurant review. I guess that just leaves more Chinese celery–slenderer than the Western variety, but more assertively grassy–for me. At Metro Café, it’s sautéed with strips of nutty, halloumi-springy pressed tofu, and the mixture is glazed just to glistening–no gloop.
2. Deep-fried tofu of mystery. Grand Sichuan, 229 9th Ave, Chelsea.
Well, it’s not on the menu, and I don’t know what it’s called. I ordered it by accident when I begged the waitress, in improvised Mandarin, for something non-sweet and non-lao wai.* She brought me this, a secret staff favorite: bricks of silken tofu, deep-fried until crisp, and braised to wrinkliness in a rich meat gravy; then, a last-minute confetti of minced pork, slivered scallions and chopped red chilis.
That confetti is fine, but the dish doesn’t need it. It’s all about the tofu, each apparently leathery pat encasing an impossibly custardy interior. Chopsticks cut right through it, so you have to airlift each piece to your mouth by spoon.
I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful with the name. My advice is to enlist a Mandarin speaker–kidnap if necessary–and offer dinner, or safe release, in exchange for talking to the waitress.
*Mandarin for “gringo.”
3. Chang’an spicy tofu. Xi’an Famous Foods, multiple locations–see website.
I’m so attached to Cantonese-style doufu fa, a street snack of gently-set tofu bathed in rock sugar syrup, that it never occurred to me there could be savory versions. But Xi’an Famous Foods, home of the much-hyped cumin lamb “burger” (the bun, for the record, sucks), serves one it calls Chang’an spicy tofu. Slabs of mousse-like tofu sit in a rich, sour broth with cilantro stems, minced pickle, and a healthy meniscus of chili oil. The dish is redder than it is hot, and the heat is of the throat-tickling rather than the tongue-searing variety. There’s no better way to spend two dollars.