"I have the simplest tastes. I am simply satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde

"I came, I saw, I ate." - Au Gourmand

Monday, April 4, 2011

C&L Imperial, Inc. (北港) - April 2, 2011

Agitation was edging toward turmoil as I stared at the menu on the wall; each dish handwritten and occupying its own rectangle of red paper, without, needless to say, any illumination or illustration as to the mysteries of Chef Lin’s specialties: The problem was how to contain my rampant enthusiasm into a humane and moral number of orders. However, a yellow-clad, smiling Maitreya*-incarnate, in the person of Chef Lin, arrived to save me from my self-induced and self-indulgent personal hell of greed, who enlightened me as to his expertise in quick sautéing; then benevolently tapped his belly and confided that he really should not eat any more of his spare ribs, well, not so much at any rate. After a summary consultation with my own belly for the most likely consequences, the spare ribs were duly ordered, along with an array of other worldly desires that would certainly prevent me from reaching nirvana anytime soon.

*Very popular in Taiwan, he is usually depicted as a widely grinning Buddha with a large pot belly and dangling ear-lobes.

Sautéed Squid, Yi-Lan Style (宜蘭炒花枝)

On the one hand, describing this dish as “sautéing” might be misleading, although it was certainly sautéed, because this dish was essentially a thick soup; yet, on the other hand, only flash sautéing with a dexterous wrist could have delivered such transcendently succulent squid. The translucent membrane of the squid barely contained the juicy flesh. A squid with a texture of this level of excellence had so far only been experienced at Rakutei, a venerable tempura shrine in Tokyo (granted, the texture itself was very different because the tempura squid was more thickly cut and larger). After the initial shock of the squid calmed down, the perfect congeniality of the squid and the soup engulfed me: The deceptively simple soup was sweet and sour with a hint of soy sauce, and as I chewed and each new layer of flavor was released – the shredded onions and minced garlic – my soul soared ever higher into ecstatic oblivion.

Steamed Stinky Tofu with Meat Sauce (清蒸昊豆腐)

The porous fragrant homemade tofu was not allowed to absorb the delectable meat sauce into its receptacles as much as the previous time, perhaps due to the fact that the restaurant became progressively busier as more patrons flocked in for the dinner time.

Goose Intestines Sautéed with Hot Green Peppers (小椒鵝腸)

Although goose had been one of my favored avian species, goose intestine was an unknown delicacy of this much beloved bird. The anatine intestines were pale, straw-colored, cut into thin strips - somewhat resembling burst IV tubes - which were lightly sautéed with green peppers and shredded ginger. The crunchy chewiness of the organ provided the perfect resistance so that the spiciness of the peppers had sufficient time to develop and be released; simultaneously the intestines provided a soft landing for the hotness of the peppers. The two ingredients shared such kindred spirit in promoting the consumption of their well-cooked rice – so often neglected in Chinese restaurants – so that my fellow sinner started to eye for my bowl of rice.

Chef Lin’s Spare Ribs (林師傅排骨)

Had I been given a glimpse of the nirvana despite my earthly desires and fixation on material (edible) things? Was it even fair and ethical to create a dish of this magnitude on earth, I wondered. The pork ribs - regularly layered with the fat and lean - were first lovingly stewed in sweet soy sauce and rice wine; these stewed ribs, standing alone, would have been more than adequately delicious. Nonetheless, Chef Lin then had to fry these tender ribs to create a golden savory crust to seal in the moisture. As if to torment my soul even further, lastly these stewed and then fried ribs were sprinkled with a magic dust of plum powder. The complexity of salty, sweet, sour and savory was supremely sublime (any more “s” words?); the merry-go-around of textures from the stringy lean meat, melting fat to the crispy shell was hallucinogenic.

As I left the temple of Taiwanese cuisine, I realized, or my tongue did, that the salt was consistently restrained to a purely supportive role: The salt was only there to enhance the flavors, not to season the dish. After all, no amount of salt would season where there was no flavor.

C&L Imperial (Beigang)
Address: 59-14 A Main Street, Queens, NY 11355
Phone:  (718) 886-8788


  1. So well written, Au G. I'm impressed you could read the entire menu. I clearly need to learn more food-related characters!