Editor’s Note: This post comes from intrepid explorer, Joe DiStefano, who writes about his adventures in food on Chopsticks and Marrow. He can be found on Twitter @JoeDiStefano.
There are dozens of places in Flushing’s Chinatown to find lamb skewers seasoned with cumin and red chili. They range from the charcoal-fueled, street food carts that line Main Street, to restaurants that stay open until the wee hours of the morning. Desired Taste International — located above a beer bar on Farrington Street — is such a restaurant, but the skewers there are forgettable, anemic specimens threaded onto long thin rods resembling acupuncture needles.
One exception that supersedes the menu’s list of skewered items is the roast lamb leg that’s seasonally priced at $89.99 — and it’s worth every penny.
Kao yang tui is technically a skewer, albeit a gargantuan one. Order it and you and your eating posse—and you’ll need one—will each receive absurdly long utensils, which include a fork and knife as long as a forearm.
The folks who run Desired Taste International, which opened in December, hail from Dongbei in Northeastern China; one of my Chinese dining pals described the restaurant as a Dongbei-style izakaya. The restaurant’s name in English sounds like a listing on a home shopping channel, yet the Chinese name, Chi Yan Bu Luo—roughly “red flame tribe” — is more in keeping with the logo of three hard-partying dudes.
Downtown Flushing’s unusual, large-format lamb feast doesn’t come with any sides, so you may want to start things off with an order of baked oysters ($3)—kao sheng hao—topped with minced garlic and Shaoxing wine. Tiger vegetables ($7.99)—lao hu cai— are a tangle of cilantro and hot green peppers, dressed with black vinegar and some sugar, with an emphasis on cucumber and green onion —which works quite well as a foil to the rich lamb meat.
This giant skewer grand enough for a Chinese emperor (or five hungry commoners) comes to the table wafting delicious ovine aromas. It’s placed upon a rotisserie set up in the center of the table that’s for carving, not cooking. In an effort to make things easier, the cooks score one side of the leg, but carving and eating the gigantic haunch is still a group effort, as the leg tends to spin around unless one person steadies it.
The meat is a combination of a salt, cumin, and sesame-encrusted exterior that’s like lamb chicharron, while inside it’s succulent deep-purplish meat with much of the fat rendered out. For an extra burst of flavor, dip a bite into the accompanying dish of cumin and ground red pepper.
I used to think that the Muslim lamb chop—an entire rack that’s been braised, deep fried, and rolled in cumin and chilis served at Dongbei spots including Fu Run — was the best lamb dish in Flushing. But after feasting on the roast lamb leg at Desired Taste International, now I’m not so sure.
After the feast, you may think you’re too full, but you will have room for the lone dessert. Listed simply on the menu as durian $15—te se liu lien—it’s one of the most remarkable preparations of durian I have tasted. Grilling it renders the exterior a bright lemony yellow and eliminates the infamous noxious fumes—cooking gas, rotten onions — leaving behind a creamy, slightly smoky, sweet flesh.