Long Island’s growing regional Chinese dining scene has added another player: Eatery 19 in Syosset is shining a spotlight on the cooking of Taiwan.
Taiwan’s cuisine is distinctive not only because of its geography — an island off the coast of mainland China — but because of its indigenous culture and its history as a Japanese colony and refuge for mainlanders fleeing China’s Communist Party.
Some of the most famous Taiwanese dishes, such as braised beef noodle soup and three-cup chicken, have become popular all over China as well as in the Chinese diaspora in the United States. Eatery 19’s braised beef noodle soup is rich with fat noodles, tender chunks of meat and tendon, and fresh and pickled greens; the broth ringing with star anise and cinnamon. The three-cup chicken (named for its use of similar amounts of rice wine, soy sauce and sesame oil) has a dark, sweet savor that contrasts with its garnish of fried Thai basil leaves.
A Taiwanese dish that deserves to be more famous is the popcorn chicken, pieces of dark meat dredged in potato starch and then fried twice to achieve peak crunch.
The Taiwanese have a tradition of “railroad bento” meals that are sold at the train stations to be enjoyed on board. Eatery 19 (fittingly located within steps of the LIRR) sells two: One with a chicken leg, one with a pork chop. Both come with rice covered with ground meat, a soy braised egg, and a plump link of sweet Taiwanese pork sausage.
Other Taiwanese favorite include oyster pancakes, stinky tofu (not a value judgment, just a descriptor), spicy pork intestines and stir-fried noodles in sa-cha sauce with Chinese watercress. There are a few dishes that will be familiar to American diners — hot and sour soup, chicken or beef with broccoli, kung pao shrimp — but they are far outnumbered by the traditional Chinese preparations, a testament to the growing Chinese-American population of Syosset and Jericho. Most dishes are under $14.
Eatery 19, whose proprietors operated a number of Taiwanese restaurants in Queens, is located in a storefront on Ira Road whose last tenant was Zou Ji Northeast China Home Style Cuisine (whose owners now operate Zouji Dumpling House in Glen Cove) but, back in the day, this was the site of Christiano’s, long rumored to be the inspiration for Billy Joel’s epic “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant.”
For diners looking to take a Cook’s tour of China without crossing the East River, you’ll find Sichuan Cuisine at F.A.N. in Deer Park, Xiao Si Chuan in East Setauket, Spice Workshop in Centereach, Delicis Legend in Hewlett and Chengdu in Franklin Square; Northeastern cuisine at Zouji in Glen Cove, New Fu Run in Great Neck and Beijing House in Syosset; Shanghai cuisine at Blue Wave in Williston Park; and Cantonese cuisine at Orient Odyssey in Jericho.
Eatery 19 is at 19 Ira Rd., Syosset, 516-802-3500, eatery19.com