Chinese food has plunged into an era of cinematic excellence, with fantastical dining rooms and epic displays of tableside fanfare. At the new Deng Ji in Levittown, noodle soup becomes a spectacle with dozens of ingredients tumbling into a caldron of milky, boiling broth.
Deng Ji has two locations in Flushing, Queens and has opened its largest, most extravagant outpost in a strip mall near Tri-County Bazaar flea market. Despite the bustling crowd, the large dining room gives off a calming, serene warmth as it’s designed to look like an outdoor space at a rural temple. Tables are spaced far apart and sectioned off, giving more privacy, and the room is brimming with hanging lanterns and bamboo plants.
Deng Ji, named after its owner Benny Deng, specializes in Crossing the Bridge rice noodles from the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan. Deng’s brother Kai Chen said the noodles are very popular across China, and while their family hails from Hunan province, one of their chefs picked up the recipes while living in Yunnan.
Also known as guoqiao mixian noodles, the name Crossing the Bridge refers to a legend about a young scholar who traveled from his village to a natural island to study for his exams. His wife would cross a bridge to serve him lunch, but the student was too engrossed in his studies and let the food go cold. So she started carrying the ingredients in separate bowls, only combining them when he was ready to eat.
The story highlights hardworking agricultural values, but today, these noodles demonstrate the flashiness of contemporary Chinese cuisine. Deng Ji presents multiple varieties of the dish, displaying the ingredients on elaborate wooden trays that can spiral into the air like a staircase.
Browsing the intimidating menu, non-Mandarin speakers will likely end up pointing to one of the many photographs with their desired combination of ingredients. (The menu now also has English in smaller type.) Even the modest rice noodle dishes boast at least a dozen toppings — spongy mushrooms, quail eggs, black fungus and chrysanthemum flower petals.
The noodles are comparatively inexpensive for such a setting, so it’s worth it to splurge on the Signature-The-Bridge rice noodles ($25.99) which boasts 25 ingredients as well as a side dish of cold sliced pig’s ears and a grapefruit iced tea. Quicker than you’d expect, the ingredients arrive in little white trays on a wooden boat. A server delivers a black caldron of slow-simmered milky bone broth, spooning all the toppings one-by-one into the bowl, finishing it with the springy spaghetti-like rice noodles, and then a flick of yellow flower petals. The clouded yellow broth, which Chen said is made from pork, is mild and comforting, and every bite yields a different meat or vegetable texture. Pour black vinegar and Sichuan peppercorn oil over the top to spice it up. When it’s cold and windy outside, this really hits the spot.
Consider getting a red broth soup as well, like the Spare Ribs GuanGuan rice noodle ($14.99) which has a more potent broth that adds an extra dimension of flavor. Even the dry beef chow fun ($13.99) is light and interesting with its springy rice noodles. The cold appetizers, especially the one with pickled yamakurage greens ($8.99) also hit hard.
Despite its cool ambience, Deng Ji pushes the boundaries of Chinese cuisine on Long Island. But Chen said that was part of the plan.
“If we just opened up another store in Flushing, the customers would be Chinese,” he said. “We want people to know the real Chinese food.”
Deng Ji Yunnan Guoqiao Mixian, 2949 Hempstead Tpke., Levittown, 516-460-5277, dengjilongisland.com. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.