Lent is fish season for a broad swath of Western New York’s population. For most people, that means boneless filets of haddock or cod, fried or broiled.
If you’re looking for something a little different, you could check out one of the Chinese restaurants near the University at Buffalo’s North Campus in Amherst. Chinese people from the southern and coastal parts of the country prize fish, and they tend to be quite particular about its freshness. That’s why you’ll see Chinatown restaurants with live holding tanks for fish and crab, like Red Lobster’s live lobster corrals.
Peking Quick One does not aspire to such grandeur. The Tonawanda restaurant is a worn room with rudimentary service; if you want water, you help yourself from the refrigerator. Despite its blue-collar setting, often filled with Chinese college students, the restaurant serves a flounder without peer in Western New York.
Before she arrived in Buffalo, Peking Quick One owner Aileen Lin noticed that it’s next to Lake Erie. When she got here, she was disappointed she couldn’t serve its fish. “There’s a big lake here, but no fish?”
She uses fish that are never frozen, she said, delivered by a Canadian supplier. Her cooks scale the whole flatfish, and score the fillets so they cook faster, then put the fish on a bed of ginger and scallion. It’s seasoned with salt, pepper, soy sauce and pinch of sugar, and then steamed until it’s just cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes.
The steamed fish gets another light application of soy sauce, and is topped with shredded ginger, scallion and dried red chile peppers. Then a small ladle of vegetable oil is heated to boiling, and sluiced over the fish, sending a cloud of aromatic steam up from the toppings, and giving the fish a subtle seared flavor. Fish broth, soy and seasoned oil form a sauce in the bottom of the tray.
When it’s ready, a server wearing oven mitts brings the hot tray to the table.
Fish with the head still attached scares some people, but this one is relatively simple to eat. The top filets come off in large pieces, then you pick up the head and gently lift the skeleton up and off, leaving the bottom fillets behind, ready to serve.
You still have to watch for bones, but they’re easier to detect than trout pinbones. The flounder is $15 to $18 and will serve two to four, depending on how many other dishes are on the table, like hot and sour shredded stir-fried potatoes ($5.95), stir-fried braised celery with beef ($5.95), leeks with eggs ($6.95) and poached spicy slices of pork ($8.95).
People here seem to enjoy their fish boneless and frozen, but that’s not generally what Chinese eaters prefer, she said. At Peking Quick One, she offers students a little taste of home.
Info: Peking Quick One, 359 Somerville Ave., Tonawanda (381-8730).