Sunday, August 10, 2008

Spicy & Tasty

my friends Beth and Coleen are in Iceland, so the task of babysitting their brand-new car (so it doesn't fall victim to the alternate-side parking stickerers) fell to me for the past few days. we took advantage of it on Friday by going to IKEA and stocking up on racks and such for the new apartment, and on Saturday by driving up to Flushing to get dinner at the much-talked-about Szechuan restaurant Spicy & Tasty.

we eschewed the expressway on the way there and got stuck in Roosevelt Avenue traffic, so it took longer than we'd hoped (see, this is why I hate cars and like the train!). arriving, we only had to wait for five or ten minutes before being seated (downstairs this time, not ghettoed away upstairs in the back room like last time). before sitting, we chose two cold appetizers from the front counter to be delivered to our table immediately: shredded dried bean curd with celery and some kind of cold bone-in chicken chunks with red chili paste and oil.

the tofu & celery was cool and refreshing and dripped with green-tinged oil. the chicken was moderately spicy (the tons of red chili paste make it seem spicier than it is) and appeared to have Szechuan peppercorn in it as well--my tongue went slightly numb as we ate it. delicious taste, though, and gnawing it off the knobs of bone was a singular pleasure.

over the next hour, dishes arrived as they were ready, and we were in a constant state of trying to eat enouh to make room on the plate for all we'd ordered. Priya was a little sick, so we ordered three types of noodles: dan dan noodles with pork (which never arrived; we were so full, though, that we didn't push it and just had them taken off the bill at the end), cold sesame noodles (which I liked much better this time around--they had some kind of sweet, perfumed flavor I couldn't put my finger on ["Sesame?" Christina and Priya mocked me. No, not sesame]), and cold jellied Chengdu noodles (again, spicier than they look, and pretty good, but not a favorite of the table this time--everyone had a little bit and then moved on). we also got a big plate of Priya's favorite dish from the last time we went: dry-sauteed green beans, fried 'til they're withered, covered with black salty fried bits of something and black bean sauce (?). Priya researched the black salty fried bits and determined they were "Szechuan preserved vegetable (zhacai)" basically the briny-pickled stems of mustard cabbage.

we'd wanted cold cucumbers, but the last plate had been whisked away by the time we sat down, making this the second time they had run out just as we tried to order them. they're just cucumbers with some MSG on top, I think, but continually missing them is making them occupy a larger space in my brain. next time, for sure. we also ordered beef tendon, which I was very excited about, but they were out of that. and we tried to order eggplant in garlic sauce, and then eggplant in fresh garlic, but they were out of both; thankfully, Christina could speak with the waitress, who eventually brought us hot eggplant in garlic sauce, which was fine with us. it was super, with a perfect gooey texture and a sweet taste that might have been tamarind or duck sauce or apricot...I think I liked it even better than the Japanese eggplant appetizers I've gotten at places like Republic.

then the meat began to arrive: first, twice-cooked pork, which was salty and basically like pieces of bacon mixed with scallions, but absolutely delicious. we ordered this and the "enhanced pork" last time, and I'm not sure exactly what the difference was, except I think the enhanced pork was fattier and a little wetter.

so I'm not sure which I like better, but I was perfectly happy with tonight's twice-cooked. it wasn't very spicy, so it was a bit of a respite, especially with our next dish, which was one of the "Szechuan" dishes with "fresh hot pepper", meaning it was one of the spiciest on the menu...sliced beef in fresh hot pepper. it came in a pool of pepper oil, with red chili paste over it, and a pile of drier pepper flakes on top of that. I sloshed a slice around in the oil and took a healthy pile of the pepper flakes and tried it--delicious! yes, it was spicy, enough to make me cough for a moment, although honestly I've had spicier vindaloos at Indian places that almost blistered my lips and made my throat try to gag. this was just perfect though, super-spicy enough to zing you, but still completely edible.

and a great side for mopping it all up was the green fried rice (scallions and egg). I really like the green rice at Flor de Mayo, a Peruvian/Chinese place on the Upper West Side, and this was VERY different somehow--lighter, less "green" tasting, more salty and eggy and fried, I think--but still good.

and a spread of the whole table, with Christina (mouth full) ducking into the picture:

all in all, it cost us about $24 each--really cheap for such a great meal full of tons of food (and which generated copious leftovers)! we didn't get any liquor due to the driving, it's true, but still a great price. and the drive home was much better on the expressway, though more stressful.

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