Saturday, July 3, 2010

Ragingly Kickin' Hot Szechuan

Has it really been longer than a week since I've provided a posting?  For shame - I'm behind on a number of things I want to share. 

But this one... I just experienced this yesterday, and I'm so in love with it that, like a Netflix queue, I moved it to the top of the list.

Yesterday, Eric and I went to Philly because I had an interview with the Customs Border Protection for its Global Entry program.  Membership will allow me to enter into the country in the "fast line."  And as much as I travel, I'm all about it.  I did feel a smack of Big Brother when they took my fingerprints, but hey, I'm a law abiding citizen who pays her taxes, so I don't really have much to hide.

Anyway, we made a stop in Chinatown so I could stock up on some of my necessary sundries.  Because of the ever-so-useful Yelp app, I found the Szechuan Tasty House.  When in Minneapolis a few weekends ago for our good friends' Tony & Sari's wedding, we partook in the rehearsal dinner at a Szechuan restaurant that was eyebrow-raisingly good, and we've had Szechuan on the brain ever since.

Now I have Szechuan Fever.  The meal was so phenomenal, so tremendous, I find myself salivating over it as I think about it.  This is a place that is NOT TO BE MISSED!!

Starting with the Hot & Sour soup, this actually recalibrated my tastebuds as to what Hot & Sour soup is supposed to taste like.  Here in Lancaster, PA, I've found that I like the one at Hong Kong Garden the best, but as I've said before, theirs is reminiscent to a stew, and not the actual soup that I grew up with in the heart of Chicago's Chinatown.  This was spicy, of the right viscosity, still chock full of the right ingredients, but unlike any other I've had, it was masterful in its ability to create a slow burn.  The first sip is spicy, for sure, but it succeeds in overtaking you slowly and with subtlety.

Next up - the Dumplings in Spicy Sauce.  I asked the server - whom I loved because she took my bad Chinese in stride, but continued to converse in Mandarin, even correcting mine along the way - which dumpling dish, of the many listed, she would recommend, and without hesitation, she pointed to this.  This is a majorly YUM dish.  Abundant pork filling with minced garlic swimming in a slightly sweetened sauce of chili oil and probably some kind of hoisin sauce.  I typically try to just eat a few, to save the stomach space for the coming treasures, and yet, I couldn't stop.  It was addicting.

This is the Beef with Cumin dish.  Stir-fried with scallions and dried chili peppers, I was utterly impressed with the use of cumin in a Chinese dish, but it was fragrant, unique, altogether delicious.  This would be, perhaps, a good time to talk about the whole "ma la" hot, which translates to "numbing spiciness," and a distinctive aspect of Szechuan cuisine.  The Szechuan Pepper is like a round berry and has a component, inherent in its makeup, that creates a tingling sensation that leads to the slight numbness that "ma la" refers to.  It was also used in this dish:

I don't remember seeing it on the menu, but our waitress recommended it as one of the dishes she thought we would like.  I like chunks of fish, and I like tofu, so what the heck, bring it on!  It was such a good get.  The fish showed signs of having been seared, probably coated with some cornstarch first.  Then it was all laid into a dish with very soft and silky tofu, then bathed in an oily red-hot sauce and topped with cilantro.  Tender, delicate, with a subtle but searing spiciness that begins to overtake you only too late into the meal.  And then at that point, you totally surrender to it and accept the pain.

Amazingly, every dish was spicy, but in a very different way, which showcased the breadth of variety and skill required within the Szechuan cuisine.  As for the restaurant, everything was alluring, even the rice, which I found to be of the perfect texture.  I took it all down with the fervor of a UFC fighter.  And given the opportunity, I'd do it again. 

Szechuan Tasty House
902 Arch St. - at 9th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107 

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