Friday, March 16, 2007

There's Nothing Little About the Spice

Oh, my sweet Jebezus! I have found the Motherland! Little Szechuan of St. Paul is without question the absolute BEST Chinese food in town. Why the hyperbole you may ask? Do you have to spaz out about everything, dear Joyful? Well... nuh hunh. There's plenty of hum drum reactions that I have... Can't think of anything at the moment, though. There was the screamy-memmy fit I threw of the spot of dog poo defiling my garage door(hate neighbor children)... the Stove... had an explosive reaction over the heating temperature again yesterday. Ahhhh ummmm... idiots at work taunting new chick 'cause she's cute.... Probably could have handled that better. Okay! You got me. I'm a spaz by nature and that's why you love me. What the hell fun is somebody who buys all this layin' around shit! Did the Americans lay around when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor!? NO! Nothing's over until WE decide it is! Now, who's with me!? YEAAAAAAHHH!!!!!

Okay, so where was I? Ah, sooooo Little Szechuan. It's damn good and damn spicy if you like it that way and I do. Like Ike & Tina we never do anything nice, we like it rough. We like it searing spicy hot so that my eyes are watering and my nose is running. Boy ever, did we get it. Uh hunh. I wanted to write up this place after the first time that I went there, but I wanted to try in again, in case it was some fluke. Oh, ho, it was not. No, siree, let me tell you about the wonders I've encountered thanks to their thoughtfully prepared dishes.
The first time Matt & I went, I had my doubts. It's located in the old space where Mai Village used to be. I think I was leery because there were all these odd chain smoking people standing outside of a vacant looking storefront next door. Also, I have a pretty irrational concern that I'm going to go somewhere and not be able to order anything because no one speaks any English. Or something. I don't know. It's normal to fear things out of your usual realm, right? Well, it's also good to shove yourself out of the realm occasionally, too. Thank God I did.
We went on a Saturday during the lunch rush and the place was bustling. I was suspicious when we were seated behind the only other non-Asians in the joint and our waiter was a white guy. If they expect Sweet n' Sour chicken offa this table, they were guessing wrong. We ordered the Spicy pork in broth and the short ribs. Our waiter looked at us with a dubious mixture of doubt and curiosity. "You like really spicy, right?" Oooh, yeah, buddy, bring it on.
Set on the table for us was a wonderful pot of tea. This was about a month ago when we were in that death grip cold snap and it had been Fa-fa-FREEZING outside. The tea was welcome and really good. I didn't need any honey or sugar or anything. Good thing, since they didn't have any on the table. Oh, I should mention that we ordered off of the green menu with all of the Chinese writing in it. This is the real deal, but they also offer a tamer black menu for those expecting more American Chinese dishes like Chow Mein and the like. I'm sure they're all delicious, too. But having read that this is one of only a handful of authentic Szechuan style restaurant in America. The chef was actually from Szechuan, so I knew I was good.
I had been dreaming of the opportunity to eat authentic Szechuan style cooking for years. It seemed that news of the delicious spiciness was haunting me. Lynne Rossetto Kasper on the Splendid Table talking about how it was illegal to ship Szechuan peppers to the states until only recently. Tony Bourdain sweating his skinny ass off on the Travel Network. It was everywhere, but no where I could get it!! Then these lovely people come along and answer my prayers.
Finally, our food arrived. We'd been entertained the entire time we waited by all of the activity around us. This place was packed and there was not a lot of English being spoken. Chinese and occasionally Spanish conversations floated around us. The pork was a huge steaming bowl. Little bits of pork and cabbage had to be fished out with our chopsticks (they don't provide silverware and I wasn't going to be the weenie that asked for it.) The "broth" appeared more to be "hot oil," but in a good way. This was so blazing hot. HOT. Hot like Johnny Depp in a waiting for you in a dark corner. Or hot like Selma Hyek in a bathing suit, depending on how you like to roll. Holy Mama! That was good. My eyes were watering and my nose was running, eventually I started to sweat, but all in a really good way. It wasn't just searing pain hot, it was flavor city in a drop back Cadillac. Hmmm!!! Seriously good stuff. Something about the "broth" kept the pork really hot as we slowly made our way through the meal. That food never got cold no matter how long it sat there. It was one of those dishes where you know you're full, but you can't stop eating, because DEAR GOD what if I never eat anything this good ever again for the rest of my life!?
And our waiter hadn't steered us wrong by suggesting the short ribs, one of their house specialties that happened to be offered that day. Again, these brown and ruby dusted jewels were tasty. Layers of beefy, spicy flavored packed into these tiny little bites. My friend Nami makes some amazing short ribs, but these were even better. (And different, to be fair, she's Korean and I guarantee you that there is nothing to be found in any restuarant in town that compares to her Chop Chae.) We gleefully sucked on the bones as the (cough) losers (cough) behind us tried to order them as well. HA Ha! We beat you! We got the last order. Hee hee hee. Excuse a cruel chuckle.
Also, the tea was so welcome on the pallet with all of this heat. A sip of ice water was almost a shock to the system. When we finally laid our swords down, the tabletop was gruesome. Red oil splattered everywhere, little bits of chilies and shards of beef fat languished next to their dishes. Matt had spilled his water glass, so that was all over the place, too. Napkins shredded, tears dried and bellies full, I was delighted. It was the meal equivalent of curling up in your favorite fuzzy sweater. I just felt so good.
And the waiter was nice, and slow, letting us enjoy our own pace and ourselves. It was such a perfect dining experience that I doubted it could ever be duplicated. It could never be that good again! Or could it?
Last night I was starving and did NOT want to do battle with that goddamn piece of shit stove in the horrible kitchen of Culinary disaster. I HATE THAT KITCHEN!!! I can't cook in there, how am I supposed to create!? Even the goddamn microwave is dying on me from over use! BASTARDS!
So, smartly and fearing for his safety, Matt suggested we go to Little Szechuan. I didn't want to have to go home, change and schlep anywhere. We had Netflix and the most comfortable couch in the world. Why would we ever want to leave? But, there's nearly no food delivery in St. Siberia. We'd had Skinner's food twice already that week and our only other option is this place that's called "Hot City." Yeah. It looks like it used to be the front of an old video store and now they were mayo-layden hoagies. I wanted something that would actually be, ya know, GOOD. Darling husband that he is hopped in his minivan and headed up to University & Dale. We'd see how this food held up to take out.
This time we ordered only one dish, because really, we were going WAY overboard on that last one. That was too much pork for just... Well, I'll let Matt tell you about that some time. He placed our order for the Chung King Spicy chicken. I went home, picked the place up a bit and made cocktails. (Arn I a good wife?) We greedily dug in to find that yes, Virgina, there is a Santa Claus and in the off season he dresses up in a big, puffy red jacket from Land's End, dons hipster eye wear and gallivant around town answering to the name Matt Summers. This was EXACTLY what I had wanted! I suspect the chicken was dredged in flour and then sauteed in the super spicy sauce with red and green bell pepper and onions. It wasn't as hot as the pork dish we'd have previously, but equally flavorful. Garlicky, spiciness wonderment abounds! God damn that's some chicken! If you go to their website, it's the third dish pictured at the top of the homepage. So good.
Really, if you've been craving a culinary adventure for your taste buds, bust your ass our of your regular routine and try something new.


At 11:11 AM , OpenID lunefin said...

If you enjoyed the Chung King spicy chicken at Little Szechuan, you've got to try it at Tea House in Plymouth (I've got a friend from Szechuan who actually likes this restuarant better. I'm equally partial to both since I prefer the cold noodles at Little Szechuan). The Chung King chicken there is the best thing in the world possibly. ^_^ It even comes with a little dish of hot pepper oil to drizzle over the chicken! Don't go on weekends though, because the service seriously suffers, and when I went the chicken wasn't as crispy.


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