Thursday, September 15, 2011

Spicy & Tasty.

Cold jelly noodles Chengdu style

A few weeks ago I journeyed out to Arthur Ashe Stadium for day two of the US Open. But that's not what I really want to write about today. What I want to write about is a restaurant in Flushing called Spicy & Tasty. It may as well be called Great & Awesome or Amazing & Incredible. Really.

After a long day of sitting in the sun, my eyes shot from watching furry yellow balls fly to and fro, I was extremely ready to sit in a cool restaurant, drink a cold beer and eat some spicy food. Taking the 7 one stop further east, deeper into the heart of Flushing I was looking forward to the unknown. I think the unknown is actually my favorite part of going to a Chinese restaurant that isn't for English speakers. Part of the fun was not really knowing what I was going to get.

As we walked in I glanced at the glass food display case on my right. There was a man standing there, we looked at each other, and I looked at my friend who I was with, thankfully a Chinese friend. I hoped she lent us a bit of "we know that of which we eat" cred. The display case confused me, I worried that it was only a take-out place. I wanted to sit, I wanted to be served. Possibly a bit of sunstroke talking here. That and I didn't want to ride the subway an hour home, looking at my plastic bags, and not getting to eat what was in the bags. Thankfully, continuing my survey of the room, I saw dozens of tables to sit at.

As we were led to our table I did my best to look at what everyone else had, for me this is the best way to pick out something I might want. Since the descriptions in Chinese menus are rather, um, opaque. I much prefer finding something at another table, asking about it and ordering it that way. It's even more fun than using the plastic food sitting outside a Japanese restaurant.

The first dish we ordered, spied at someone else's table, were the cold jelly Chengdu style noodles, shown above. When we pointed to it the waitress said "Jelly noodles", in a heavy Mandarin accent. Jelly to me can only sound sweet and grape. She said it again, "Cold jelly". Again, this didn't do me any better. Something cold and something jelly sounds so unappealing it repels. But, I looked over at my friend Tara, with my huge trusting eyes, the eyes that said, Yes, I can eat anything, once. And we ordered it.

The dish turned out to be the most unique thing I've eaten in years. Covered in spicy oil, coated in spicy peppercorns, bathed in heat, with a sprinkling of green onions and peanuts, the noodles look like no noodle you have ever seen. Misshapen and white, kind of clear but kind of not, long, medium and short. They nestled in a bowl filled with chilis, soy sauce and lord knows what else. Too impatient to serve from the bowl to my plate, I snatched up a bite and put it right in my mouth. At that moment I felt everything. Tang from acids, heat from chills and tingle from peppercorns. It was cold, savory, spicy and delicious. I kept eating more until the tingling sensation said to stop. That's when we raised our hands up for beer.

We shared three other dishes: spicy lamb, sweet and sour cabbage and a tofu dish. The tofu and the sweet and sour cabbage were the other two highlights. The lamb lost a little for me because it was too fatty. But the sweet and sour cabbage dish was wonderful, it was a really nice compliment to the other main dishes, crunchy and soft at the same time. As I ate it I tried to dissect what the flavors were: vinegar, sugar, peanut oil, salt, pepper...I knew there was more, but what? "Lots of frying in Sichuan food," Tara said. Oh yeah, that.

We ended the meal with a little bit left of all four dishes and, since we both desperately wanted leftovers, we attempted a point and gesture conversation with no less than two waitresses and one waiter in hopes that they would bring plastic to-go containers and let us do the divvying up. It took a good ten minutes of back and forth before we got where we wanted but in the end we both happily walked out of the restaurant with our own plastic bag full of Spicy & Tasty.

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