"The intoxications of Sichuan are beyond description," I was told by H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, my old Nascar frenemy and mentor. We had had our share of disagreements over the years when it came to cars and women, but I had to admit, his culinary taste was beyond dispute. And so, many years ago, I ventured to Spicy and Tasty and beheld the intoxications.
For those who ever never tasted Sichuan cooking, specifically the classic "ma la" flavors, I imagine my difficulty is much like describing a sunset to a blind man. "Ma," is a tingling sensation that comes from Sichuan pepporcorns, which in addition to their numbing quality, also contain hints of aromatic citrus, posessing a somehow savory and earthy qualty. "La" refers to the heat of chiles. This "ma la" combination is unlike anything you have ever tasted. It is intoxicating.
When I eat Sichuan, I usually ask myself, "why do I not eat this every single day?" When prepared well, it is unbelievably delicious. It approaches delicious infinity. So often I feen unsatisfied or underwhelmed by food. Not so with delicious Sichuan cooking.
Last week, Friday, March 30 2012, I ventured to Spicy & Tasty with some very fine individuals. Obviously, they do not possess my good looks or charm, but they're fine, nonetheless. As this was their first time at Spicy and Tasty, I was reminded of my first time, about 6 years ago. It is one of my strongest and best food memories.
It is always hard to compare an ancient and beloved memory with the present. The past takes on mythic form, and we have the tendency to inflate old experiences. How does Spicy and Tasty fare these days? It is still excellent. Have I had better Sichuan food in New York City? Probably I have. But this place is a stalwart friend, much like Humpy Wheeler.
We dined on Dan Dan Noodles, Double Cook Pork, Beef in Fresh Hot Pepper, Lamb in Cumin, and Eggplant and Garlic Sauce. These dishes are all ones I've had before, but sometimes things are so delicious you cannot bear not to eat them.
Dan Dan Noodles are some of the most savory noodles I've ever had, mixed with an amazing vinegar and soy sauce and tinged with Sichuan peppercorns. Double Cooked Pork contains strips of pork belly and fennel, creating an awesome dichotomy of salty and savory and fresh and springy. Beef in Fresh Hot Pepper is drowned in chili oil and is a perfect initiation into "ma la." The lamb, fried in cumin, was pungently earthy and addictive. The eggplant dish was, well, intoxicating.
All in all, a successful evening. I wish Humpy could have been there, but I believe he was bird watching in the Himalayas.