Spicy and Tasty: not an oxymoron.

My girlfriend reminded me recently that we came up with the idea for this blog while dining in Blue Star, on Court St. in Cobble Hill, but the moment of old-timey flash-of-light conversion came on my first of two (so far) visits to Flushing’s Spicy and Tasty – and, no, I’m not sure it wasn’t just an errant Sichuan peppercorn numbing some crucial part of my brain.  Coming in at number 10 on Sietsema’s 2005 list, it would certainly score in the top five (if not top, period) on mine.

On the most recent visit, my girlfriend’s radiologist father (an adventurer at heart) accompanied us to Flushing.  The excellent steamed bun appetizer with the mysterious, homemade-frosting-like dipping sauce was his first foray into this strange new world.  While I generally like my buns with meat in them, the yellowish frosting-dip makes these buns palatable even without savory filling (snicker, snicker).  Our first time at S&T, we had also ordered the red-bean filled sesame balls, far better than the average Chinatown pastry store variety because of the use of sweet potatoes.  We’ve not tried any of the excellent-looking offerings from the front appetizer case on either of our visits (check it out when you walk in!), but I have a feeling that one could make a meal solely from those.

Of the main menu, we’ve tried the tea-smoked duck, a version of chicken with cashews, and a spicy eggplant dish.  I like the smoked duck a lot less than Sietsema, I guess – when I had it at Grand Sichuan, it was so dry that it made me thirsty, and the S&T version was only a bit moister.  I suppose I should note, though, that the fat was perfectly rendered and benefited greatly from the smoky flavoring; the meat is okay but less satisfying to me.  Be prepared to eat this like you’re eating ribs, though – much of the serving is most easily eaten as finger food.  At any rate, it’s unlike any duck preparation I’ve had anywhere else, so if you’re a barbecue nut or a duck enthusiast, feel free and give it a whirl.

Quite satisfying, but a little “boring” compared to the other dishes, according to the good Doctor, was the chicken and cashews.  Pretty much a standard stir fry, the dish was given a bigger dose of flavor than usual by dint of roasted nuts.  A good “safe” dish to order, and one that will help cool the palate in conjunction with a cold Tsingdao.

On our first visit, we ordered without a net – the bright-purple eggplant that my girlfriend ordered came to us cubed in a fiery red sauce that was certainly not to be trifled with.  It was pretty early on in our relationship to foist a Sichuan menu on her, but she handled this dish with aplomb (me = lucky), despite claiming beforehand not to be terribly enthused by spicy foods in general.  The eggplant, for what it’s worth, was tender without being too mushy, and I think the sauce erred more towards chili spiciness than Sichuan peppercorn numbing.

The king of all the Sichuanese I’ve ever eaten, though, has more than its fair share of both “la” chili sauces and spices, as well as the “ma” peppercorns.  On the last page of Spicy and Tasty’s menu, the bottom section on the page, boasts, if I recall correctly, of Sichuanese specialties.  While I’m sure all the dishes in this section are prepared similarly, it is the shredded pork which I have ordered on each of my visits.  It is, without question, the most heavily spiced dish I’ve ever eaten, as well as the most flavorful.

Like I described in my review of Grand Sichuan, the pork is in a huge puddle of red sauce, sitting on a pile of cabbage, and topped with a layer of spices and peppercorns so thick that they remind me of when I made cinnamon toast as a 7 year old (the top to the shaker was a bit loose, and the rest was history).  The portion is huge, particularly if you include the cabbage in your estimations its size (you should – coated in the oily sauce, it’s quite nice).  My advice is to wait for it to cool slightly, as the heat (temperature) of the dish only makes the heat (spice) of the dish stronger.

As you taste a truly complex, well-balanced spiciness for the first time, as I did, contemplate the various other experiences you’ve had with extreme spiciness.  Marvel as the peppercorns numb your mouth at the same time the spices set it on fire.  Understand for the first time how bland the average American meal truly is, and how singular chili flavors (jalapeños or today’s ubiquitous “chipotle”) rule the spice world here.  Is it any wonder non-masochists avoid spicy food?

Of course, while you’re doing this contemplating, you’ll be gulping down beer (water ain’t gonna help, sorry) and discovering new places from which you can sweat (personal favorite: underneath the eyes).  Who says enlightenment is easy?

1 Comment

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One response to “Spicy and Tasty: not an oxymoron.

  1. Whoa…nice review. I’m unfortunately unlearned in Sichuanese cuisine (I dunno if I’ve ever had it?) nor do I eat much spicy food. One of my teachers said that if she could, she’d teach an entire class just about chilis (one of my other teachers said he’s like to teach a class just about sugar, which would be more my thing).I really want to try that steamed bun appetized. With mysterious frosting dipping sauce.

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