Out of the hot, into the cool.

I promised a group trip to Spicy & Tasty (menu) in my last group-dinner post – actually, I’ve been promising one for quite some time now to various friends. On Saturday, it was time to deliver – a pre-beer garden early dinner fiesta of spice.

Arriving at around four-thirty, we were immediately seated. The first thing you see as you walk into Spicy & Tasty is the estimable appetizer case – we all agreed that a strong visual argument was made for a tapas-style meal at some future point. Not everything was sublime – I ordered something called “beef tender in red chili sauce” that was either mistaken for another order or eerily reminiscent of a slightly spicy boiled bacon. Fortunately, the other two choices were impeccable: dan dan noodles, in a slightly sweet and slightly spicy sauce that made everybody go “mmmmm.”

The best thing we ate all day, however, was a small plate of “shredded chicken with spicy sauce.” This exquisite example of the sublime balance of Sichuan spicing arrives at the table looking like a bizarro version of a green papaya salad (everything is cut in similar stalk-like pieces). It’s also drowned in a red sauce that looks intimidating – fear not for your taste buds, though. The chiles’ influence is not undue, and the numbing effect of the peppercorns (here mysteriously blended into the sauce, not carelessly split and thrown in the pot like at Grand Sichuan) will give your roommate food-phoria. Or, at least, it did mine.

We also ordered two different kinds of balls (not the Rocky Mountain Oyster kind). The first was a lump of gelatinous pureed rice that arrived in a black-tinged (poppy?) unsweetened peanut sauce. Visually unappealing, tasted okay if not exciting. The sesame yam balls with black bean are much more recommendation-worthy, even for the yam-phobic.

Five entrees also graced our table. I’m sad to say that I didn’t do my usual good job of convincing the waitress to spice our dishes at maximum heat – usually, the “shredded pork in fresh hot pepper” is just as sublime as the shredded chicken, but this time was quite bland by comparison. It didn’t matter – we ate it all up anyway.

Other favorites were the “diced chicken with peanuts and hot pepper,” which wasn’t spicy at ALL, despite the chile next to the menu entry (sigh). Nonetheless, it was quite good – the peanuts were tiny indeed, and the sauce was slightly and pleasingly sweet.

The tea-smoked duck was the best I’ve had it in three tries – smoky and with the fat perfectly rendered, the top pieces (which lack inconvenient bone intrusions) got snapped up so quickly, I’m not sure my roommate got any. The other pieces require a lot more effort, unfortunately, and I’m not sure if the cost/benefit of this dish is really as good as it could be.

I wasn’t much of a fan of the “bean curd home style” which ruined some perfectly good tofu in the frying pan, giving it a leathery coating (and unappealing texture). Next time I’m sticking with ma po tofu. Again, not nearly spicy enough, considering.

The last dish wasn’t my choice, so I won’t judge it too harshly – “shrimp & green hot pepper in black bean sauce” seemed pretty much like a well-done version of the generic Chinese you can get on the corner. Not bad, but certainly not a delight.

I don’t mean to make it seem like we had a disappointing meal – the shredded chicken alone was worth the long trip and then some, and three of five entrees were good, if mild. But I wish I had remembered to shake the waitress by the lapel and beg for spice – my friends deserved better.

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