Sunday, November 05, 2006

When food lovers gather

I have spent years getting used to people commenting on how weird I am for being so obsessed with food. They question if it is really normal for someone to be salivating after the next meal while stuffing her face at the table. These type of comments do not damper my excitement for a good chow. My pleasure and passion is entirely private and requires no audience participation. However, it’s hard to deny that there has always being a child within that yearned for the company of those who love the object of my affection as much as I.

As they say, “seek and you shall find” and I finally found my ideal eating companions this past Tuesday at the hot new foodie spot Tasty China. Thanks to Blissful Glutton, the charismatic organizer of the fantastic little gathering, close to ten like-minded spicy food lovers got to hover over about a dozen mouth numbing Sichanese dishes at the hidden away strip mall gem. The food was of a deliciousness level that being Sichanese, I was, for the first time in many years, proud to call what came before us the cuisine of my childhood.

First we were offered a sampling of appetizers, which included the crowd favorite of hot and numbing beef. This was essentially the result of crossing a flavor-imbued braised brisket with a flavor-distilled five-spice jerky. More specifically, the beef seemed to have first gone through a long braising process, which imparted the hot and numbing effect through the addition of a hefty dose of classic five spices and more than hefty doses of dried hot red pepper and Sichuan peppercorn. On top of the braising, the beef was dried and crisped in a fragrant oil to achieve slightly crispy surfaces that crunched between our teeth before giving way to the most delightful flavor combination and chewy texture within.

A parade of other dishes came after the hot and numbing beef. Some were delights from my childhood, like a braised whole fish in a three chili sauce and flash-fried fatty strips of Sichuan beef so tender, it barely required any chewing before dissolving into a little hot and sticky puddle on the tongue. Others were not what I would call classical dishes, but were nonetheless excellent. The most sublime of these was the panko-crusted eggplant shown above. Aside from its gorgeous looks, the texture was incredible. Slightly crispy on the outside from a quick bath in hot oil, the interior was like the center of a hot and savory marshmallow right off the camp fire. Yum!

All in all, Tasty China delivered just the right combination to satisfy our group of food lovers. The tucked away location, non-descript strip mall exterior, dingy interior d├ęcor, and fantastic dishes made it the perfect food find worthy of a foodie gathering.