A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Friday, July 15, 2005

Jul. 15.

Dinner -

Spicy and Tasty - 39-07 Prince St., Flushing, Queens
Beef tendon in Red Chili oil, Dan Dan Noodles, Tea-smoked duck, a Budweiser

Spicy and Tasty was stalking me. From newspapers to websites to blogs to reviews, it was appearing everywhere I looked. Even more impressively, every mention was a rave, often calling the restaurant the best spot for Szechwan in the city. After a while, I gave in to the unrelenting praise and had to see for myself. So I skipped out of work early and made the trek back to Flushing.

In a way, this was a make-or-break moment for me. I’d previously eaten at the much-lauded Grand Sichuan a number of times, and decided to give up on Szechwan. The food was indeed exciting, fiery and strange, but it was also too greasy and oily. The cuts of pork I got might be half fat and on some dishes, I thought the heat overwhelmed the subtler flavors. But if anything could win me back, I figured it’d be the top kitchen in northern Queens.

Arriving at Spicy and Tasty, I was pleasantly surprised to discover how nice it was. Casual but classy, it felt calm even though the tables were continuously full. After about fifteen minutes, I was escorted to a table in the back where I took a perfunctory read through the menu. Having read so much about other people’s experiences, I already knew what I wanted to try.

I started with their famous beef tendon in red chili sauce, which they refer to as “Beef Tender,” and an order of Dan Dan noodles. The strips of tendon were bizarre and lovely, unlike anything else I’ve had. I could compare it to uncooked bacon or soft jerky, but this was more gelatinous at the edges and far more exciting. By the time I got to the bottom of the large mound, my tongue went from tingling to numb. The Dan Dan noodles, which previously set my mouth on fire at Grand Sichuan, were milder here, emphasizing the taste of soy over spice. They were tasty though, and made for a notable contrast to the beef.

Next I had the tea-smoked duck, which is perhaps Spicy and Tasty’s most beloved dish. Along with the tea-smoked pork, it’s almost ubiquitously name-checked in reviews and write-ups. Interestingly though, the duck’s not hot at all, which goes to show that Szechwan is broader than just peppercorns and chilis. Smoked with black tea leaves, the duck was delectable, every morsel infused with flavor. The closest thing I could compare it to, strangely enough, is barbecued ribs, because the duck was cut into small pieces around the bones, which had to be eaten by hand. I couldn’t finish the huge portion on my own, but I ate as much as possible. With something this good and unique, it’s hard to stop.

Of course, Szechwan food being what it is, I still found my meal occasionally too oily and fatty. That’s the nature of the cooking though, and asking for anything else would be like lactose-free Italian. So now when I am looking for Chinese food that’s singularly spicy and tasty, I know where to head. Now, having tried a few of its standouts, I can unequivocally add my voice to the chorus of praise. Now I might just have to stalk Spicy and Tasty right back. 8/10

Eric Asimov of The New York Times loves the tea-smoked duck and compares it to barbecue


Anonymous Astrid said...

Can I just say that you are my hero? You eat at ALL the places that I want to try (and rarely manage to visit). Do you have a car??? Is that your secret???

11:20 AM  
Blogger Lonesome Hero said...

Hey thanks, Astrid. No, I don't have a car. I just bring a book and ride lots of trains! So, sorry, there's no secret. I just spend a lot of time traveling and eating.

4:51 PM  

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