Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Adventures in Flushing: Xiao La Jiao Sichuan Restaurant (AKA Little Pepper)
As most everyone knows, Flushing has the second largest Chinatown in New York, growing every day. As opposed to Manhattan's Chinatown, the area is relatively unencumbered with tourists or even, with the exception of Joe's Shanghai, with too many curious Caucasians. And other than a few dedicated critics, including the Village Voice, few people are willing to venture from Manhattan to the last stop on the 7 train, and then walk several long blocks down Roosevelt Avenue to Little Pepper.
When you get there, look at the menu, and realize that even the word restaurant is spelled "restautaurant" you start to wonder if anyone will understand your order. This is further compounded by the fact that only one person in the place spoke even the most rudimentary English. A child of one of our very Upper West Side Friends discovered that the Chinese he is learning is school was not helpful at Little Pepper. If you don't use chopsticks, bring your own fork and spoon (I am not kidding about this). And I won't even begin to talk about the condition of the bathroom.
Once you clear all of this out of your mind, point at things you think you want on the menu, and realize you can always get more, life is great. For one thing, Sichuan cooking is really good. And even though its quite spicy, the lovely staff were willing to make it "not spicy" for the kids. And even though not spicy meant not hot, not without actual spices, they all ate it. And no wonder. Even the yucky stuff was good.
The lovely wife likes Frogs Legs. It must be all the French she learned as a child. Having said that, the Frogs Legs here (pictured) were excellent, in a spicy, garlicky sauce. As opposed to eating Frogs Legs in France, I got the feeling I was eating a lot more frog than the leg. And it didn't taste like chicken, it tasted like fish. Very interesting.
Excellent dishes included the smoked duck and the dan dan noodles, which may have been the best single noodle dish I have eaten in a long time. Lamb, which has a lot of coriander and cumin, tastes more Indian than what I think of as "Chinese." The lamb is also grilled, giving it the texture of a Gyro. A surprise hit was Tofu with pork in pepper sauce, which was spiced so well that even white bean curd tasted good. Other good dishes included crabs in garlic sauce and spinach (this should not be missed). "Soup" dumplings were just pork dumplings in a spicy broth; as I mentioned before, there are no spoons in the place, so just slurp out of the bowl. The kids had peanuts and chicken and a fried, breaded sweet and sour kind of chicken dish, which they liked just fine. Beer and soda are available.
One of the most amazing thing about the place was the price. Although its cash only, 16 of us ate and drank beer for about $13 a person, including tip. Although I'm sure there is similar food somewhere in Manhattan, for the cultural experience, excellent value and great food, I will be heading back to Little Pepper soon.
NEW Male Martha Photos on Flickr:: Photos from Xiao La Jiao
Other Reviews I Found:
Get In My Belly