During our most recent road trip, after noshing at Qing Dao Bread Food, we decided to give the Missus' Dad's cuisine equal time. My FIL hails from Hunan, which explains the Missus's ability to eat some pretty spicy stuff. My MIL is also able to handle some pretty hot stuff, "tolerance by association" I guess. Our first thought was to drop by Tianjin Bistro, but on a whim the Missus decided that we should have lunch here.
The first thing I noticed when we entered was that a good number of the folks eating were fanning their mouths, an ominous sign, as was all the hissing noises of the folks sucking air through their teeth. One of the Servers is boisterous and outgoing, the other, quiet but very kind. The walls of the restaurant is lined with the ubiquitous colored strips of paper with the various specialties of the house written on them.
As we sat, a little dish of boiled peanuts, and some very briney Hunan Pao Cai (pickled vegetables) arrived at the table.
The pickles lived up to our standard of Hunan cuisine with unabashedly bold flavors. So we were a bit surprised at the very mild millet porridge that arrived at the same time. Having previous experience, we knew that this would provide the perfect prophylaxis for our upcoming meal.
So what to order? Chilli King is known for the Hunan Steamed Fish Head, but you need to order that in advance. So we just went with what caught our fancy.
The first item we went with Steamed Preserved Meat (La Wei He Zheng - $8.99), a classic steamed mixed smoke meat dish.
For me this was not smokey enough in flavor, way too salty, and the meat was mushy, and falling apart. It was nowhere close to the version at Hunan Seafood. The Missus enjoyed it though.
Of course as soon as I saw it, I had to have the Sauteed Lamb (Xiao Chao Yang Rou - $8.99):
The lamb was nice and gamey, the spice was pretty much on my "high side". I thought the ratio of lamb to cilantro was excellent. Do you noticed something? If you've ever noticed, at most Sichuan restaurants, all the chilies are deseeded. Notice all the chili seeds in this dish.....it kind of gives you a hint of the spice level.
Last up, comes the most interesting, and painful dish of the day. The Missus saw a dish on one of the papers flying over our head.
When the Missus ordered it "Big Spicy", the Server, obviously knowing by Her accent that the Missus wasn't from Hunan, told Her, "our medium spicy, is hotter than most BIG spicy". But of course we stuck to our guns. What had we ordered? Suan Do Jiao Chao La Ya ($8.99). This was basically Smoked Duck stir fried with Hunan Pickled Green Beans and Chilies. As she walked away, the woman turned and glanced at me with an "okay, it's your funeral" look.
For me this is an excellent example of the un-apologetically spicy Hunan dish. The smoked duck was nicely flavored. There were two types of chilies in this dish, salt-preserved chilies, and smaller red chilies. Again, check out all the chili seeds! The sour and briney pickled green beans actually heightened the burning sensation. I was okay after two bites....but after three I started sweating, not a big deal, that happens all the time. By my fourth and fifth bites my scalp was tingling, and my mouth felt like an open wound. And then I did it, I drank a cup of hot tea. It was like I poured alcohol on an open wound! Lesson learned, I made sure my tea had cooled off before consuming it. Strange thing was, I was caught up in a heat addiction death spiral. I was snapped out of this by the nice Server, who asked me if I was okay....which sounded strangely like the phrase "do you need CPR"....... As usual we had leftovers. That same evening, I heated this dish in the microwave. When I opened the door, the fumes hit me square in the face and I felt like I had been maced! It was even more spicy! I could only manage two bites, and for some reason my ears started ringing. The next day, I didn't even bother trying to eat the leftovers (loved the lamb though), I knew it would be too much for me. The Missus enjoyed it to the last.......
Of course, on every trip to the SGV, we have a story, so here's the one for this place. We were seated right next to the kitchen door and the counter. While we were eating a short gentleman walked into the restaurant. He was just one of those folks who just kinda makes you laugh. Short, square, animated expression, with his pants pulled up to his nipple line..... He came in and ordered one dish, and tried to pay with a credit card, and was told that there was a minimum purchase of $20 with a credit card. Suddenly, you could make out a few "ticks" and twitches. Faced with this, the man tried to persuade the ladies to let him use his credit card. The Missus kept giggling as he tried different strategies to get his way, trying among other things, flattery ("this is my wife's favorite place"), but was blocked on every end. Finally, he went with his last ace-in-the-hole, the pseudo-guilt trip, "We come here all the time. We live in Irvine, and today I came all the way here to pick up lunch for my wife!" This of course was met with the check-mate "so you come here all the time? Than why would you come all the way from Irvine with only six dollars?" Which of course, instantly insinuated laziness (couldn't go to the ATM), and stupidity (you eat here all the time, and you don't know that there's a $20 minimum for credit cards). Out-trumped the gentleman ordered another dish. Which started up the next discussion. He had ordered on dish "BIG SPICY", and the other "no spicy". Turns out that his wife loves spicy food, but he is unable to tolerate spice! The Missus was cracking up at the way he described the situation....... She told me this is more funny than those Chinese comedies She watches!
As we left the restaurant, I passed a young lady fanning her mouth and inhaling with a hissing noise. I gave her a knowing smile.......I felt (literally) both her pain...and pleasure.
Hunan Chilli King
524 East Valley Boulevard
San Gabriel, CA 91776
I definitely wanted something a bit soothing after this meal.........