It's always great to hear from folks who have new recommendations and such....I don't think I'd still be around if not for the many emails and suggestions I get. A couple of weeks ago, "Big Ron", an avid Chowhound and I guess reader of our blog sent me an email asking me to try Spicy King, which had just opened up in Vista. Now I'd heard a bit about Spicy King, but not a whole lot....I as told that the folks behind Spicy City are somehow involved in the whole deal. Also, my dear FOY (Friend of Yoso), The Food Detective and her husband MrC had eaten there two weeks previous. The place sounded interesting, but when I quizzed TFD, she was less than enthused telling me the place was "decent", the "portions large", but overall a step behind Dede's and Spicy City in her mind. Still, we were missing Sichuan food and having been to every other Sichuan place many times over, why not make the 75 mile round trip, right?
As you can tell by the banner, the restaurant is fairly new and located in a pretty quiet corner of one of the mall complexes anchored by an Albertson's.
hadn't I been explicitly looking for the place, I'd have never known it was here....it would be hard to tell the place was open if not for the "Open" sign.
The place is quite nice, rather simple but tasteful. The young women working....the Missus told me they're all related were friendly and also from Chongqing based on their accents.
The menu is large and all the photos can lead you into overload with over 115 dishes, excluding the...ahem, "classics", items like Cashew Chicken, Beef Broccoli, and such which are hidden on the back of the menu.
The natural way to start one of these meals is with some cold appetizers(3 for $5.99).....
The best item was the almost Jiangnan ("South of the Yangtze" - Suzhou/Shanghai/Hangzhou) style fish, almost like Xun Yu. It was slighty sweet, bony, but had nice flavor. The spicy bean curd was extremely salty and the Fu Qi Fei Pian, while perfect in texture lacked the buzz of Sichuan peppercorns and a decent amount of heat.
One of the two dishes I truly miss from Ba Ren is the ChongQing Kou Shui Ji 重庆口水鸡 - the mouthwatering (saliva) chicken. So we ordered the Chungking cold chopped chicken with Hot Sauce ($9.99). And good god, this huge bowl arrived....there seemed to be over half a chicken in it.
It did look quite good.....but was fairly flat and surprisingly not very spicy. It really lacked any real depth of flavor.....anything, black vinegar, sesame paste, perhaps a little garlic, mild sweetness....strangely, I took most of this home, the leftovers became almost a whole meal a day later, and this was still not very spicy.
Next up was the Shrimp with Explosive Chili Pepper ($12.99).
I don't think the oil was at the right temp for this as the batter was gummy and the dish was on the greasy side......not oily (oil is the pathway to flavor in Sichuan cuisine), greasy. The shrimp were severely overcooked and rubbery. Not enough Sichuan peppercorn for my taste....especially for ChongQing style Sichuan. Decent heat from the scalded chilies though.
Next up was the Twice Cooked Fish with Hot Pepper ($10.99). God almighty, this was a huuuuge amount of fish. The batter looked the same as the one used for the shrimp, but this time it was lighter and crisp. The fish was nicely cooked, tender and moist.
There was a decent amount of peppercorn in this, the garlic and even the slices of ginger added to the dish. The photo on the right is after the Missus had eaten two pieces and I had eaten three....it's like we hadn't put a dent in this. About this time, the Missus overheard two of the young ladies, one was telling the other, "they are not even from Sichuan and are ordering all spicy...."
We also noticed that other customers didn't seem to be ordering much of the spicy stuff......
Next up was the Pork Intestine with Pickled Chili Pepper (Pa Jiao - $9.99):
The intestines were very "clean" and this was mild with regards to funkiness. The dish was much sweeter than it was spicy. In fact, I had the leftovers three days later, at which time it had become nice and spicy. Not a bad dish.
The Missus ordered something called "Megamillions fish fillet" ($12.99), which was Her favorite dish of the day.
This was Her favorite dish of the day. It put some nice layers of flavor together....the minced ginger, the pickled peppers, the fish was perfect, the tofu added a nice symmetry to the dish. Tasting this, I thought it to be the most balanced in terms of "suan-tian-ku-la-xian", the sour-sweet-bitter-spicy-salty metaphor that Chinese use to compare food to life.
One funny moment occurred during our visit....three of the staff started having a typical "discussion" over the A/C......it started as some chatter and got louder and louder until they seemed to be yelling at each other. Folks in the restaurant put their chopsticks down and seemed to be waiting for the "gloves to come off". I even stopped eating to watch....at which time the Missus reminded me, "you know they are just having a normal discussion over the A/C right......" as She just kept eating. Goodness, I'd forgotten!
In the end, what to say....the food was decent, though not quite worth the 75 mile round trip. The portions are huge and the service very friendly. when the Missus mentioned how big the servings were the young lady said, "oh no, the plates just make everything look so big!" You gotta love that. It's really good to see diversity of cuisine spreading, albeit slowly all over San Diego. It's taking awhile, but it's many miles from how things were when we moved here!
1233 East Vista Way
Vista, CA 92084
Thanks for your recommendation Big Ron! I hope here from you again in the future!