It's funny how things work out. I was headed to a dreaded lunch hour meeting, when I was notified that it was cancelled. I decided to head on down Clairemont Mesa to grab something to eat. I noticed that the place I'd recently seen that replaced the Zisu Indian Market named Private Kitchens had opened....at least the sign said open. So I parked and walked in.
I quickly noticed a couple of things; first off, there's a temporary wall put up and there's still Indian groceries for sale. Second, there was only one person in the place that spoke English, a sweet young lady whose English name is "Julie" I believe.
It's an odd set-up, two folks came in, did some shopping and paid for their groceries at the register. There were some interesting communication issues, but everything got taken care of. I think the shop is liquidating the grocery inventory? I mentioned this to the Missus who told me; "you know my peeps......"
Second thing I noticed. In spite of the huge kitchen, the place was set-up with skewers of various vegetables, meats, bean curd, etc. This was a "chuan chuan xiang" ("fragrant skewers") style place; also know as mala tang ("numb and spicy") style place. A real Chengdu specialty where you pick your skewers and they are cooked in a numbing hot broth. I really haven't seen this here since Ba Ren tried their "Yie-Shi" menu years ago.
This style of eating has a special place in my heart. I couldn't wait to grab a basket and have at it. You get charged by the skewers....frankly, I just picked out stuff I enjoy....it came out to about $11. A "small pot" cost $3.99; though I didn't care for the standard noodles.....instant ramen type.
My favorite items were the frozen and fried tofu, the bean curd skin, along with the enoki mushrooms. The rest was pretty routine and basic, but that broth was definitely, legitimately "numbing hot". I did get the "ma-la" and it was that in spades. I left with a nice layer of sweat on my forehead.
Funny thing, a couple of days later, it was pouring rain, everybody had been stuck in meetings and calls and we decided to grab some lunch. So Calvin, JohnF, Renee, and I headed over for some Mala Tang. This style of eating is quite social; except Renee can't eat tolerate anything too spicy; so we got her a milder version.....I got the Boys medium spicy. Calvin just piled stuff on.....
I ordered kuan fen (cellophane noodles) this time around, which goes quite well with the hot pot. Calvin loves his chicken parts; the heart was good; so was the pork stomach. I gotta say though; if you're going to do this, go for the spicy....the medium just didn't do it for me. We left quite satisfied; Renee had never experienced the "ma" before and told me her lips were numb; "but in a good way". We headed back to the office on a spicy endorphin high.....just the thing to take us through the rest of the day.
Now I'm not going to say this is great, nor even really good. The skewers are fine; it's the broth that makes this. It's also comfort food for me. And so far the version here does enough. I'm hoping it gets better. I'm also wondering what happens when the inventory of Indian Groceries is depleted and that temporary wall comes down? Will the menu expand and offer us more Chengdu style dishes?
One can always hope.....
5440 Clairemont Mesa Blvd
San Diego, CA 92117