As you might know, I'm crazy for Sichuan food, or "spicy Chinese" as I often call it when I'm not sure how to spell or pronounce it. At the end of April I found myself in a fortunate position where, within a single week, I was able to hit up two New York Sichaun heavy-hitters: the well-regarded and (relatively) traditional Little Pepper out in College Point, Queens and the world-renowned and (essentially) free-wheeling Mission Chinese Food on the Lower East Side.
Let us compare and contrast!
Little Pepper is not Manhattan-convenient. To get there via public transport I think you'd have to take the 7 to the very end and then ride a bus for 30 or 40 minutes. BUT sometimes you find yourself talking to a friend with a car about places you'd like to go that you'd need a car to get to and then suddenly they say "Well, I've got a car, let's go there!" This is what happened when I was talking to world-champ Cameron. Conversation lead to proposal lead to holy cow, we're really doing this a week or two later.
Having studied reviews of the Little Pepper and being at the restaurant with an agreeable group, I ordered with enthusiastic abandon. This is what we ate:
One of the best dishes of the night arrived first, an incredibly porky-tasting plate of twice cooked pork. An A++ rendition of an already magnificent dish.
The wreckage and the reckoning
Oh and the ambiance
My Take: Awful good, awful fun, very hard to get to. I didn't think anything there was particularly spicy, although I know some at the table will think me a maniac for saying that. I might just be a beast beyond feeling? Would I recommend a trek out to Little Pepper? For the double cooked pork and scallion fried rice, Yes. Also, Little Pepper was screamingly cheap. Like $16 a person for that feast (granted we were a party of six, but still).
MISSION CHINESE FOOD
Kind of stumped on what to do for my birthday, I organized a little dinner of Ned, Jeff, Patricia and I at Mission Chinese, which I hadn't visited for about a year. Something I learned: They take reservations now, and if you don't have one, arriving with a party of 4 at opening time doesn't mean you won't be quoted and two and a half hour wait. But the hostess was nice (?) enough to give us a table with the promise we'd be done by 7.
We tried out their bread with buttermilk kaffir lime butter. It was good to have that butter on hand for spicy moments
Friends outside afterwards
The Verdict: MCF is fun, a great place to go with amigos, and the menu is long and full of all sorts of inventive things to try. Again, I have desensitized myself to some terrible degree because I didn't think anything we ate was all that spicy. Like, yeah, those chicken wings are real sons of guns, but they're not spicy, they're mean. MCF used to be surprisingly fair-priced but now the dishes are creeping up to more typical New York prices.
One more thing: I'd like to share this video of Anthony Bourdain and Anderson Cooper eating at Mission Chinese Food. I think the worst look in the world is to be the person who can handle spice at a table with someone who is being leveled by it...and I've been that person! No matter what you say you seem like a cocky show off, especially if you're being a cocky show off.
Shoot, looks like I can embed it and just have to leave a link.