Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Eating Out: Tasty China

Despite the generic-sounding name, this Marietta Chinese paradise is anything but generic. Lauded as one of the only (and quite possibly the only) authentic Szechuan (or Sichuan) restaurant in the Atlanta area, Tasty China offers up some of the most flavorful and spicy Chinese food I have ever eaten.

A few quick notes before I get into my actual meals here. Tasty China offers the usual American "Chinese" suspects, such as sesame chicken, beef w/ broccoli, General Tso's chicken, etc. You're in a palace of authentic Chinese cuisine--don't order things that you can get at your local City Wok (or "shitty wok" for you South Park fans out there). And in case you were wondering, General Tso is about as relevant to Chinese military lore as Colonel Sanders is to ours. Also, you might not hear me say this too often, but I would steer clear of the offal here. Ever since my first experience with chitlins--in Hattiesburg, MS no less--I can't bring myself to tackle intestines, which make a few appearances on the Tasty China menu. I am, however, a fan of kidneys. When I asked a couple of the staff members what they thought of the kidneys, they replied something along the lines of, "They're okay." *nervous laughter* "They taste kind of strong." This led me to believe that they didn't soak them--or at least not long enough. No piss-flavored meat for me, thank you! If I wanted to experience urine with my meal, I'd hang out with R. Kelly. BA-ZING!!!

I've been here 4 or 5 times, and I will handily go again. On the appetizer side, I recommend the Dan Dan noodles with beef. Here, ground beef is cooked in a spicy peanut sauce with chilies and Szechuan peppercorns and tossed with long, thin pasta. An interesting creation would have to be the Hot and Numbing Beef Rolls. In a bit of cultural cross-pollination, this flavorful cooked beef is tossed with chilies and Szechuan peppercorns (noticing a theme here?), then rolled with iceberg lettuce and rolled in a flour tortilla. Confused? I am. The chilies are pure burn, and the peppercorns are pure freeze; leaving your mouth burning and numb at the same time. Very aptly titled. The fish coriander rolls were also excellent, as fish (not sure which) and cilantro were very simply seasoned and rolled very thinly in a wonton, then fried until crispy. Oddly enough, they tasted just like...FISH AND CILANTRO! No sauce was necessary, as these were just plain delicious. Most recently, I opted for the Dry Fried Eggplant. Again, this dish is so well-seasoned that your Western palate won't miss the ubiquitous dipping sauce for a fried food item. The eggplant was amazingly crispy and I had a hard time saying "no" to another one. Unfortunately, I couldn't delve too deeply because the combination of homemade five-spice (very heavy on the fenugreek) and dried chilies created somewhat of an off-putting metallic flavor in an otherwise extraordinary dish.

If you're in the mood for a full entree, I recommend the braised fish with homemade soft tofu. The broth is spicy and flavorful, and when served over steamed rice, is a brilliant study in textures. I would pass on the twice-braised pork, unless they upgrade it to four times-braised pork. Under-braised pork belly is quite rubbery, and the whole dish was a little one-note, and I was not willing to start consuming whole dried chilies to alter that.

The Shan City Chicken is the hottest dish I have ever tried to eat. As exotic as it may sound, it's little more than 65% fried chicken chunks and 35% dried chilies. Too proud and stubborn to ask for milk or something to combat the heat that was severely kicking my ass, I was struggling to muscle this whole thing down. I have a very high tolerance for chile heat...but holy shit! This was insane!

The hot pot offers a great variety of meats, seafood, and vegetables with glass noodles in a simmering mini-cauldron of hot broth, chilies, Szechuan peppercorns, and a veneer of bubbling dende oil. They have a little device which keeps the dish hot (read: still simmering with a relative degree of volatility). I would advise wearing something that would not show the effects of an orange, oily stain; because regardless of what you eat, you're going to be wearing it. Absolutely delicious, though.

Perhaps my favorite dish was the one I was least expecting to blow me away. The green beans with minced pork and olives reminded me of the green beans I used to eat as a kid--cooked to death and seasoned with pork. These were different in that they were blanched fresh beans that were cooked with a neutral minced pork, but practically seasoned by the finely chopped olives. I will be getting this on each visit from now on. Tasty China is a wonderful reason to venture north of the perimeter, and a must if you live in the area. This place will change your entire views on Chinese cuisine for the better. Check it out!

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