Heavens, I'll take second helpings of any spicy Sichuan food. It's my favorite cuisine, one that simultaneously numbs my tongue and sets my lips aflame. "Well, if you love it so much, why not write a story about it?" you ask. I did. Today's tale, the Bob Barker–referencing "Spice Is Right," is my survey of the Sichuan spots dotting our fair burg. Curious? Eat it up!
It’s humbling to explain why, at 29, your shoes mimic Swiss cheese.
“I thought you work,” a friend said, marveling at my $5 knockoff Chucks with holes the size of pocket change.
“But I’m a writer,” I explained.
“You’re also anal. Go copyedit.”
“Point taken,” I said, taking a midtown corporation’s weeklong editing gig.
The work was smooth sailing: words, words, words. My office neighbor was stormy: a shrill brunette with hair apparently bleached blond via squirt gun.
“I can’t believe he didn’t call!” she bleated into the phone my first morning. “I am worth a phone call.”
To cope, I could embrace on-the-job intoxication (tip: vodka with Sprite!), or channel my ire into finding superlative lunchtime sustenance. I opted for the latter. What’s the lure of an after-work drink if you’re drinking at work?
Lunchtime Monday, I hit Chinese canteen Hing Won (48 West 48th St. betw. Fifth and & Sixth Aves., 212-719-1451). Buffet workers served gloppy sesame chicken, but the menu offered deceptively delicious comestibles: roasted duck, double-sautéed pork and noodle soup. Soup 11 struck my fancy.
“Pickle soup!” a ponytailed counterwoman screamed, delivering my plastic tureen of $6 goodness: Thread-like yellow noodles were topped with chewy porcine slivers, zucchini and tart pickles. I slurped the spicy soup noisily and lustily, returning to work wearing a grin and broth on my button-down.
Tuesday brought more inane nattering.
“I’m getting a time-share,” my work neighbor began, as I slipped away to drecky, gray West 39th Street. Amid garment shops awaited Szechuan Gourmet (21 W. 39th St. betw. Fifth & Sixth Aves., 212-921-0233), which serves seriously fiery, numbing cuisine: chili-black-bean rabbit, pork belly with leeks and dan dan noodles. I scanned the 40-item lunch menu and blindly selected braised crispy tofu with pork ($6.95). In China, I suppose, pork is a vegetarian treat.
“Extra spicy,” I told my server.
“Are you sure?”
I received magma-color tofu and pork slices, which was an oily, chewy-tender contrast that buzzed my lips and incinerated my tongue. Delectable, but note to self: no more super-spicy.
Wednesday. Hump day. “Bikini wax: yes or no?” my neighbor queried a caller.
I plugged my ears and marched to Moishe’s Falafel (46th St. betw. Fifth & Sixth Aves.), a Kosher-certified cart run by bearded Jews. I queued behind members of the tribe, their hats big and black, and ordered the cart’s namesake ($4.75). Crunchy yellow orbs, pickles and salad were shoehorned into a pita and then drizzled with tahini.
I like eating while walking, but Moishe’s forces sedentary ingestion. I sat on a fire hydrant while tan sauce sullied my fingers and lettuce fluttered onto my jeans like fall leaves. It was deliciously, shamelessly sloppy, much like me.
What’d my neighbor talk about Thursday? I dunno; I finally wore headphones. It was my second-smartest move all day. My finest was grubbing a roast-pork sandwich ($6.95) at homey Cuban joint Tina’s (23 W. 56th St. betw. Fifth & Sixth Aves., 212-315-4313). Like a jackalope, this sandwich shouldn’t exist: Crisp pernil, fried plantains, onions and a mayo squiggle are layered on thin, crunchy bread.
“Add potato sticks,” suggested a suit.
“You gotta go big,” he said, motioning to the caloric bomb.
I went big. The sandwich was a crunchy-soft combo of sweet and fatty, spicy and creamy. It sank to my stomach like an anchor, rooting me to my desk till 6 p.m.’s whistle.
Friday. My co-worker called in sick. Thanks, God. What’s a good meal for Friday? I wandered 49th Street. There: Bella Napoli (150 W. 49th St. betw. Sixth & Seventh Aves., 212-719-2819). This squat, steamy slice joint was filled with congealed pizzas and businessmen with necks spilling over collared shirts.
“Meatball sub,” I ordered.
“Meatball hero?” replied the gelled-hair counterman.
“Yes,” I replied acidly. Though I say soda instead of pop, I still make the occasional Midwestern misstep—just like my Ohio brethren in every recent presidential election.
I forgave the server upon receiving a sloppy, forearm-length assemblage of sprightly tomato sauce, springy meatballs and molten cheese. Oh, cheesy meat! Instead of wolfing it down, I luxuriated: a mistake. Given time, the sauce disintegrated the bread, making the hero look as bloody and messy as a zombie victim. I sat on a ledge and devoured the red mess, one pawful after another, as a woman and her chubby-cheeked youngster strolled past. The kid stared at my spectacle. I fluttered my red fingers.
“Let’s go,” the mother said, gawking at my messy mitts, my holey shoes. She dragged her kid away, and I dragged myself back to the office with a full belly—but little else.