Playing with fire: Spicy dishes around the country
The world seems to be moving more towards spicier foods
Here's a recent news blast from Eater.com:
"New Zealand pizza chain Hell Pizza is living up to its name by introducing Pizza Roulette. What is Pizza Roulette? It seems the pizzeria will put two drops of the super-ultra spicy ghost pepper sauce onto only one slice of your pizza, but they won't tell you which."
I find this a useful way to divide people into two camps. Camp One sees this as the most exciting innovation in the world of eating; ghost peppers are, after all, the world's spiciest chile. Camp Two makes a mental note to go nowhere near this place, and under no circumstances order this pizza.
In fact, the food world seems to be going toward Camp One and getting spicier. Following are spots where you don't necessarily have to bring your own ghost peppers to make sure the food is hot enough for you.
Mission Chinese - New York City and San Francisco, Calfornia
Chef and owner Danny Bowien is almost singlehandedly keeping Sichuan peppercorn growers in business with his newly expanded bicoastal empire. Two flames denote the spiciest dishes on the menu; I know two flames seems mild; I'd suggest multiplying each flame by five to approximate the true heat of each dish. Among the menu's two-flamers: a great version of the classic Mapo Tofu; the insanely good Kung Pao Pastrami with explosive chiles; and the Thrice Cooked Bacon with rice cakes, which help cool down this dish just a teeny-tiny bit.
Kin Shop - New York City
At Harold Dieterle's great Thai restaurant, the Spicy Duck Laab Salad has become a bit of a talking point. According to my friends, the spice experts at Eater.com, customers were sending back the dish (a highly seasoned chopped duck salad spiked with toasted rice, chopped herbs and lime juice) because it was too spicy, even after servers described it as very spicy and nine out of ten on the spice chart.
But Dieterle wanted the dish to stay authentic and tongue-numbingly hot. So the dish remained crazy hot and now there are four stars next to it on the menu as a heat level warning. There are also four stars attached to the Jungle Curry with braised skate and calamari.
Lucy's Fried Chicken - Austin, Texas
I didn't see this coming: The spiciest dish in Austin, according to Chowhound.com, can be found at Lucy's Fried Chicken. Truth. Lucy's Diablo Oysters are comprised of a half-dozen wood-fire-grilled oysters topped with two chiles - habanero-infused butter and jalapeño - as well as Parmesan and bacon. Happily for the heat-averse, there are other ways to dive into the grilled oysters, including the buffalo-sauced Lucha. And for those who want to have it both ways with Lucy's oysters (sort of spicy, but not crazy), there's the Texan with wild boar chorizo and cactus hot sauce.
Jitlada Thai Restaurant - Los Angeles, California
The outstanding restaurant critic Jonathan Gold called out this restaurant in his "99 Essential Restaurants 2011" list in the LA Weekly last November. Here's Gold describing a Jitlada curry: "the infamous endorphin bomb khua kling phat tha lung, a beef curry that in its purest form is spicy enough to melt the bark off a log."
And here's Jitlada describing another, equally incendiary curry: "Laam talum pook is a chile-infused 'wild' curry (one without heat-softening coconut milk) of catfish and small green Thai eggplants, full of garlic, lemongrass, Kaffir lime peel, and black peppercorns still on sprigs...It ignites the mouth and burns long - even the raw carrots, cucumber slices, and cabbage on ice served alongside as a counterbalance don't help much - but it leaves a wonderful, complex memory of flavors in the ashes."
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