104 2nd Ave (between 6th and 7th streets)
New York, NY 10003
Before Hot Kitchen opened, the only Sichuan food I ate was from my own kitchen and the occasional trip to a random Gourmet Sichuan-esque restaurant. Most of these restaurants had the basic necessities: the double cooked pork, the mapo tofu, the GBSJD (we actually call it that – the 干煸四季豆, or dry sautéed string beans), the fish fragrant eggplant (check out my recipe here!). All these basics were too sweet, too greasy, and not spicy enough, and not nearly numbing enough. Hot Kitchen does all the basics a bit better, and has dishes beyond the basic Sichuan ones that I love. As a result, I go at least once or twice a month. The restaurant is always packed with sounds of home: loud chattering in Chinese and Qing Dao beers clinking.
I always get the 川北凉粉 or Mung Bean Noodle with Spicy and Peppery Sauce ($6.50). This is a Shi’s family favorite. The sauce is a classic Sichuan sauce. It’s spicy, sweet, numbing, and crunch from all the crushed peanuts. The noodles are served cold (goes great with the spice) and are thick but light. You know you’ve got some good noodles when they are elastic and don’t break on contact. Too many Sichuan restaurants in NYC use day(s) old noodles that are refrigerated, which causes the noodles to break. Hot Kitchen doesn’t!
麻婆豆腐 or Mapo Tofu ($13), always a must. Mapo Tofu sauce should NOT be brown. If you order this dish and get brown goopy sauce, you know your chef isn’t Sichuan. It should be bright red and way less viscous than goopiness. The tofu isn’t silken, but also isn’t that hard stuff you find at salad bars. It has enough density that it holds its own shape and doesn’t break. Hot Kitchen’s Mapo Tofu tastes pretty different from how my family makes it (we have more numbingness), but it’s still great. Super flavorful. Could just have this with a bowl of rice and be the happiest person ever.
My personal favorite veggie is this. 蒜茸豆苗 or Sauteed Pea Shoots with Fresh Garlic ($15). Pea shoots are always SO expensive and I only really recently understood why. I always assumed they’d be cheap because it doesn’t really exist in American food. These veggies are the leaves to green peas. Since Americans don’t eat ’em, shouldn’t they be cheap? Turns out, if you buy a bag full of them, you’ll end up only being able to eat half the bag (after sautéing, they shrink to like a quarter of a bag). The greens come with a lot of little fibrous pieces that you have to rip off before cooking. But the end product is so worth it. The taste of pea shoots are my definition of spring. It’s just so FRESH tasting.
The GBSJD, or Dry Sautéed String Bean ($14). The string beans are literally fried until they have this wrinkly crisp skin. It is sautéed over high heat with minced pork and little pickled veggies. I tend to like GBSJD when the beans are cooked for longer, and so are a little softer. Hot Kitchen’s is still good, just a little crisper.
One of my favorite Sichuan dishes is the 水煮鱼 or Braised Sliced Fish with Chili Sauce ($18). Hot Kitchen’s version is probably my least favorite rendition of classic Sichuan dishes on its menu… The dish is supposed to come in a huge soup bowl and consist of literally a boiling vat of chili oil with tender pieces of fish, lots of sweet winter cabbage, and looots of peppercorns. It should be so spicy and numbing that it becomes addicting. It should NOT be sitting in a sauce. It’s definitely more of a soup than a sauce. I still get it every once in a while because I crave the dish so much, but Hot Kitchen’s version truly disappoints. Unless you know what you’re missing out on, don’t try this. I wouldn’t want you to think the dish is this!
This is also one of my lesser favorite dishes from Hot Kitchen, though it certainly is one of the most popular. The 回锅肉 or Twice Cooked Pork is a dish every Sichuan family makes at home (check out my recipe here). The pork is so good because it’s first boiled with things like ginger, cloves, and star anise, then fried/infused with leeks, onions, and garlic. You really can’t go wrong with that process and those ingredients. Hot Kitchen’s version comes with too few slices of meat and compensates with more leeks and onions. It’s good. The meat also tends to be fattier than I like.
This is the 麻辣什锦香锅 or Assorted Spicy Wok. It includes beef, chicken, sausage, tripe, shrimp, squid, and veggies like lotus root and potatoes. THIS is truly pretty authentic and something you don’t find everywhere in NYC. It’s like a dry hot pot, where all these random ingredients are thrown together and stir fried with chili oil, spices, peppers, peppercorns, etc. Reminds me of the hot summer days eating outside on the streets in China under mosquito repelling lights. So addicting.
Hot Kitchen serves a little complimentary dessert. This particular time we had Glutinous Rice Balls in a Fermented Rice Soup. Sounds weird, but it’s pretty “normal” and great. It’s just these little rice balls in a light sugary rice wine ish soup. I grew up loving this. The only problem with Hot Kitchen’s is that they probably make a huge thing of it in one go and just have the rice balls chilling in the soup. The rice balls are therefore really soggy. They should be chewy. They have to be served fresh to be good.
Hot Kitchen, thank you for bringing home cooking to my neighborhood. I’ll admit, I tried cheating on you by going to Han Dynasty just down the road, but saw that the place was packed and not with a single Chinese person dining. I realized my mistake immediately and ran over back to you.