Spicy Little Sister
Two weeks ago, Bill, Bruce and I headed over to the Inner Richmond at my suggestion that we try a place called Spices II and then head over to the New de Young Museum for it's grand re-opening.
It's a good thing that I don't make plans written in stone.
We tried to get into Spices II, but every table was full and there was a 15 minute wait. Instead, we walked over the Spices I, where every table was full, except one which was just leaving. So we decided to eat there.
Afterwards, we walked over to the park and when we saw the line for the de Young collectively exclaimed "fuhgeddaboutit", only, not so New Jerseyish. Later, I read that folks were waiting 2 hours to get in the museum...at 3:30 in the morning!
You gotta love the people of San Francisco. And hate them. You just can't go anywhere fun or cool without them crowding you out. Bastards! (I say that lovingly.)
But getting back to the food...
So now we find ourselves outside of Spices I; or is it Szechuan Trenz? Or is it (in Chinese) Spicy Little Sister? Me thinks the stinky tofu has soaked into the proprietors head so that he cannot figure out one name to go with.
Once inside, we stood cramped near the front of the restaurant, waiting for our table to be cleared. At about that point, a strange smell eminated from the kitchen, causing Bill to declare "I guess they are serving stinky tofu tonight". I felt myself getting a little anxious at this point.
Spices I is a small and busy restaurant, which means the seating is close together. However, we were seated next to the back wall and by the window, and this turned out to be the best spot for people watching. The music pumping out of the speakers made you feel less like you're in a typical Asian restaurant and more like you're in a nightclub.
When we were approached by our waitress, we became confused when she handed us two different menus, neither of which had the same items as the other. This was cause for some consternation, and it was one of those times when having one condensed menu, ala In-N-Out Burger, could really have done the trick. I know, bad example, but you follow me, right?
All I know is that I had to have the deep-fried stinky tofu...and the cumin lamb hot pot. Being an only child use to getting my own way, "negotiating" the menu was rather easy and we did have the stinky tofu and the hotpot, plus Bill ordered the sliced beef shanks and Bruce ordered the spicy green beans.
I have heard it mentioned that stinky tofu is like Taiwan's version of our stinky cheese. I guess you could draw those parallels, as a really good rind-washed aged cheese will smell like the rankest of unwashed feet, and good fermented stinky tofu will smell like the most vile of unwashed asses. The unholy marriage of the two probably could be best summed up as "I'll have the deep-fried mudbutt with 2 slices of toe funk".
And if you are wondering: yes, it does taste like it smells, yet, like cheese, not as strong as it smells. The taste is sometimes accentuated (or offset, however you choose to view it) with pickled cabbage and chili sauce side portions. However, I've discovered that I like to occasionally eat a piece without anything to mask the flavor.
Of course the million dollar question is why would someone want to eat something so vile smelling to begin with?
To which I counter: why would anyone want to eat fermented milk curds (cheese)? Or raw meat that has been shoved into pig intestines, salted, and air-dried until a while mold develops on it's skin (salami)? Or a vegetable that makes you cry (onions)?
But I digress.
Bill's sliced beef shanks were very good and tender, and Bruce's green beans were really spicy, however both of these were just appetizers. The real meal set before us was the cumin lamb hot pot, which was kept hot on our table by a portable burner (that needed a little cleaning).
With the hot pot came a sweet garlic sauce that you could spoon over your stew or rice if you wanted. I noticed that Bill put his plain rice in his bowl and added the lamb stew to it to create a spicy rice dish, while I kept separate, but equal (are they ever truly?), the lamb stew and the rice. That way I could throw myself head-first into the lamb hotpot (ouch) and then come up for air with a little plain rice.
The waitress had warned us that the lamb hot pot was only medium spicy, yet if it truly was and we were still sweating up a storm, I would hate to see what the Kung Pao Chicken tastes like. But beyond being spicy hot, there were a lot of flavors; cumin being the most noticeable. The flavor of the lamb itself wasn't all that noticeable, which is always a drag. Towards the bottom of the hot pot were some celophane noodles that were too few to actually be shared between the 3 of us, and this was also somewhat of a disappointment.
Nevertheless, by the time we were ready for the check, we were all full and happy. I think the final bill, including tip, came out to be $12 a piece. Not bad.
Afterwards, we strolled over to the Sweet Delite Gourmet Food Co. on Clement Street for some Durian-flavored Marco Polo ice cream, as well as some exotic dried fruits and nuts. A nice cap to a good meal.
And then we headed on over to the de Young, and then we were like, "fuhgeddaboutit", only, not so New Jerseyish, and then we waved down a taxi with a surly driver (what. is. the deal with cab drivers these days??), and then we got off around Church and Market, and then we parted ways, and then Bruce and I took the underground home, and then I was like, "I can still taste the stinky tofu on my breath."