Last week a good friend of mine headed off to Italy for an incredible adventure that (I hope!) she’ll be sharing via guest posts on Whisks & Wit.
To send her on her way, we ate (obviously). At her favorite restaurant, Mission Chinese. I’d never been but I did have her leftovers once and the experience changed me.
Or, rather, it changed my tongue. See, Mission Chinese is known for spicy food. But it’s not the usual make-your-eyes-water, burn-your-mouth way, because the spice comes from Szechuan peppercorns. And Szechuan peppercorns don’t make your mouth burn, they make it numb.
Like they actually make your mouth tingle and bring about a numbing situation that, while not altogether unpleasant, is a little disconcerting. But also delicious! It’s all rather confusing.
Have I scared you off? Probably not because you’re probably cooler than me and have already been to Mission Chinese, possibly back when it was at its old location and you got to drink free beer from a keg while waiting for a table.
The current Mission Chinese experience is still awesome, but looks more like this:
The place. The new Mission Chinese is in Chinatown…like real Chinatown. Like I got distracted reading menus from Mexican restaurants on the bus (this is a common occurrence) and missed my stop and ended up in a part of NYC that I’m pretty sure hasn’t progressed in about 200 years. Mission Chinese really leaned into their new locale, with décor that looks like what you expect from a Szechuan restaurant except cooler and with club music and streamers.
It used to be an Italian restaurant and they’ve kept the pizza oven, a fact that becomes relevant when we talk about…
The food. This is not your average Szechuan food in the best possible way. And it’s definitely an experience. They don’t really get pacing or courses so we started with our noodles: green tea and spicy peanut noodles. The green tea noodles were my fav, probably because they were the least spicy thing we ordered but also because they’re really really good. The peanut noodles are made with “numbing oil” (sensing a theme?) which makes them easily the most interesting peanut noodles I’ve ever had.
Then came…the bread service. Bread at a Chinese restaurant? I know I was just as surprised, but omg I will dream about this bread for weeks. It’s made in their pizza oven so it comes out hot and delicious and tastes like a fluffy sourdough pita. But even better, it comes with butter and kefir. They bring out the butter, then pour in the kefir making a creamy-but-sour dipping sauce. So so good.
Next came the salt cod fried rice with Chinese sausage. It was good but nothing out of the ordinary. However when our thrice cooked bacon with rice cakes and tofu came around, I discovered rice helps counteract the numbing from easily the spiciest thing we ordered. I also discovered you can scrape the peppercorns off the rice cakes which quickly became a survival mechanism. Numbness aside, the rice cakes were my actual favorite thing we ate. It’s kind of like a bad relationship: it burns at first but after the sting wears off all you remember is the smoky, silky, bacon-y deliciousness.
The drinks. Lots of cocktails, all very interesting–in a good way, like in the way one came topped with sprinkles. I ordered a negroni made with tequila (does that really make it a negroni? I’m questioning everything I know) that had the word “tingling” in the description, because apparently I couldn’t get enough of the sensation. Unlike the rice cakes, this tingle was manageable.