Szechuan Tasty House
Philadelphia's Chinatown has much to recommend it, but until recently it was hard to find real Szechaun food. Finally, we have the Szechuan Tasty House, and while the menu is over-cautious, loaded with lots of the same-old dishes you could find anywhere, with some careful ordering, one can find some exciting alternatives to the Chinatown routine lurking among the clichés.
Compared to some similar dishes I've had up in New York, the spicing is a bit timid here, but the flavors are still interesting, and most importantly, different.
To start, the Dumplings in a Spicy Sauce are hard to beat. They're also hard to eat, so be prepared to chase them around the table a little. But the tender pork-filled dumplings, soaking in a hot red oil are worth the trouble.
The Vegetarian Duck with Bejing Pancakes is a credible simulation of a Peking Duck roll, with a crunchy fried vegetarian patty evoking the crispy skin, a dab of hoisin and shredded scallions completing the picture. It's not much of a substitute for the real thing, but pretty tasty on its own.
Fu Qi Fei Pan is made up of thin slices of kidney and tripe, served cold with a spicy sauce. I'm not a huge fan of those organ meats, and yet, I like this dish, it tastes very light and is texturally interesting, the tripe pleasantly chewy, not rubbery.
Ban Ban Chicken is made with slices of cold chicken breast, bathed in a sesame sauce and topped with scallions. This is quite good, but even better is the Sliced Chicken in Spicy Sauce, which features the same tender slices of cold chicken, but drenched with a vibrantly red, peppery dressing.
The Chang-Du Cold Noodles have the same sauce as the Ban Ban Chicken, making them a good version of sesame noodles. A little more unusual are the Dang Dang Noodles, which are served hot, with ground pork and a peppery oil. These are a challenge to even skilled noodle-wranglers, but rewarding if you can manage to get some in your mouth.
We didn't love the Pepper with Black Bean Sauce, simple stir-fried fresh chiles with a thin, very salty sauce.
Ginger Shredded Duck is a generous portion of julienned duck meat, snowpeas, red bell pepper and fresh ginger. There's not much of a sauce to speak of, but the assertive ginger gives the lean duck plenty of excitement.
There are a few more promising things hiding among the more conventional General Tso's whatever, and some ingredient with broccoli, etc. And I suppose I shouldn't complain too much, some people might be more comfortable with those more common dishes. I'm just more interested in something different from all the other places within a few blocks.
I wish they offered a few more specifically Szechuan dishes, and that the spiciness was turned up a bit (some of these dishes are positively tame, whereas versions I've had elsewhere, such as at Grand Sichuan International in NY, were volcanically hot.) Nonetheless, this is a refreshing alternative to the same-old stuff in Chinatown, and a welcome addition to the Philly dining scene.