Szechuan Tasty House

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Inexpensive 01/07 10

902 Arch St
Philadelphia, 19107

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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.

Twice Cooked Pork looks like it will kill you, with thick slices of fatty pork belly hiding among a heap of hot chile peppers. But the peppers aren't actually THAT hot, and OK, the pork is still a cholesterol bomb, but it's REALLY good... just don't eat all of it! This is one of my favorite dishes in all of Chinatown, but there's a lot of pork fat here!

Three Pepper Chicken is made in a similar way, with lots of hot, but not blistering, fresh chiles, along with dried hot peppers and crushed pepper flavoring the small cubes of dark chicken.

Twice Cooked Pork

Chicken Tangy Sauce Sliced Chicken in a Spicy Tangy Sauce doesn't look all that interesting, but the simple chicken breast, celery and carrots are glazed with a truly unusual, and yes, tangy sauce.

Szechuan Beef was a very tasty example of a classic dish, but not too different from what you'd get at any decent place. Way more interesting, and flavorful, is the Braised Beef Filet with Szechuan Style (pictured). A deep bowl is filled with sliced celery and onions, along with very tender, lean beef, all stewing in a rich broth, a thick layer of ground red pepper adding an assertive, but tolerable burn. It's not on the menu, but they'll make this with fried fish filets instead of the beef, but they get a bit soggy and dense, so I'd stick with the beef. Braised Beef

We didn't love the Pepper with Black Bean Sauce, simple stir-fried fresh chiles with a thin, very salty sauce.
Golden Coins Golden Coins is one of the more interesting eggplant preparations we've come across. Small rounds of the vegetable are stuffed with ground pork, then breaded in a batter almost as light as a tempura, and fried to golden brown, leaving the inside luxuriously soft. This chef really knows how to use a deep-frier, there's barely a trace of oil remaining on these crispy discs. A thick dipping sauce adds yet another taste and texture. These have been a consistent hit, even with folks that didn't especially like eggplant.

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.
The staff is very friendly, so don't be reluctant to just ask for advice. They've pointed me to lots of good stuff hidden among the largely ordinary menu. I'm sure they do a fine job with the Chinese standards, and I suppose those could be helpful if someone in your party is intimidated by the more adventurous flavors. And actually, one of our favorites on one trip was the seemingly-pedestrian Pork with Garlic Sauce which turned out to be delicious. For better or worse, most of these dishes on the menu are not all that spicy or all that weird, so you might as well try some things that are unique to this place, and this style of cooking. Pork with Garlic Sauce

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.

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