Hours: Lunch, dinner: seven days
Sichuan restaurant specializing in the subregional cuisine of Zizong.
Double Li, alas, has closed, but as consolation Chinatown has gained some Sichuanese options, among them Lao Ma La and Ma Gong La Po. Now there's Yan Bang Cai, a variant serving the food of Zigong, Sichuan's third-largest city and an exemplar of the subregional cuisine known as xiaohebang, characterized by molten boiled meat stews and a taste profile described variously as spicy, heavy, rich, and salty. Yan Bang Cai's chef hails from Zigong, and like most Chinatown cooks his repertoire is vast. But it's easy to find the regional representations on his menu—just look for dishes tagged with the monikers "Salt Miner's," Salt Merchant's," or "Zigong style." Most representative are the boiled or "poached" dishes, shreds of lamb, beef, fish, or pork submerged in violently red, oily brews along with vegetables such as cabbage and bean sprouts, dried red chiles, and Sichuan peppercorns. They don't just look delicious, they look dangerous. Zigong-style spicy fish, for example, is loaded with whole dried red chiles and Sichuan peppercorns—and delivers the numbing, face-melting, ma la properties that in proper doses can catalyze out-of-body experiences. There are still more terrific, assertively flavored dishes to be discovered, such as the Salt Miner's eggplant, thick batons of lightly fried aubergines, which always seems to end up being the best thing on the table. It would take weeks of dedicated eating to thoroughly explore the potential of this menu, but while you may encounter some false starts, the food of the salt mines deserves some attention. Read the full review >>
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