I recently visited "Spiced, Truly Chinese Cuisine," a Chinese restaurant in Bellevue where I finally got a taste of ma la, the spicy, numbing sauce made from the Sichuanese peppercorn. My dining companion and I arrived just before 8pm, and the mid-sized restaurant was packed to the gills with Chinese people eating big bowls and plates mounded with spicy looking delights. The air in the restaurant was so thick with chilis that I could feel it in my lungs.
We started with Dan Dan Sichuan noodles, which I am sad to say came with a big pile of ground beef on top (I didn't bother taking a picture of these, but admit that I brought them home, washed them in a colander then ate them the next day).
Next we had green beans, which were oily and blistered and heavily flavored with garlic, fried green onion and small briny bits of seaweed.
The vegetarian dishes were somewhat limited, but there was both a tofu hot pot and a tofu dry pot. We ordered the tofu dry pot, and it was a huge bowl atop a butane burner overflowing with fried tofu, dried roasted chili peppers, sliced jalapenos, Chinese celery, sprouts, sliced ginger and a spicy (duh) oily red sauce full of the bizaare numbing, tingling, fizzy spice of the Sichuanese peppercorn.
I wish I'd taken a picture of the stuff lower in the bowl where the bulk of the action was.
The food was all gratuitously oily, but that was to be expected. It was also delicious and deeply flavored. The spice level was enough that my dining companion sweated his hair into a damp clump on his glistening forehead, but (perhaps it was the effect of the numbing Sichuanese peppercorn?) nothing ever felt unbearably spicy to the mouth.
The quantities of food were staggering. We could have easily stuffed another two people with our order. If you're looking for a delicious wacky taste of the numbing spice, look no further!