After a trying week, we drove in the rain up to Portland for the weekend. I’m here to learn everything I can about Portland restaurants and food trends at the Northwest Food & Wine Festival, and I’ll be posting about that tomorrow. But for now, let me just say that Lucky Strike Sichuan restaurant, a hole-in-the-wall on the southeastern outskirts of town in the so-called Felony Flats, serves the spiciest food I’ve had in years. I think they use more peppers in their “hot pepper chicken bath” dish than all of Eugene uses in a year. Is this a bad thing? Not really. But I can’t do spicy as I used to do it…spicily.
And Retrogrouch offered this ancient Chinese secret: eating leftover ma po tofu in the middle of the night is never a good idea.
Nevertheless, the Lucky Strike folks know how to cook, and the food tastes quite good. Sauces are their strength. The seafood pancake had a sesame-tinged soy dip, made slightly sweet and topped with scallions, red chilis, and garlic, and the dumplings had a chili oil with much more garlic, chiles, and ginger. The ma po tofu had a numbing sauce of Sichuan peppers, chilis, and prickly ash (sansho pepper). Delicious.
The show-stopper (or gimmick, as Retrogrouch put it) is the hot pepper chicken bath — nuggets of fried chicken thighs under a thousand whole red chili peppers. The peppers do not heat up the dish as much as you might expect. They flavor the cooking oil in a relatively quiet way, providing the nice red, toasty flavor of the chiles without the burn. I don’t mean the dish is bland by any means, but the ma po tofu was much, much spicier. I posted about Mandarin House’s version of the dish on my short trip to PDX when I was in the final throes of my dissertation (shudder). You can see from the image I posted that the dish can — and in my opinion, should — be more chicken-heavy, but it’s always bathed in hot peppers.
If you’re in PDX and you’re up for a drive out SE Powell Street, check ‘em out. Call first, though. The review sites (such as the one linked above) say that they have eccentric operating hours (some say closed M and Tu, some say they close early arbitrarily, others say sometimes they are not open on Su). We arrived late, but still had a 45-minute wait, they claimed. We were seated a bit earlier, but it was a little odd that they wanted to call us when our table was ready (as in, please leave and we will phone you). It’s a tiny place, slightly more grungy than hip, but worth the experience.