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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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