Chung King Garden
Recommended by a coworker who also loves Sichuan, but she'd never heard of Szechuan Tasty House (!)
Standouts were kou shui ji, tiger-skin peppers, and, although I didn't personally have it, eel and tripe.
"Kou shui ji" (literally, "mouth water chicken") came highly recommended by my coworker and is something like "cold chicken in spicy sauce" on the menu. Excellent amount of spicy heat here (both ma and la), contrasted by the temperature. I think this would be a great summer dish.
Tiger-skin peppers are a bit salty, and deceptively not spicy at first. Hits you about 10 seconds afterward. Soft, warming, and addictive. One of my brothers says these are superior to Tasty House's rendition, which he says tastes metallic.
The eel and tripe is a soupy dish with bits of coagulated blood, and those who had it assured me that it was excellent.
The ma po dou fu is disappointing. It just isn't very spicy. Bo-ring! Didn't help that it was served only slightly warm, temperature-wise. I think Tasty House's is much better, although the best I've ever had in Philly is Four River's circa five years ago. Then again, Tasty House didn't exist at the time.
Lots more to explore on the menu... stay tuned.
915 Arch St, www.ckgarden.com
I keep meaning to post my ma po tofu thunderdome report having tried it at all three, thus far Szechuan Tasty House wins, but I saw it at a few other places that I thought I should try in the interest of being thorough. though i do like that the pork in chung king's version is bigger pieces of an almost crumbled sausage sort. good stuff.
re: Bride of the Juggler
Dishes that I can remember with no *visible* meat are:
- tiger-skin peppers at Chung King
- the "fish-flavor eggplant" at Tasty House (this might be something like "eggplant with garlic" on the menu). Fish-flavor (yu xiang) refers to the garlic/ginger/scallion/etc., not to any actual fish. CKG also has this, as "eggplant with ginger"; haven't tried it there yet. I love this dish at any good restaurant, but I'm a sucker for eggplant.
- sauteed string beans at Tasty House, salty and cooked til softly limp
- "dou miao" at Tasty House. it means "pea shoots" but I don't know what they call it on the menu. I think they go a tad too strong on the rice wine, or possibly don't reduce it enough. It's a nice dish though. Good foil to the spicier selections.
I would also recommend asking the Tasty House waitresses for vegetarian dishes. In my experience they have always been helpful. From my one experience at Chung King, I wouldn't peg the staff there as remotely helpful. My dad asked in Chinese what was good, and the waitress just shrugged; when he paused before ordering, she disappeared.
The Bride and I had a delicious lunch at Chung King today. I had the Sichuan style duck tongues, the Bride had the Tiger-skin peppers.
To ensure that I got a reasonable authenticness I said to the waitperson "I can eat very spicy". The dish did not disappoint, with 4, 5, or even 6 different kinds of peppers on it, including some that were char-grilled with a crunchy skin to it. It was extremely flavorful and the numbing sichuan peppercorns helped with the heat. I had never had duck tongue before and wasn't expecting them to have a piece of bone in each one, making it a little difficult to eat but no less delicious.
The Bride's peppers were good with a nice sauce. She said they were very spicy but after eating my duck tongue dish for a few minutes I couldn't taste any particular hotness in the tiger-skin peppers!
One funny note -- the check came and my dish was actually marked "spicy" on the printout. Was mine extra-spicy even by authentic standards? Or secretly marked "non-Chinese but ordering it spicy anyway"? I'll never know.