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Feb 26, 2007 09:52 PM

Great Wall Szechuan House, 1527 14th Street

Have seen relatively little comment on this place. Maybe I am missing it. It is located just north of the Studio Theater. Used to have plexiglass barrier, but now has open counter. Still pretty basic. Known for having a Chef trained in China in authentic Szechuan. Written up in City Paper for having close to honest to God authentic heat level for Szechuan if you ask for the right stuff. Ask for "ma la" specialties.

Sounds about right to me, although items have not been consistently so, so hot as to be unbearable. I think the ma la stuff has been pretty consistently excellent. The Ma Pow tofu with ground pork is amazing. Not only hot, but very earthy. Soft white cool tofu in a bath of fire and flavor. All of the good things any complex spicy food from any cuisine has. Heat in the front of the mouth, strong middle flavor, and burn that gets more intense, not less after you swallow a bit. I crave the stuff. Excellent deal, too. Seems unique to me for anything around DC that I have ever had. Not your dumbed down beginners Szechuan. The chicken ma la is similar, but with different flavors and not quite so far of the heat chart. Other ma la items even less hot, still pretty earthy and interesting. The double-cooked pork, for instance, not all that spicy at all, but fantastically flavorful fatty chucks of pork in a wonderful stir fry. Not your parents' Chinese food.

Anyone else have any thoughts on this place, or am I the only one driving up 14th Street a couple of time a week because I am completely addicted?

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  1. Never been there, but there's also a City Buffet option nearby in Thomas Circle.

    1. I went for the first time this weekend and can't wait to go again. Joe's Noodle House in Rockville also prepares dishes with that tongue-numbing peppercorn.

      1. As a former long-time resident of Sichuan, Great Wall is the closest thing to real Sichuan food that is available in DC. As them for their recommendations and you won't be disappointed. The Fuqi Feipian (spicy tripe & kidneys) is outstanding as is the hotpot and the mapo doufu. Try not to order the generic american chinese dishes and you're in for a great meal.

        2 Replies
        1. re: guojie

          Thanks for the tips. I am truly on a tripe kick, and spicey tripe and kidneys sounds great. Glad to know this stuff really is authentic. I love it. My wife hates it. It is not only the spiciness, but the earthiness, and the other intense flavors and aromas, including sort of a floral--to me--aroma, that is often present. Very complex and deep flavors.

          1. re: guojie

            i spoke to the lady at the cash register and she said fuqi feipian is an dish that must be ordered ahead and for a group, not for one or two people.

            i tried the double cooked pork, non-ma la, this time. nothing special. i'll stick to ma la at this place.

          2. I've never actually been there, but it's my favorite Chinese delivery - it has replaced Mei Wah in that department. The Peking Duck is the best I've had in DC, the ma-la Szechuan pork is a guilty pleasure, the ma-la chicken is really good (and defininitely not in that dumbed-down beginners' Szechuan kind of way), and my friend who only EVER orders Kung Pao Chicken swears by it - so it's not just good for authentic Szechuan, but also for top-notch tourist Chinese. Love it!

            1. now that's a chow find. i'm looking forward to trying it and reporting back.

              5 Replies
              1. re: Minger

                I didn't find spicy tripe and kidney on the menu and when I asked the girl for "intestines" (in Mandarin) she said they didn't offer that. Was this a time limited or special item? I'll try asking for "fuqi feipian" next time.

                The ma-la chicken was excellent and spicy as OP well-described. I found the degree of heat much more tolerable and flavorful than that at TemptAsian, which tends to drown everything in ma-la sauce. The chicken here is sliced, stir fried and presented on a bed of bean sprouts and pool of sauce. The separation gives you the option of increasing the heat to your taste. Without dipping into the sauce and just sampling the sprouts, my mouth was singing with ma-la.

                Btw, the restaurant is two storefronts south of that new chocolate cafe ACK* so you can waltz over for firefighting dessert to soothe tongue.

                Ma-la is like licorice: most people will either love it or hate it. I'm kinda in between, I like the novelty of the sensation but it tastes a bit too much like "burnt" to me to have too often. My mouth was definitely singing tonight, in a way it rarely does. Everyone should try a good ma-la dish at least once.

                (Ma-la is a strong note, which I think needs some complementation or shaping by perhaps black bean or peanuts. Maybe this happens in the noodle dishes?)

                I have a feeling there is much more to signature Sichuan cuisine than ma-la but maybe that's the best we can here in DC. What are the non-ma-la dishes worth trying, besides double cooked pork?

                And for the fun of it, I ordered the hot and sour soup. Most hot and sour soups are actually pretty good if not for the corn starch and msg. The hot and sour soup here is very thin in ingredients and not remarkable at all.

                The rice here is really bad. It seems to have sat in the rice cooker for two longer and possible has been through at least once heating or cooling cycle. Rice should at worst be neutral. Bad rice, like bad service, just distracts from the best of the meal.

                Lastly, Great Wall is two storefronts south of the new chocolate cafe ACK* so you can waltz over for some firefighting dessert after dining.

                1. re: Minger

                  Just to clarify, are you asking for suggestions of non-ma-la dishes to try in general, or ones that Great Wall in particular does well? The double-cooked pork is the only non-ma-la dish I've had there (it was pretty good, although I was also underwhelmed by the rice--I didn't think it was bad per se, but it was very meh), but tea duck is a good non-ma-la dish to try at good Sichuan places.

                  It's interesting that you mention peanuts complementing ma-la; some Sichuan places also do a non-ma-la version of gong bao/kung pao without peanuts. (IIRC that's actually the "original" version from one of the provinces near Sichuan.)

                  1. re: sweth

                    ...the ones that Great Wall does well.

                    btw, I was flying solo and ate a whole plate of ma-la chicken. with friends and a variety of dishes, and perhaps beer, the ma-la wouldn't be so dominating.

                    i haven't had gong bao in a long time. i've only known it with peanuts :-)

                    1. re: Minger

                      There's nothing wrong with eating a whole plate of ma-la chicken. :-)

                      Speaking of peanuts in gong bao: I stopped by TA yesterday, and since I hadn't tried the Sichuan-style gong bao there since Peter Chang left, I ordered that--and what I got was the non-ma-la peanut-free dish. It was fine, but not at all what my mouth was expecting.

                      I used to be a TemptAsian fan, but the lack of consistency in terms of spiciness plus what seems like a revolving door in the kitchen is making me less of an enthusiast.

                  2. re: Minger

                    In Mandarin, it's pronounced foo-chi fei-pien. Food-chi stands for husband and wife, that might ring a bell. This dish is also available at Hong Kong Palace, Sichuan Village, China Star, and Peking Village (all in Nova).