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Jan 19, 2009 05:53 PM

Little Pepper (Xiao La Jiao) report - very good

So two sundays ago, i had dinner with 7 other people at Little Pepper, its been quite a long time since i've been there, so i was looking forward to eating there again. It's a pretty well known place, so i don't need to get into too many details about it. It's in a basement and is a room with white walls, some mirrors and really no decor to speak of. The lady who was the manager was very nice although if you don't speak chinese i can imagine the place could be fairly english challenged, but the menu is in english so you should be fine.

Here's what we ordered:
- water cooked fish (shui zhu yu pian): this is a pretty well known sichuan dish, its basically pieces of white fish (wasn't sure exactly what type it was) with bean sprouts, tons of dry chilis, some scallions and other vegetables and alot of oil. It comes out in a big iron pot type of thing. This was excellent and tasted very authentic (pretty close to what ive had in sichuan). The pieces of fish were very tender, it wasn't too oily, you could really taste the sichuan pepper corns (you can really feel the spice and the numbing feeling). I think this was the consensus favorite. Also, it was very spicy.
- twice cooked pork (hui guo rou): this was thinly sliced pork (think bacon) that is i believe boiled first and then sauteed in a wok. It's cooked with lots of scallions and I believe cabbage. this was delicious, but they kind of skimped on the pork (there wasn't enough of it). I've had better versions, but this was pretty decent
- crab: this was a special (its more expensive i want to say like $30), i dont remember what it was called in english or chinese, but it was excellent (my second favorite dish of the night). It came out in a big iron pot with tons of vegetables (potatoes, lotus roots, scallions and some of others) and also shrimp (they didn't have enough crab, so they told us they had to add shrimp). Everything was throughly covered in cumin and sichuan pepper corns (it's more of a dry dish as opposed to a saucy dish) and was delicious. The crab had great flavor, the flavor of the peppers and cumin really went well with the crab meat and everything just came together very well.
- sauteed peashoots (dou miao): very typical, just dou miao (similar to say spinach) sauteed in oil and garlic, but an excellent rendition, not too oily with great garlic and wok flavor...everyone thought this was excellent
- sichuan cold noodles (sichuan liang mian): this was excellent as well, its simply cold noodles in a sort of soy / peanuty sauce...there was alot of "ma" to this dish (you could taste the numbing), the sauce has sort of a peanuty and soy sauce flavor, but a little tangy. Everyone liked this as well
- wontons in red oil (hong you chao shou): i didnt love these, i thought the won tons themselves were just so so, the skin was too mushy, the sauce was pretty good (red oil and a soy type sauce), but overall just thought it was so so (spicy and tasty or grand sichuan st marks have better versions)
- mapo tofu (ma po dou fu): very good rendition, great flavor, not too oily, just a very well done ma po dou fu. Again you could really taste the "ma" (numbing) and the "la" (spiciness) in this dish. highly recommend
rabbit: this was kind of weird b/c we ordered this, but when I looked at it, I was like this really looks like duck, but then it was sort of gamey, so i figured it was rabbit, but then at the end of the meal the lady asked us how the duck was, so i was throughly confused (we never figured it out and i was too full at that point to really care anymore). Anyhow, besides that it was very good assuming it was rabbit, it was extremely tender and while it was slightly gamey, it wasn't the overly gamey taste that can gross you out. It reminded of the preparation of roast duck at a chiu chow place where its served not that hot, but has a really great flavor where you can really taste the meat. I'd definitely order this again.

Overall, I enjoyed it pretty throughly. The caveat was that I didn't realize a couple of my friends have a fairly weak tolerance to real spicy food and they do make their food pretty authentic (i.e. its very spicy for american tastes), she asked us if we can handle spicy and we said yes, it wasn't a problem for me, but even i was sweating at times. I will say that this is probably the most authentic tasting sichuan meal I've had in NY (tastes fairly close to the real deal)

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  1. Thanks for the thorough report, Lau! I will be heading here this week so it is most helpful. I've never tried the famous rabbit but now I am not sure if I should l ask for it! Maybe rabbit is harder to find than duck here in NYC.

    1. I've had rabbit at sichuan places in china. It usually has foil where the feet would be and looks like a long meatier chicken wing, if you've ever stretched out a chicken wing and skewered it when cooking you'll know what I mean. Also, I'd think if it were duck it'd have skin on. Rabbit like this is one of my fav sichuan dishes.

      I don't know the name but did they have the little fried cup shaped buns that come with diced beef? It's very much like a taco. I've never had it in the US and never know the actual names of dishes in chinese.

      1. Lau,
        Thanks, as always, for the superb, detailed and thoughtful review. You're making me want to go back to LP for a return visit. By the way, if you haven't tried the rabbit stew dish at the Roosevelt Food Court's Sichuan style, by all means, give it a go. Although easily one of the oiliest Sichuan dishes I've ever eaten - even by authentic Sichuan standards - it was hot, well-flavored, delicious.

        If you're interested in participating in yet more group meals, shoot me an e-mail (email address is on my Chow page).

        Happy dining.

        10 Replies
        1. re: Polecat

          Would it be possible to have a meeting of the groups someday?

          1. re: erica

            Great idea, Erica. As per post above, feel free to contact me (see CHOW page for email)

            1. re: Polecat

              Great, P--I will do that soon!

              Ate at LP again last night. Nothing new to report as I had most of the same dishes I had when I wrote my original report. Whole fish dish with minced pork was a standout.

              But after having tried the cumin lamb dish at ex-Waterfront and having it here again at LP, I have to say that I prefer the dish at ex-Waterfront; they do it crispier.

              Pork dumplings in red oil were terrific! I will absolutely order these again.

              Cold spicy noodles were a standout, as was the dried bean curd with celery appetizer. We could not concentrate on spice-heavy dishes this time because there were a couple of spice-shunners at the table..

              I took home an order of the bamboo shoots with shredded pork and expect to fully enjoy tonight.

              There is now an English-speaking waiter at LP so I would encourage anyone who was timid due to language issues to head for the string of red satin peppers!..

              1. re: erica

                Last week I ordered from the back of the menu which lists dishes for three or more people. I had the pepper crab which the chef, with the waiter as translator, said was differently seasoned than the pepper crab listed inside the menu. The one I had at $29.00 was spectacular, a wonder. Its small mountain of dry cooked crabs, lotus root and what I took to be crinkle cut potatoes. The sweetness of the crab played well with the hot spices. Some work is need to get at the meat.

                1. re: wew

                  thats the one i ordered...its excellent

                  1. re: Lau

                    Must be. I was thrown by cumin note in your description and no mention of crinkle cutting of the potatoes. The eggplant with hot pepper I had with the crabs was a good foil, light seasoning and earthy taste.

                    1. re: wew

                      yeah they cut the potatoes like that...i forgot about that

              2. re: Polecat

                Same for me. Although the last dinner several of us had there (a month or so ago... no Polecat, prunefeet or Dave Cook that time; I wonder if that had anything to do with it :-) was not up to past dinners and no where near S&T, Wu Laing Ye or the Bensenhurst place, I'd go back in a minute to meet the rest of you. And I'm sure that several other CH regular posters could be rounded up as well.

                1. re: Steve R

                  i've been going to LP for years, and always loved it.

                  but, i wonder, has there been a slight drop in quality over the last few months? my last few visits have been a lot less impressive that they used to be. anybody else notice this?

                  1. re: joekarten

                    Absolutely. And more than slight if you ask me and several others. The last time, only 3-4 weeks ago, both of the owners were right there, friendly as ever, but the food was (very) sub-par. And the time before, somewhat better than this one, but not as great as it was previously. Not just one of the 10-12 or so dishes that the 8 of us had, but just about all of them. Many of us eat Szech. food very regularly & had been to the Grand Szech on 38th St only a week earlier and now Wu Liang Ye this past week, so the comparison was easy. It was nowhere as good as either of them, or recent visits to Spicy & Tasty or the Bay Ridge place. I hope this is temporary. Someone said that they're moving and this may be a reason.... I dont know.

          2. I went with two other people a couple of months ago and was pretty impressed with everything but the wontons. I agree with you about them.

            I found the spiciness fine to eat, but my stomach later rebelled against the spiciness and oil, and I'm usually totally gung-ho about hot pepper. The place is SERIOUSLY spicy and oily!

            If what Steve R and joekarten say is true, it's not surprising that after a very good, tasty meal at Little Pepper, I still preferred Spicy & Tasty, which I've been to dozens of times over the last x-number of years (since a couple of months before the NY Times $25-and-under review).

            1 Reply
            1. re: Pan

              yeah its very spicy...its also very authentic, its the closest that ive had to the actual food that ive eaten in sichuan (chengdu to be exact).

              its an excellent sichuan restaurant in my opinion. although that said I think S&T is just as good

            2. Stopped by there last week for a quick lunch of Sichuan cold noodles and cucumber in mashed garlic, so simple and so delicious.