Monday, May 31, 2010

You say Szechuan, I say Sichuan House

*This is the first of two installments on Sichuan House.

Let's talk Australia food. Not Australian food (I'll get to the meat pies later), but rather, the food we consumed on our trip.

Specifically, I need to talk about Sichuan House. Because I believe I started this blog just so that one day I could write about this place.

Just thinking about Sichuan House makes me weepy -- but that's probably just a physical manifestation of the sweat-inducing spice combinations that will forever be locked away in my nostalgic memory bank.

We were introduced to Sichuan House via Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. We went twice during our trip. And I wept for many reasons during our two lunches there. The aforementioned spice combinations. The perfect levels of heat. The flavors. The leftovers I had to leave behind.

We went a bit sky's-the-limit on our first lunch, spending an extra $13 on an appetizer we ordered simply so we could say we'd done it. I submit to you Exhibit A: chilled, sliced pork ears with chili oil.

These were probably exactly what you're imagining. Hard, cold, rubbery cartilage. All the chili oil in the world wasn't going to change their texture or flavor. I had two bites -- the first to test it out, the second to see if it was perhaps an acquired taste. It was not. But the picture -- isn't it spectactular? It's worth at least $13.

(Another benefit of this exercise? Now I know what my dog is eating when I give her pig's ears to snack on.)

Our first actual course was one of the daily lunch specials: Kung Pao Prawns. Now, I'm not a Kung Pao fan; it's never been my thing. But I compromised, gladly, because there we were, finally seated at this place we'd been drooling about in our daydreams, and I figured if I'm ever going to become a Kung Pao convert, this will be the place.

And it was.

Forget that the traditional brown sauce was some of the best I've ever had -- lighter, sweeter and tangier than what you find in the States -- or that the prawns were plump and fresh and perfectly cooked.

No. What did it for me? The fried peanuts. They elevated this dish to new heights; American-Chinese chefs should take a page. (And go ahead and work on that brown sauce while they're at it.)

Our second course of the first day was decided by me before we'd even opened the door to Sichuan House.

A sign upon entering was advertising chef's specials and I wanted to dance a jig when I read the words SPICY CUMIN* PORK RIBS. (You know you'd do the same.)

While the pictures are rather wonderful, they don't begin to capture what this tower of meat represents to me, and I'm not a strong enough writer to do these ribs justice.

I want to go back and have them again, and I don't just mean back to Melbourne but back in time. I want to start over and eat less rice and have a smaller breakfast and make more room for these.

Without being melodramatic, I'll simply say this: in my culinary heaven, these ribs are the pearly gates. They beckon, like the white light people talk about. They make me want to be a better person, just so I can get in.

While the pork was tasty -- smallish but meaty pieces coated in layers upon layers of cumin and untold spices and then fried (@#$&!%?!*) -- this dish, for me, represented perfection in heat. The Nobel Heat Prize, the World Cup of Fiery Flavor. The levels (and there were levels) of heat were intense enough to make my stomach hurt for hours later, strong enough in the moment to cause a bit of sweating of the scalp and running of the nose and yet mild enough to be consumed without actual pain.

In a word, heatopia.

I will seek out this kind of heat for the rest of my life in all foods Asian; I will find it perhaps only a few more times. And probably only when I'm back in Melbourne, settling in once again at Sichuan House on an empty stomach with plans to bag the leftovers.

*I don't even like cumin!

Monday, May 24, 2010


It's raining in Melbourne, which made it easy to stay in today. We're taking a little staycation from our vacation.

We slept til noon, made three-cheese omelets with toast, caught up on Facebook and emails, washed a bit of clothes, and slept some more. I've spent the last hour catching up on food blogs and the Times op/eds.

The house is ours for another couple of hours, and I'd love nothing more than to update AAFB with some of the pics of our travels and eats -- but while there is all sorts of connecting on the internets to be had in Melbourne, the future brother-in-law's* home broadband won't allow me to upload photos to this here site.

So blogging will have to wait a few more days until we return.

I'm off to make a cup of tea and listen to the birds -- it's a completely different kind of chirp on the southern half of the world.


Sunday, May 9, 2010

El Tacorrido

Weekday lunch of al pastor and pork belly tacos from El Tacorrido. Served with chopped onion and cilantro and a squeeze of lime. Shared on the back patio while it's still cool enough to enjoy lunch outdoors in May.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Bachelorette weekend recap

12 girls. 0 drama. Booze, horseback rides, campfires, s'mores and seriously girly conversations. It was a bachelorette weekend the bride-to-be will no doubt cherish for years to come.

As for the food? Our dude ranch cost included three square meals a day. Forgettable, mediocre meals that took us all back to summer camp. (Most of us to Jewish summer camp.)

The best thing I had all weekend was this funnel cake from the local 'market' we visited when a few of us opted out of an afternoon horseback ride and headed into town to explore and stock up on beer and bloody mary mix. (I didn't even get through 1/3 of that funnel cake!)

I deliberately left my phone back at the cabin so I didn't capture our dude ranch meals as I'd hoped. (I opted for a mostly cell-phone free weekend.) Here's the dude food menu, to the best of my recollection:

Friday night - a gray-colored Salisbury 'steak', mashed potatoes and green beans. And some seriously fluffly rolls. There were brownies for dessert but we all passed on them in anticipation of s'mores at the campfire after sunset.

Saturday morning - eggs clearly made from powder and topped with hardly sauteed onions, mushrooms and green peppers, bacon (well done but never crispy enough for me!) and homemade biscuits (fantastic), fresh squeezed grapefruit juice and very weak coffee.

Saturday lunch - blanched (dry) rosemary chicken, overspiced potatoes, green beans, homemade green salsa (not half bad), tortilla chips and those fluffy rolls. More brownies.

Saturday night - barbecue! - surprisingly moist/fatty brisket, sausage, BBQ chicken, beans, potato salad, coleslaw and a dessert consisting of yellow cake topped with canned cherries.

Sunday morning - I slept through breakfast but heard there were breakfast tacos. Likely made with powdered eggs. Sleeping was an easy call. I had coffee and a grilled cheese-add-tomatoes from DQ on the way out of town for $2.59. Totally worth it.

Here are some other random pics from the weekend in the Hill Country, including my first-ever pair of cowboy boots!