7. Water-Boiled Fish at Chung King.
There are many excellent reasons to head down San Gabriel Blvd., although maybe not if you're former U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson. Probably the best reason of all is to eat at Chung King, the much-lauded Sichuan restaurant that looks more like a tiny laundromat than it does the best Sichuan restaurant in America, at least according to a recent somewhat emotional — who knew “tonguegasm” was a word — story in The New York Times.
You may or may not agree with that accolade, but I'm certainly not arguing against it, having last year eaten at Chung King roughly eighteen times over a 6-week period, or the duration of a severe cold when the only thing that tasted good, or really tasted at all, was the Sichuan peppercorn and chile-laced cuisine dosed out at this particular restaurant.
Of all the many glorious things on the menu, possibly the best is the bowl of steady fire that comes when you order the water-boiled fish. I've asked about the particulars — what kind of fish, how is it prepared — but invariably get the same response of a shrug and a smile. Which is probably the best answer anyway, since you want to eat this as soon as possible, not deconstruct it; the menu is not written by Michel Foucault, for which we are grateful. (One wonders what he'd have thought of “tonguegasm.”)
And enjoy it you will, with or without The New York Times Magazine, with or without a severe headcold. The bowl will come to you looking midsize, at least until you try eating it all, at which point it will seem happily bottomless. The bright oily broth is fired with whole dried chiles and an ungodly amount of Sichuan peppercorns; the pieces of white fish are tender and utterly moist. Sprinkled over the top of the dish you'll find an enormous amount of chopped garlic and a goodly dose of fresh cilantro. Order a bowl of rice and ladle the contents of the bowl over spoonfuls of it, then sit back and wait for the heat to accumulate.
It's a pleasantly numbing floral heat rather than the incendiary fire of other quadrants of the Scoville scale, so you should be able to make it to the bottom of the bowl without too much trouble. Order another pot of tea. Read your paper.
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