As temperatures continue to plummet and the winter cold and flu season settles in, our cravings for fiery vittles go through the roof. The recent spate of Szechuan cuisine-based restaurant openings in the Twin Cities area inspired us to do a little research on the best gut-warming, face-flushing, lip-numbing, immune system-boosting Szechuan chicken dish out there. We pitted the chicken with double chili pepper at Szechuan Spice (in Uptown) against the chung king spicy chicken at Szechuan (in Roseville). Read on to see which dish came out on top.
Szechuan Spice Folks, these guys aren't kidding around. They put "spice" in their name for a reason. The chicken with double chili pepper ($13.95) is listed in the "chef recommended" portion of the menu, with not one but two mini peppers next to it to warn off the faint of heart. The strips of chicken are slightly crisp on the outside and pleasingly tender inside; the chili sauce is bright, violent, and seductive; the peppers themselves, particularly the long green chili peppers with seeds intact, will make you wish each table came equipped with its own water spigot. Just when your eyes are popping like a cartoon character's, you're wondering at that odd sensation when the ice water hits your numb tongue, and you think you couldn't possibly take another bite, you find your fork inching back toward the plate for more delicious agony.
Szechuan The chung king spicy chicken ($10.95) at Szechuan also boasts a two-pepper decal on the menu, but here the server allowed us to specify a heat level. We asked for medium, which left the dish squarely in the fiery range without tipping it into the realm of wide-eyed panting. The chung king spicy chicken scored points for its generous use of immune system-boosting super ingredients garlic and ginger, but we couldn't get past the texture of the chicken itself. It was overly crispy, borderline rubbery, and more than one bite yielded unfortunate crunchy surprises. When the main ingredient is suspect, it's difficult to enjoy the dish, no matter how fragrant and perfectly spiced the sauce may be.
The winner: When the craving for a hurts-so-good meal of meat and capsaicin strikes, hie thee to Szechuan Spice. The Uptown price tag is worth it. Just don't forget your Camelbak.