(Little Pepper has moved.)
Once people find out about my food obsession, very often the first question is, "What is your favorite restaurant?" For someone who loves as wide a variety of food as I do, there is rarely a simple answer to this. But if one applies as sole criterion the number of meals eaten there, there is an unequivocal favorite: Little Pepper, in Flushing, Queens.
So often, I find myself making the trek out to Flushing alone. But luckily, three of my friends were free (and hungry) this evening and felt like braving the subway trip. As usual, we were almost the only non-Chinese in place, which was probably a good thing. Put four opera and musician types together for a meal, and... well, let's just say it's fortunate there was no possibility of offending fellow diners with our salty--and at times, downright graphic--animated conversation!
This also meant we could try a much wider selection of dishes than I am normally able to by myself, and we ordered up a top-notch feast. Noodles with Minced Beef in Hot Sauce (a first cousin of dan dan noodles) and Sliced Beef Tendon in Spicy Sauce (cold dish) were the starters--both exemplary, as usual. Beef tendon has become one of my favorite appetizers. It's not nearly as strange as it sounds... it has an almost springy texture, a bit like firm, thinly-sliced pastrami trimmings, and the fiery dressing is the perfect foil.
The table favorite was the Lamb with Hot & Spicy Sauce with Cumin. This one of Little Pepper's most famous dishes, and deservedly so. Lamb is sliced and marinated, then sealed up in a foil pouch with onions and red pepper and scallions--and, of course, cumin--and baked. (I'm told this dish is an homage to the way lamb is prepared in neighboring Shaanxi province... my experience at the Xi'an stand at the Golden Shopping Mall certainly bears this out.) We also got my personal favorite dish, fresh whole fish with spicy minced pork. As I understand it, this is not technically a traditional Sichuan dish, but something the chef came up with himself based on traditional elements. Well, this guy's a f@#$ing genius, because it is superb... every bit as delicious as it sounds. (The exact same thing is true for my other favorite cold appetizer here, the "Chicken in Spicy Sauce". The name ain't much to go on, I realize, but just trust me and get it if you go.)
Shredded Potato with Pickled Cabbage--vinegary and delicious--and a couple of plates of fried rice rounded out the repast. The fried rice with scallion sauce complements the lamb with cumin especially nicely, to my mind
In the course of my dozens of visits here, I have tried most of the menu, and there is hardly an item on it that is less than first rate. They also do traditional Sichuan hot pot here, but be forewarned: the menu for that is in Chinese only.
My friends unanimously agreed: well worth the trip.
133-43 Roosevelt Ave., Flushing 11354
(7 train to Main St.-Flushing, then a block and half west)