The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Szechuan To Go

June 13th, 2009 · No Comments · Posted in dinner, Ethnic

Ma-La-style pork belly

Ma La-style pork belly

It’s no secret that the best ethnic food around the District of Columbia is in the suburbs. For the most part, that’s where the ethnic populations live and where commercial rents are cheapest. It’s much easier to operate a casual Vietnamese pho house in a suburban strip mall than in luxury digs downtown. What we urbanites get stuck with are all the trendy happy hour joints and white linen restaurants with nosebleed price tags.

In recent years, we’ve watched our small Chinatown slowly disappear, migrating to the burbs as development closed in from all sides. That somewhat seedy, four-block area on the cusp of downtown used to be a place where we could cruise seemingly endless possibilities for dinner–Hunan, Cantonese, Szechuan. What’s left–the ghost of Chinatown–is now marked by a gilded Oriental gate flanked by a Texas rib joint and Bed, Bath & Beyond.

So where to go for decent Chinese? Well, we could drive nearly an hour to Joe’s Noodle house in suburban Rockville, Maryland. Out of sheer desperation, we have made the trip and weren’t disappointed. But most days we’d sooner plunge a chopstick in our eye than endure traffic on Rockville Pike.

Fortunately we now have a reasonable substitute in the Great Wall restaurant just a few blocks away on resurgent 14th Street. Well, it’s no Joe’s Noodle House. But they do make decent Szechuan the way we like it: plenty of hot chilies and Szechuan peppercorns. They call it Ma La. And it’s geting this nondescript little storefront some attention after years of anonymity, proof that it is possible to turn a restaurant around–even ubiquitous Chinese takeout–with a little imagination and creativity.

Our favorite dish is pictured above–Ma La pork belly. As you might suppose, it’s really uncured bacon in disguise, with plenty of unctuous fat shimmering in the Szechuan sauce. We order it perhaps too often–and without the usual white rice, styrofoan plates, plastic utensils. They are only too happy to oblige. And they deliver.

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