Monday, February 13, 2012

Lucky us

Lucky Strike 
3862 SE Hawthorne Blvd
Portland , OR 97214
(503) 206-8292
( )

Last Friday night, the gang went to Lucky Strike in search of delicious Chinese food. This was my second time, but the first for the rest of the group. The entrance, at the SW corner of SW 39th and Hawthorne, is not obvious; only a menu under glass indicates the presence of the restaurant. One of us was lost outside and had to be rescued. A good thing, too, because the evening turned out well.

My first time, I had been willing to try some more Americanized food on the menu. The less said about that, the better. This time, I was adamant about sticking to the more traditional menu. And we were in luck – our waiter was the young woman from Chengdu , so I got to chat with her in Mandarin a bit. Her accent sounded like someone from the South, but it became quite obvious she was Sichuan ; I had given a scientific lecture at the nuclear lab in
绵阳 (Miányáng), about 60 km NE of Chengdu; she knew the lab and had been there for a high school science fair!

Our dishes arrived promptly and were presented with a little flourish. We started out with
鍋貼 (guōtiē - potstickers). They were freshly made, with wrappers that were not too thick but still substantial, brimming with juicy morsels of pork, green onions, and white cabbage. 
We followed that with another appetizer, a plate of 炸春卷 (zhàchūnjuǎn - fried spring rolls). These were light in texture, crispy, flavorful, served with a flavorful sauce. Just a little on the small side for four people. There are also 紅油餃子 (hóngyóu jiǎozi - red oil dumplings) on the menu, but they will have to wait for another visit.

The main dishes quickly followed. 擔擔麵 (dàndanmiàn - dan dan noodles), The name refers to a type of carrying pole (a dan dan) that was used by walking vendors who sold the dish on the streets. The noodle sauce was quite delicious, with a little aged rice vinegar in it. Everyone in our party enjoyed this dish, even the more cautious among us. I asked our waiter about the vinegar and she said it was not 山西老陈醋 ( shānxī lǎochéncù - Shanxi mature vinegar), but bǎolìngcù. I looked this up later and found the correct name, 保宁醋 (bǎonìngcù - Sichuan special vinegar made from rice, corn, and bran); but I was not mistaken – she had said bǎolìngcù as clear as a bell. I later remembered this curiosity about Sichuanese – they often mispronounce the “L” sound as “N”. I had a couple of Sichuan friends in Beijing; one always complained about her “loisy leighbors”, another asked for liúlǎi whenever she wanted to order 牛奶 (niúnǎi - cow's milk). So our waiter really was Sichuanese!

Our next dish was
四川涼麵 (Sìchuān liángmiàn - Sichuan cold noodle), noodles laced with a spicy sesame sauce. The level of heat was more than a couple of the group could take, but the rest thought it was quite exquisite. The cool creamy texture of the noodle was a great complement to the spice in the sauce.

We entered serious meat territory with our next dish,
土豆烧排骨 (tǔdòu shāo páigǔ - potato rib stew). This was so much like Beijing food I was as overcome by nostalgia as I was by the wonderful flavors of pork ribs, a little oil, and a thick sauce redolent of 五香粉 (wǔxiāngfěn - five spice powder, a mixture of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, 花椒(huājiāo - Sichuan pepper), and ground fennel). We all sucked the pieces of rib off the bone, getting every last morsel of sauce. 

Our next dish satisfied the tastes of those seeking a refuge from the heat - 糖醋脆皮鸡 (tángcù cuìpí jī - sweet and sour crispy skin chicken), which was unlike most sweet and sour chicken one finds in the USA . No cloying oversweet and mucous-like sauce and soggy chicken; this was crunchy chicken, hot, well-coated with sauce but delicately seasoned with a sweet and sour sauce (糖醋 - tángcù - means “sweet vinegar”) that was complex and interesting. The texture of the chicken was delightful; the 脆皮(cuìpí – crispy skin) was crunchy but not hard, and the flesh underneath was tender and moist.

Our last dish was
尖椒肥肠 (jiānjiāo féicháng - spicy pig's large intestine), pieces of stewed meat buried under a mountain of three different kinds of red peppers. This was as hot as anything I had in Beijing , and approached the level of heat I had tasted in Chengdu , but to taste it here in this country made my heart ache for China . My first approach to the dish almost took my breath away. I was the only one of our party to try it, and it was magnificent – it was hot, even overwhelmingly hot, but a complex mix of peppers and spices underneath gave this dish its appeal. I think I ate half of it before reaching the boiling point. 

Eating very spicy food has health benefits – including a reduction in blood pressure (capsaicin is a vaso-dilator). A lesser known effect is the overwhelming sense of well-being one gets from the rush of endorphins produced, similar to runner's high. Twenty minutes after our food arrived, we were all euphoric. By the end of the meal, we were delighted and stuffed; somehow almost two hours had slipped away. We will be going back. There is more to explore. And I was delighted to exchange pleasantries in Mandarin with our waiter.

Excellent food, excellent service, and a pleasant atmosphere.
很好吃 (hěn hǎochī - delicious to eat)!

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