Friday, January 11, 2008

Ba Ren (part I)

For some reason, I was in the mood for spicy food. Not just the standard spicy food that I knew how to make (via loads of black pepper, cayenne pepper, etc.), but stuff with actual peppers (that I am too cheap to buy and work with) that has a really pungent (in a good sense) flavor. Anyway, I figured I should probably go to Ba Ren at some point to get some food pics and do my thing. After all, it is well-known as one of the best places for authentic Chinese in the SD area. Luckily for me, they serve pretty authentic (read: numb-inducing spicy) Sichuan cuisine. So, if you haven't been scared away yet, let's proceed.

Ba Ren offers a very nice selection of cold appetizers that you can get to start your meal. You can choose between 2-n different dishes, and they give you quite a large portion on a small plate. I couldn't find a third dish I really wanted, so I settled for these two: a marinated seaweed mixture, and a spicy beef (?) tendon mix. (Note that there is actual lean meat in addition to tendons, which is always great.) For some reason, I love seaweed prepared in this fashion: I guess I must have a lot of love for the vinegary-flavors...

Anyway, as expected, it was excellent, although it is somewhat different from the Japanese preparations where they use a couple different seaweeds and seaweed-based products to give some variety to the textures. The spicy tendons were also great, not quite as numb-inducing as I am used to, but still very flavorful.

The other dish I ordered 口水雞, which my mom translated into "Saliva Chicken", using a 2-1 character split for translation. The rationale she came up with is that it is supposed to induce saliva on the part of the consumer. I find it interesting that in this case, a 1-1-1 character split makes for a more accurate and appealing translation of "Mouth Water[ing] Chicken", only slightly more poetic than what Ba Ren uses: "Cold Chicken w/ Spicy Sauce". Personally I think the latter is better off as a description, but such things are difficult when the menu has 500+ items (supposedly; I didn't keep track when I went).

If this dish looks scarily red, well, it's actually not that bad. Maybe? My good friend M, would probably die if he entered the same room as this evil-looking dish. (He has no tolerance for spicy heat whatsoever, unable to take a twice-diluted Orochan level 6. I, on the other hand, consider Orochan's level 3 to be a nice mix of heat and flavor, with level 2 starting to get overbearing.) Anyway, the chicken is very nice and tender, and the flavors are actually quite complex. That is not standard chili oil floating at the top: it had just the right flavor that I thought it would make some very nice cold noodles. (And later that week, I did exactly that using the roughly half I had left over, making quite a few servings of nice spicy soba noodles.)

Yes, I had half the dish left over. The other half resulted in me consuming all the rice they gave me. And I didn't just get the single-size serving of rice but one of those large bowls that normally suffices for a party of 3 or 4. Yes, this dish is quite spicy.

The other two dishes I ordered for takeout (I think it's a $25 min credit card order): Mapo Tofu and Dry Cooked Lamb will be covered in part 2.

Ba Ren
4957 Diane Ave
San Diego, CA 92117

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