A modest setting and interior, yes. Fickle service, that too. Soon, you’ll barely notice. The pleasantly numbing huajiao—the keenly aromatic, citrusy peppercorn indigenous to China—is the star of this family run bistro. Combined with the heat of toasted red chile and the pungency of garlic, huajiao traverses the “Authentic Sichuan specialties menu” to deliver the seductive umami of mala (ma = numbing; la = spicy).It’s not a one-dimensional brow-mopping blowout, but a mesmerizing parade of dishes that vibrate with flavor, aroma, and texture. For the full yin/yang experience, begin with cold dishes of beef and tripe, mouth-watering chicken, or spinach with ginger sauce. Build the narcotic rhythm with fatty slices of twice-cooked Chinese bacon with leeks, the addictive, smoky dry-fried green beans freckled with pickled mustard green, or delicate heads of emerald baby bok choy laced in garlic. Finish with tender tea-smoked duck, volcanic water-boiled fish, or whole crispy tilapia served dry pot style (when available), and prepare to dissolve into a blissful delirium.
7888 Mason-Montgomery Rd., Mason, (513) 770-3123, sichuanbistro.com
Originally published in the March 2012 issue.