One of the first serious food trips I did when I was a freshman was trekking out to Flushing. I think I went by myself, and I had various different treats from Flushing Mall off of College Point Blvd., though I’ve since returned to try everything from a ginormous kimchi bun to steamed intestines. Clearly my taste in Asian food isn’t very discriminating and, fortunately, the fact that seemingly every cuisine is represented in the area around the Main St. stop on the 7 train makes me a happy camper.
In all of my recent trips, however, I tend to gravitate towards dumplings and Taiwanese shaved ice, so I figured this time around I should try something new for a change. I’d never had Sichuan cuisine before, and finding out that there was a great Sichuan hole-in-the-wall in one of my favorite mall food courts was all the incentive I needed to go check it out. Fortunately, given that it takes me about an hour to get out there now from Williamsburg, it was worth it.
Chengdu Heaven, like the rest of the Golden Mall Food Court, isn’t for the faint of heart. There’s almost no English signage anywhere, and for the most part the employees, while friendly, don’t speak very good English. Be prepared to repeat your order several times, or resort to the tried and true pointing method of ordering. It never fails. This is all in addition to the fact that the structure of this place is definitely unsound. Hopefully I’m not down there when the roof decides to cave in, crushing diners with the remnants of the upstairs dumpling and banh mi stands.
The same can be said for the food. Sichuan dishes are notorious for being incredibly spicy, though many places tend to tone them down for the American palate. While I have nothing to compare Chengdu Heaven to right now, everything seemed to be pretty spicy to me. We started out with an order of dan dan noodles ($4.00), a simple dish of noodles served with scallions, some roast pork chunks, and a spicy sauce consisting of a ton of chili oil and Sichuan peppercorns. Mixed together, the dish had a definite kick to it, but unlike many spicy dishes that lose their flavor due to the “oh-my-god-my-mouth-is-on-fire” factor, these noodles had an incredibly bold flavor, surprisingly due to the pork niblets more than anything else. A little ground meat can apparently go a long way.
Next came the ma po tofu ($6.50), a staple dish of silky tofu in a similar chili oil sauce topped with garlic, pork chunks, and other spices. While the dan dan noodles didn’t evoke it as much, this dish really brought out the “ma la,” or numbing spiciness that the combination of chili oil and Sichuan peppercorns brings out in many Sichuan dishes. I’m really not sure how spicy this dish was, as my mouth was numb and I felt like I was going to pass out while I was eating it, though I assume that would mean that it was very spicy. It wasn’t however, spicy for the sake of being spicy. Tofu, usually not one of my favorite things, was incredibly flavorful here, and was absolutely delicious when paired with the spicy chili sauce and the perfectly grilled ground pork. My semi-hatred (read: apathetic response) towards anything tofu-related is no more.
What was the icing on the cake for this excellent meal was, of course, the price. With two water bottles, two entrees, and tip, it came out to be roughly $14.50. An excellent deal for more food than two people should probably be eating. Be sure to ask for leftovers to go and the waitress will gladly put it into a container for you. The leftovers, which I ate a few hours later (what can I say? I wanted MOAR), are surprisingly good cold. Ironic indeed.
(NOTE: This trip culminated in me purchasing and consuming a durian, something which will get its own blog post sometime later down the road. All I can say is “eww.”)
Chengdu Heaven / 41-20 Main St (at 41st Rd), Lower Level (enter on Main St. and it’s at the bottom of the stairs) / Cash Only / No phone, no website