Dishin’: Really Eating at Szechuan Chef

“Can you really eat that?”

Seattlest loves a restaurant that puts food on a menu and then questions why you’ve ordered it. Not just by the server, but also by the owner.

This happens to us repeatedly at Szechuan Chef, our favorite Chinese restaurant in the Seattle area. Like Yea’s Wok (our second favorite, in Newcastle), Szechuan Chef is on the other side of Lake Washington in a dingy little strip mall in Bellevue (15015 Main Street), giving hope to the heretofore helpless Eastside food scene. (Actually, our overall favorite restaurant, Malay Satay Hut, has a place in Redmond in addition to its Seattle location.)

First visit there, we didn’t even need a menu. We walked past a table that had a bowl of bubbling redness, and asked the waitress to bring us one of the same. It turned out to be “Intestine + Fish in Hot & Spicy Gravy,” and we were immediately addicted to the chunks of fish, organ meats, tofu, and vegetables swathed in a fiery, five-star sauce.

Then, as in subsequent times, we’ve gotten the same treatment. Maybe it’s because there are very few non-Chinese ever eating there. Most recent was lunch:

Seattlest: “I’ll have L28 – the Wild Chili with Pork Tripe – extra spicy.”

Server: “Can you really eat that?”

Seattlest: “Of course. I love it.”

A moment later, the owner approaches.

Owner: “You ordered tripe? Can you really eat that?”

Seattlest: “Of course. I love it.”

Owner: “It already has jalapenos. We can add red chilis to make it four stars instead of two. Can you really eat that?”

Seattlest: “Of course. Make it five stars.”

The dish arrives. The server and owner stand by the table, while the other servers watch from afar. The whole place is abuzz, awaiting our first bite. We smile and nod approvingly. They all nod back. We anticipate an outbreak of applause, but it doesn’t happen. Only this:

Owner: “You really like that?”

Seattlest: “I love the chewy and crunchy textures. I love the intoxicating taste. Next time, though, perhaps make it spicier?”

Owner: “Really?”

Originally posted at Seattlest (where “we” = me) on September 15, 2006.

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