Dish: Ants on the Tree
Place: Sichuanese Cuisine, International District
On the plate: Per the menu: "Stir-fried vermicelli noodles with ground pork, green onions."
Supporting cast/What to do: Last time I ate these noodles at Sichuanese Cuisine, I asked for them to be super-spicy, but was disappointed with the tameness. This time, I made a bigger deal out of my desire for ma la (numbing spice), and the kitchen ratcheted up the heat--and sent out chili paste as well. Get that, and mix in as much as you can tolerate if you want that super-spicy experience.Noodling around: You'll more typically find the English name of this dish to be Ants Climbing a Tree. The ants are the bits of ground pork; they cling to the noodles like ants on tree twigs.
The noodles are actually bean thread noodles, which are softened and then stir-fried. They absorb a lot of flavor and have a slightly chewy texture.
The sauce is quite simple to make. The server described it as similar to ma po tofu, with garlic, ginger, soy sauce, chili paste, and Sichuan peppercorns. That's it...just noodles, sauce, and a sprinkling of green onions.
Presentation is pretty unusual, as it comes on a glass pie plate. As this is a Sichuan dish in a Sichuan restaurant, the color is quite red (redder than the photo indicates), and intensely more so if you dare request a spicier level.
I only wish the restaurant played Dave Matthews' "Ants Marching" when bringing the dish out of the kitchen.
If you want more: You can do as I did and get Steamed or Fried Dumplings ($4.95), but be forewarned you'll then have a feast that's difficult for even two people to finish. Especially if, like me, you get the fried dumplings, which are better but more filling.
To mix things up, I might recommend Bittermelon with Jalapeno Chili ($7.95). Vegetables will provide balance to your noodle meal, and the combination of bitter and spicy is quite pleasing, if you can handle both of those things.
Be aware/beware: Sichuanese Cuisine is in the strip mall that has Tamarind Tree around the corner--next door to Viet Wah. Parking can be a mess, but there are occasionally spots right in front of the restaurant entrance. Also note that English is spotty here. There are two waitresses I see frequently; one speaks English pretty well, and the other does not.