ELV — the man, the myth, the Asian food maven — has been a bit under the weather recently. Actually, what he’s really been under is a number of dentist’s, dental hygienist’s, periodontist’s, and oral surgeon’s hands, as he’s struggled mightily to correct some malfunctioning molars in the back of his mouth.
And by “struggled mightily” we mean he’s been so full of novocaine, Xanax, diazepam, general anesthetics and Tramadol over the past ten days he barely knows his own name…much less what he’s chewing on.
But chew on he has, on at least a few things, so he thought he’d share a thought or two with you (his loyal readers), while he’s waiting for his back teeth (and gums) to feel like something other than bits of razor blades hidden inside tiny wads of sandpaper.
One of the highlights of our convalescence was the Food Gal® bringing home some xiao long bao (pictured above) from Dumpling King last weekend. We had heard through the grapevine (and by “grapevine” we mean foodie-wine-beer-Chinatown friend Joe Muscaglione) that Dumpling King had supplanted China MaMa for soup dumpling supremacy on Spring Mountain Road, and one bite of the beauties above confirmed his opinion: light, thin, barely there wrappers holding superior meatballs in an intense, beefy broth. (P.s. the potstickers were out-of-this-world also.)
Muscaglione may be the only round-eye in Vegas who loves Spring Mountain Road more than we do, and when he tells you something is top drawer in Asiatown, you can take it to the bank. (Along these same lines, we’ve also heard that MaMa has lost step or two over the past year, and now buys its xiaolongbao frozen. (Quelle horreur!). From others, we’ve heard similar tales of less-than-happy meals, leading us to conclude that our once-favorite China gal is now phoning it in. Pity.
Another pleasant surprise was this partially hidden gem at Arville and SMR — Szechuan Express:
…a place that, once again, confirms ELV’s Immutable Inscrutable Asian Obscurity Postulate: The harder an Asian restaurant is to find, the better the food will be.
It’s true. Up and down Spring Mountain Road there are dozens of places with big flashy signs facing the street. Most you should just ignore, and many aren’t worth the time (and danger) it takes to find a parking spot. There are exceptions of course — Dumpling King being one of them — but usually the easy-to-spot joints aren’t worth your time or the calories, much less the risk of braving this avenue of barely competent drivers — ambulatory, sentient humans* (we’re told) barreling their way into busy intersections and plowing through narrow car lots teeming with road warriors of a similar ilk — persons (we’re being kind here) not exactly known for their depth perception and hand/eye coordination.
But you, intrepid ELV reader, are not cowed by the simple matter of taking your life into your own hands, not when it comes to finding the ultimate in Asian eats. So press on you will, undaunted by the prospect of a fender-bender behind every turn of the wheel.
And that’s how you’ll find places like Szechuan Express above. You can’t see if from the street — despite its flashing, ever-changing sign — and the only way you’re likely to stumble upon it is if you’re looking for one of those check-cashing places of questionable origins, or a massage parlors of dubious conclusions. (The only way our staff located it was because it’s a stone’s throw from the even-more-obscure locale of the soon-to-open Yui Sushi – a place so hard to find that it will elevate our Immutable Inscrutable Asian Obscurity Postulate from undeniable maxim to the veritable Tenth Commandment of Asian eating.)
From our first bites (and, we admit, only one visit), we felt Szechuan Express every bit the equal of J & J Szechuan (only spiffier), and just as nice as Lao Sze Chuan in the Palms (only cheaper). And it’s deep-fried intestines will redefine your idea of creamy small intestines (if you ever had one):
….and the “toothpick lamb with cumin sticks”:
…are the early favorite for my “toothpick-protein-cumin” dish of the year award.
Only the so-so Dan Dan Mian (pictured above the toothpicks) didn’t thrill us like the rest of the four dishes we tried (we’ve become a bit of a dan dan noodle snob over the years), but if the rest of the easy-to-navigate menu is even close to the cooking we experienced, then SE should be on the must-try list of every spicy food fan….assuming you can find it.
According to certain practitioners of pain, torture, and the dark arts (i.e., his dentists…who seem to be very nice people when they’re not digging around inside his mouth), ELV may soon become a fully functioning fan of feasting again. When that happens, here are the openings happening soon around town that have him more excited than a sister wife at a calico convention:
CHOW – Nat Young opens another downtowner…this one where you may actually be able to hear yourself think. Expect a limited menu, a takeout window, plus some might fine fried chicken
YUI SUSHI EDOMAE – Think Kabuto, only better. Genichi Mizoguchi is going to get a lot of attention, even though it’s harder to find than a virgin at Burning Man.
SALUTE – Poised to re-define Italian cooking in the ‘burbs. Only time will tell if Luciano Sautto and Brian Massie can resist the corporate pressure to turn this gem into a gussied up Buca di Beppo (as has happened with every other Italian incarnation in this space).
FLOCK & FOWL – Sheridan Su is going to make Hainanese chicken fans out of everyone. Opening today:
Until you get a chance to enjoy any and all of these, get your Chinese food fixes here:
5740 Spring Mountain Road (incredibly easy to find, do not hold this against it)
Las Vegas, NV 89146
4300 Spring Mountain Road (tucked into the far right corner, impossible to see from the street)
Las Vegas, NV 89102
* We’re talking about the lame-brained tourists, of course. But you knew that.