Man was it hot enough for you today? I hear it's only going to get hotter still. Yikes. :[
So when I heard Shanghai City was being replaced by the Spicy House (aka 'Spicy City #2') on Kirk's blog one of the first thoughts that came to mind was that I'd be gaining a new spot to try another Mapo Tofu in the future.. :)
I love the dish so, and even with the myriad variety of style and executions out there it's hard for me to come across one that I completely do not enjoy (I can name one or two, but rare).
As Kirk reported the interior had been refreshed some. I noticed a few new framed art on the walls but was kinda glad it seemed to have remained mostly untouched since I always dug SC's atmosphere (although I admit most of my meals were pick ups and the number of times I actually sat inside were maybe once or twice..).
These two smaller photos above dated July 2008 were all I had documented, a series when I tried their then newish bargain lunch buffet. It was ok for the price. Their mapo tofu which I remember ordering take out I thought was only so so (the typical not very complex flavored with little ground meats) but never held that against them. Others I had were my usual unadventurous stuff... fried rice, braised pork, bbq ribs, XLB's, kung pao __.... Thinking back I probably never really ordered dishes that showed where SC most shined. But the past is past and on with the new.
I found SH's version of my favorite spicy tofu dish easy enough in the Tofu/Vegetable section of their menu listed as Ma Po Bean Curd. Similar to Spicy City the regular version is vegetarian and you'll need to specify with meat (ground pork in my case) if you prefer that. Ordered and also a small wonton soup. I'd swear the circle I made with my thumb and fingers hand waving were about that of a small cup. And I even confirmed watching the waiter scribble the Chinese character 'small' (小) in parenthesis on his order pad..
What arrived along with a slightly apologetic toned phrase "this is our small soup...". It may not seem that big in the photo but the spoon looking thing to the side is actually a giant metal ladle. Wontons were about that of ping pong balls and there were at least twenty of them. A couple scooped into my smaller bowl below (something closer to what I was expecting, ha)..
I'm guessing this was their Hot & Sour Wonton Soup (small, ~$4.99). Under the red chili oil I was actually braced for a bland broth but it was pretty decently tasty. Nothing out of the ordinary complex along with the spiciness which was more one dimensional in mostly hot oil flavor but something I enjoyed. Visually may look super spicy but the level was quite manageable even for me. Wontons were plump with a light gingery minced meat filling.
Ma Po Bean Curd ($6.99 +? for ground pork..) arrived about the same time.
Wow, looked super promising. The aroma of the crushed Szechuan peppercorns where subtle and had sufficient ra-yu chili oil where it was there but the dish wasn't swimming in it like at Ba Ren (both at least to my preference of Mapo not necessarily a bad thing). Tasting had a nice amount of savory beany touchi flavors (Yay), pretty spicy though the numbing Szechuan peppercorns were on the very light side. Fairly complex flavors throughout with the minced garlic and chilis braised in oil and overall very well concentrated (not watery). Also nice was that it was really meaty with lots of ground pork. Not surprising it seemed similar to the related Spicy City's version but I definitely enjoyed this much more.
The one minor thing that did bug me was a stronger than usual vinegar flavor in the background. This may have come from the tobanjyan fermented chili paste or simply a bit too generous addition of vinegar in the final phase of the dish to accentuate the brightness of flavors. But I guess you can say it didn't bug me that much.. ;)
The umami powers of douchi beans are not to be underestimated.. :) I think this mapo is in my personal top three in San Diego.
Finally my total bill was 15-bucks including the small bowl of rice. I enjoyed my first visit to Spicy House. And at least as portions go seems like you get your money's worth here..
Spicy House, 3860 Convoy Street #105, San Diego, CA 92111