Following the guidance of fellow hounds, I went to Chung King (206 S Garfield Ave, Monterey Park, 626 280 7430). It's a seriously un-Americanized Szechuan place in an unassuming but very clean storefront a block or so below Garvey on the east side of the street. I managed to walk right past it the first time.
Seeing as how almost nothing on the menu was familiar to me, despite my having eaten at numerous "Szechuan" places, I decided to go whole hog. Well, okay, not quite so whole-hog as the pigs' intestines with blood. Instead I had the duck and beer in small pot, and I have to say it's the strangest thing I've ever eaten. It's a big bowl of opaque red liquid. It looks like chili oil. It turns out to be duck, mushrooms, gelatinous black fungus, a vegetable I can't name that looks like a long yellow sheet-metal screw, a very large number of red chilis, and a very large number of things that might be peppercorns but look and taste more like juniper berries.
What weirded me out was not the chilis. I know all about that. Once my sinuses cleared out I was fine. What weirded me out was the juniper berries. The taste combination of beer and chilis with the juniper berries was seriously odd. Of course, it's probably not odd if you grew up in Szechuan. But if you grew up in a white suburb on the east coast then it's two whole notches beyond even your most adventuresome Chinatown fare. Between separating the duck meat from the bones, trying not to eat too many chilis and juniper berries, and trying not to splash this dangerous red liquid on my shirt (I failed), it took an awful long time to eat. Pretty cool.
Chung King is also a pretty friendly place. Not much English is spoken, but they fully exercised their ten words of English trying to dissuade me from ordering the dish. "Hot!" I ended up chatting to various people in the restaurant, all of whom were quite pleased to be eating real Szechuan food. Pointing at the absurd density of chilis in the food and asking "Can you eat that?" seems like a sure-fire conversation-starter.
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