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Lao Cheng Du in Scarborough

Wahooty | Dec 20, 2009 06:21 PM

Even in low-blood-sugar desperation, it's funny how particular 'hounds can be about where they eat. When one of you is so hungry that they no longer have any idea what they want and the other is so hungry that she's no longer hungry, it's hard to decide on a place to go. It's the Catch-22 of hunger - starving, but incapable of actually deciding on what/where to eat. So you drive up and down Sheppard looking for something that sounds good, and finally pull into a strip mall and decide to just window-shop for food.

There are several candidates in this strip mall (south side of Sheppard, at Glen Watford). The closest one to our parking spot is called Lao Cheng Du. We read the menu in the window...try to peek in through the curtains...poke our little snouts in the door.

Holy crap, the place is empty. Aside from the little boy playing with the toys in the play area just inside the door, there isn't a soul in the room at 2:30 on a Sunday afternoon. We almost back out, but the little boy has eagerly greeted us and darned if he isn't adorable. His mother comes out from the kitchen and offers us a table before we have a chance to back out. The little boy PULLS OUT MY CHAIR FOR ME - I mean, how do you say no to a 6-year-old who understands the value of chivalry? So we give it a shot.

Mom is clearly the chef, and brings us a checklist menu. Things are looking up - it has some very interesting choices. Braised soft-shelled turtle? Fried eels with cucumber? Since there are only two of us, we go with three dishes: spicy fried intestine, kung pao chicken, and shredded beef with pickled chili.

The fried intestine comes out first. Boy, is it pretty. A plate of crispy-looking piggy bits, with some bell pepper, onion, garlic, scallion, and an abundance of huge pieces of dried chili. After a couple of pieces, I feel my tongue going numb and mention to my companion that there must be sichuan peppercorns in there somewhere. We did manage to snap a picture before we destroyed the plate too much. This was my first time trying intestine, but I'd have it again and we both agreed the preparation was very nice. (This is also probably where I should point out that the chef offered us forks. But she didn't automatically bring them, so we gave her points for asking first. And considering her English was clearly extremely limited, it would have been easier for her to just bring them to us than to ask, so I'd even give her extra credit here. Being non-Asian, I don't find the offer of a fork offensive, but the automatic fork does bug me.)

Next was the kung pao - my companion remarked that the presence of sichuan peppercorn in the first dish was a good sign where this was concerned. Sure enough, the peppercorns were there, and this was also very tasty. More giant pieces of dried chili, big chunks of garlic, fragrantly numbing spices...good stuff.

Finally, the shredded beef with pickled chili. Another very pretty plate - slices of beef, with the same bell pepper/onion/scallion/garlic mixture from the first dish, but with the addition of pickled red chilis instead of the dried ones. The beef itself had a less-than-satisfying texture - it felt a little waterlogged like overbrined meat that had then been velveted, and would have been much better if it had been browned and crispy in bits. The dish was also quite oily. But it was completely saved for me by those pickled chilis. The flavors of the dish were quite satisfying, and I'm now somewhat fixated on finding those chilis to play with at home. They tasted not just pickled, but fermented, and they were delicious.

The verdict: it's possible that hunger IS the best sauce, but we both said we would come back to try other dishes. It would be a fun place to take a bigger group, since there are so many interesting things on the menu to try. A couple of other parties did drift in while we were there, both with small children in tow (did I mention the play area when we walked in?), so it's possible the place has a following, even though it seems to be completely off of the collective CH radar. We couldn't get much info out of her as to how long she has been there, etc. because of the language barrier (the kid does seem to do a good job translating, but was otherwise occupied), but it's worth support/further investigation if you happen to be in the area. All of the dishes we had were $6-8 and generously portioned for the price.

Oh, and beer is only $2.50. It's not good beer, but hell, it's $2.50. :)

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