Yi Pin Ju: Szechuan at Last and It's Hot
SZECHUAN AT LAST!
Real Chinese food made by and for real Chinese people is hard to find in this town. Asian Bay, our only fine dining venue, does a good job providing meticulously prepared Cantonese fare, a smattering of regional dishes, and homey ambience. A handful of Cantonese restaurants clustered in the Viaducto Piedad neighborhood feed recent immigrants; good Southern fare and even dim sum can be found here. Great Szechuan food is scarce. But a humble, oddly placed resto has recently opened in the middle of Zona Rosa serving up this beloved fiery cuisine. Yi Pin Ju is already the favorite of chefs and aficionados of the picante. The mainstay of its menu comes from the southwest provinces of Szechuan and Shaanxi to its north where the balance of ma-la--spicy and numbing--is the goal. Szechuan pepper is omnipresent as are chiles, dry and fresh. A number of dishes are labeled "estilo sichuan" which implies a red, oily sauce that attempts to numb and stimulate at the same time, kind of a gustatory martini/valium cocktail. Borrego--lamb--flavored with cumin is common in Shaanxi and here is offered as a whole beast--I did not order it--or a leg or, best yet, shredded and stuffed into a steamed wheat bun.
SPICY BUT NOT CRUELLY SO
Meaty dumplings filled with pork and chive are boiled and served with a fragrant red dipping sauce of chile oil and black vinegar and they could make a meal in and of themselves. Flat rice noodles are perfectly agri/picante but so much so that my norteño companion asked for a glass of milk to numb the pain. I thought they were perfect. Oven roasted duck is tender, succulent. Pollo tierno estilo sichuan turns out to be little crisp morsels of boned chicken deep fried and mouthwateringly fragrant of pepper and star anise. Tiras de cerdo en salsa especial de pescado is not, in fact, pork done in fish sauce as it sounds but in a tart brown sauce meant FOR fish, and it is spicy but not cruelly so. Dry cooked green beans, impregnated by dry red chiles that are best avoided, are verdant and crunchy. Carne recocida sabor de Sichuan is lightly oily, dry thin-cut pork which, in its twice-cooking, has soaked up the essence of several kinds of chiles and onions.
While seafood is not a specialty here, salt and pepper shrimp avoids the often grease-laden floured preparation in favor of quick deep frying; the shrimp therefore remain moist and tender.
Several Asian greens are offered steamed with garlic or oyster sauce; they offset the other sultry plates nicely and are a welcome respite.
MINIMAL AMBIANCE BUT GREAT FOOD
Ambience is minimal as in many a great Asian restaurant in Asia and without. Dishes range from $100-300, several beyond 500; it's not cheap but portions are large and sharing or leftover takeaway is the key to success. Average with a beer should be $350, less in a large group. But the food is extraordinary and a welcome addition to our expanding panoply of honest Oriental options in the capital.
Yi Pin Ju
Londres 114, between Genova & Amberes, next to the Hotel Geneve, Colonia Juarez aka Zona Rosa
Tel. 55 55145837, 544696072
Open daily from 11:30 a.m. until 10 p.m.