We’re back for our short list of suggestions of restaurants to try over the weekend.
Given that May is Asian/Pacific Islander month, we thought it was a fitting time to highlight four eateries that offer Asian cuisine.
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Restaurant reviews:Xin Wei Kitchen’s zesty Sichuan offerings will fire up your taste buds
Varied and delicious dishes are the hallmark of these four establishments, culled from columns by our restaurant contributors, GA Benton and Gary Seman Jr.
Here, we are just whetting your appetite for some of the cuisine offered, and then you can read the entire columns via the links provided.
So whether it’s rain or shine this weekend, consider one of these four restaurants.
1178 Kenny Center Mall, Northwest Side
Back when “Sichuan” was almost always spelled “Szechuan” in Columbus restaurants, referencing the southwestern Chinese province generally meant that the food being served would contain chili. Unfortunately, in those days, authentic Sichuan flavors would rarely accompany the botanical heat.
While recently enjoying a wide range of intense and delicious dishes from Chilispot — a terrific Sichuan specialist — a smile formed on my delightfully overstimulated mouth as I thought about how far Chinese food has come in Columbus.
Sampling Chilispot’s often fiery yet nuanced, party-in-your-mouth food will definitely grab your attention, though. Numerous real-deal Sichuan dishes are cooked there that exhibit the telltale yin-and-yang qualities famously described by the Chinese term “mala” — a coupling of “ma” (which means “numbing,” and is an effect produced on mouths by Sichuan peppercorns) and “la” (chile-detonated “spicy hot”).
Chilispot’s kitchen nails most everything. Among the relatively well-known dishes it skillfully prepares are its bold and dynamic Mapo tofu ($11.95) — a boatload of soft bean curd submerged in a scalding hot chile-oil bath accented with ginger, ground pork, fermented bean paste and Sichuan peppercorns; nutty and inhalable Chengdu dandan noodle ($8.95) — al dente pasta enriched by chile oil and ground pork brightened by black vinegar; and addictive Chongqing spicy popcorn chicken ($14.95) — an enormous amount of crisp-yet-tender chicken nuggets stir-fried countless with little firecracker-like dried red chiles, peanuts and face-tingling Sichuan peppercorns that lend floral and citrus notes.
To read more:Food review: Chilispot knows how to do Sichuan right with well-made fiery dishes
Xin Wei Kitchen
1932 Henderson Road, Northwest Side
The Sichuan food was impressive at Xin Wei Kitchen, a narrow but tidy little Northwest Side space formerly occupied by Bahn Thai.
The restaurant offers an exhaustingly large menu rife with Chinese American fare. When I inquired about other menus — vibrant-looking food on the three other utilitarian dining-room tables suggested one existed — I was brusquely presented with a different menu that listed numerous Sichuan dishes.
I ordered several of these even though my server warned me I might be unhappily surprised. I understood her reservations from her: Unlike many ordering from that supplemental menu — whose recently translated offerings include boiled bullfrog and spicy duck blood — I’m not fluent in Mandarin.
But I’m conversant in Sichuan food. I jumped on cuisine classics energized with chile and tongue-tingling Sichuan peppercorns, such as “Szechuan-style mouthwatering chicken” ($10.95). Xin Wei’s nuanced version featured a zesty yet caramel-like gravy (not just routine chile oil), crushed peanuts, garlic, Sichuan peppercorns and succulent meat served cut into chilled lumps containing skin and bone. The aptly named result was a large, moderately spicy dish with undertones of peanut butter, pepper and honey.
To read more:Restaurant review: Xin Wei Kitchen’s zesty Sichuan offerings will fire up your taste buds
Ichi Japanese BBQ
5227 Godown Road, Northwest Side
Ichi Japanese BBQ is definitely a hidden gem on the Northwest Side, tucked away inside a strip mall just north of busy Bethel Road. As its name indicates, the restaurant devotes a significant portion of its menu to grill-it-yourself options, with inset grills at every table.
The menu has a staggering amount of meat choices, ranging from kalbi short rib to filet mignon. There are two all-you-can eat options: “classic” ($28.99 per person, or free for kids up to 3) and “premium ($35.99 per person, or half off for children 4 to 8). Combos are available for $18 and $40.
Owner Eric Zhou explains the process: “For the appetizers, I would get takoyaki (deep-fried octopus balls) and gyoza dumplings. I may also get some edamame to start.”
For round two, I have suggested bone-in short ribs marinated in garlic, onions, salt and pepper and kalbi ribs, brushed with a sweet soy sauce. “If you get the premier, I would get the angus filet mignon because it’s so tender,” he said.
Other options include tofu, chicken, shrimp and vegetables.
To read more:Ichi Japanese BBQ offers an atypical dining experience
Min Ga Korean Restaurant
800 Bethel Road, Northwest Side
Min-Ga Korean Restaurant has had a longstanding history on the Northwest Side, serving a wide variety of ethnic dishes that are both familiar and perhaps exotic for the dining public.
For the already initiated, the la kalbi ($22.95) is familiar, bone-in beef ribs that are marinated several hours in a special sweetened spice rub and cooked on a flat-top stove. They’re presented on a sizzling platter with white onion, filling the air with pleasant aromas.
“You can’t go wrong with this,” said Joo Lee, current owner of the restaurant, which has been a neighborhood staple for more than 20 years.
The la kalbi, as with many dishes, are served with banchan, little side plates that include kimchee, spice-rubbed cucumbers, spinach, fish cakes and marinated bean sprouts.
Korean cuisine is also widely known for bulgogi, another marinated-meat dish that is also cooked on the flat-top grill. The spicy pork version ($16.95) gets some heat with the addition of cayenne pepper.
Stone pot bibimbap ($13.95) offers an interesting way to eat a meal. Served with small pieces of marinated beef, the hot bowl is layered with rice, bean sprouts, carrots, spinach and topped with a raw egg. The trick is to keep stirring the contents, allowing the rice to get crispy, egg to cook and meld the various flavors.
Min Ga:Behind the Menu: Min-Ga tantalizes with its can’t-go-wrong Korean cuisine