Wordlessly, I handed David another napkin. I was getting a little concerned. As he was happily eating his way though his black pepper beef dish, he was starting to look a little...shiny.
"Should I stop this?" I wondered. I turned my attention to my plate of kung pao chicken, which was also formidably spicy. And that was when the coughing started.
It was like a wave, beginning at the back of the restaurant and moving to the front. Patrons started clearing their throats, then quietly coughing and reaching for their sodas. Even the 3 year old at the table next to us, who had spent most of the meal staring in fascination at my blond, spiky haircut, began coughing little toddler-sized coughs. We were the next hit, and I felt my eyes start to water. The waitstaff, who were observing the situation, just looked knowingly at each other and shrugged.
Someone had ordered a spicy sizzling dish. Which means the entire restaurant got to partake in the experience.
David and I had heard about Sichuan Bistro -- located in an inconspicuous strip mall in Mason -- from several favorable reviews. We had been on a mission to find authentic Sichuan Chinese cuisine, which was not an easy task. Many Sichuan dishes use the so-called “Sichuan pepper,” an odd spice which could not be legally imported into the United States until 2005 and, despite the name, isn't even related to either peppercorns or chili peppers.
The Sichuan pepper actually contains a mild natural anesthetic, and when paired with hot chili peppers, creates a highly prized sensation known as "spicy numb." Yes, the hot peppers are still hot. And yes, you may start sweating profusely like David, but as for the pain that can usually accompany an extremely spicy dish, the Sichuan pepper takes care of that.
David and I knew we were in the right place for authentic Sichuan dishes when we walked into the packed restaurant. There are two menus available, one with common Americanized dishes on it, and the other with authentic Chinese cuisine. Both menus are brought to your table when you are seated, no secret password necessary.
David and I each got a dish off of the authentic menu. David picked the black pepper beef ($12.99), and I chose their authentic kung pao chicken ($9.99). We also got some tasty crab rangoon ($3.99), which I am partial to.
Both of the dishes were excellent. We’ll definitely be back the next time we’re in Mason.