Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Lamb face salad? Why not?

When Stan travels and has lamb he usually shares his experiences with the folks at Premier and in the newsletter. I recently took a trip out East and had lamb for a meal. I thought I would share my experience.

Once the Equipment Catalog was off to the printers, I was able to take a break from writing and found the time to go to New York City. Part of the trip was to visit my sister and her family. But the main reason was to try some of the more unconventional foods available.

I was in my sister's apartment only a handful of minutes before I was out the door and on my way to find lunch. After a few miles on the subway, I walked up and out of the subterranean tunnels into a series of sights and smells I've never experienced. I had entered the heart of Chinatown.

The destination was Xi'an Famous Foods, home to a dish known as Spicy & Tingly Lamb Face Salad. I did some research prior to my visit and one of the recommended foods was lamb face salad. My inner foodie screamed for a challenge to my palate, so I gave in.

Spicy and Tingly Lamb Face Salad. It appears much more appetizing in person as the camera does not do it justice. 

The decision was quickly in jeopardy once I walked through the door. The wall across from the register contained photos of all the potential meals I could have. Lamb burgers, lamb soup, chicken and pork dishes galore adorned the wall. Finding more options than I could eat, I had trouble deciding to stick with the salad. Do I go with the salad or something else? I ordered the savory looking Spicy Cumin Lamb with Hand-Ripped noodles in soup. Yet again I debated my decision and asked to change my order to the lamb face salad. I paid, received my ticket number and sat at a long table at the back of the restaurant. Playing on the TV was a cooking show featuring lamb face salad as well as demonstrating the process of making hand-ripped noodles.

My number came up and I received not one but two entres. Through my inability to make a decision and ensuing miscommunication I had ordered both the soup and the salad (no breadsticks). So much the better as it turns out. I returned to the table and began relishing in the double order.

With chopsticks in hand I went for the salad. My taste buds first caught a taste of cilantro, but the heat soon kicked in. My lips tingled and my eyes watered. This cold salad packed a hidden whollop. I tried a piece of lamb. Oh my! The flavor was out of this world. Despite not being a conventional cut of meat, the face was quite good. It was not a lamb chop but after all it's not suppose to be. I would later look up the contents of the salad: head meat (hence face), chili oil, szechwan pepper corns, bean sprout, cucumbers, scallions, cilantro and a sauce mixture which includes soy sauce, vinegar and 30 mystery spices. I'm pretty sure 2 of the mystery spices were fire and brimstone, but they sure were good.
An unidentifiable piece of lamb. Quite tasty though. Forgive the resolution, camera phones do not always focus when requested. 

Onward to the soup. With my trusty chopsticks I tried to pull out a noodle. This thing did not want to be caught. I would grasp and it would slip. I tried angling my chopsticks, poking the noodle and leveraging with a spoon. Finally I found some traction and pulled. 6 inches of noodle came out, then a foot, 2 feet and still more. I may be embellishing but this noodle could have been used as a soggy yard stick.

I contemplated the best possible way to eat the noodle, use a chomp and slurp technique, stuff the whole thing into my mouth or put it back in the bowl and grasp it in the middle? I wasn't going to let go and try catching the noodle a second time. I did not want it to warn it's noodle friends about me.
Quite possibly the most flattering photo of myself. The noodle is doubled over but it's still touching the bowl (which itself was huge)! 

I finally bit the bullet and took a bite. Chomping, slurp, move the chopsticks down the noodle and repeat. This worked until the noodle released its defense mechanism, heat. And I thought the salad was hot. My mouth was consumed by the heat of a thousand suns. A wave of flame consumed my body.  Fire coursed over my tongue and down my throat. Blood rushed to my face in order to cool my flame laden body. I slurped the noodle and took a gasp of air. Wow! Absolutely worth the heat. I blinked through the tears to look at my sister, I was red faced and happy. I grabbed for my water only to realize I forgot to ask for a glass. Onto the salad to cool off. Whoops, that's just as hot. To the soup, no to the salad, soup, salad, soup, salad, noodle, lamb face, cucumber, they all ended in flavor.

Eventually the point came where I could not take another bite. I put the soup and salad into separate bowls for later consumption. My sister and I walked out Xi'an and into the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory which was conveniently located next door. The green tea ice cream cooled my mouth. What a meal! Though during and at the end I was wearing some of it. At some point the flailing noodles flicked soup droplets onto my shirt. Lesson learned? never wear a white shirt when eating the world's longest noodles.

So if you're in New York City and have a cantankerin' hankerin' for heat and lamb, find Xi'an's in Chinatown. You won't regret it, just be sure to order a water.