Continuing our quest for the city's best chongqing chicken, we stopped into Hot Kitchen, in the East Village. We started with Sichuan wontons. At the time we were just hungry, dunking each package of pork into the chili oil, trying to gather as many pepper seeds as possible, tearing the outer layer to let the chili permeate the insides. But now, looking at the photo, we see that this dish represents a war --- pure plain skins vs. fiery red flavor.
Then we tried malatang, or vegetable hot pot. It arrived pre-prepared, meaning we weren't privy to most versions' DIYD (do it yourself dunking). Nevertheless, it was a complicated stew of greens and mushrooms, competing to see who can soak up the most chili oil favor. We called it a draw as soon as our lips stopped tingling.
So, how was the chicken, you ask? Delicious, but different. Elsewhere the little bits are fried to a crisp. At Hot Kitchen, however, they were soft and tender and sauteed, so it was up to the Sichuan peppers to do all the textual work. As with the hot pot, purists might scoff, and keep on walking to Land of Plenty or Legend, looking for a battle of crunch or more authenticity. That's OK. New York's a big town, and can support many different Sichuan styles. When it comes to this kind of Chinese food, fighting should only occur among ingredients, or among diners squabbling over who gets the last bite.