Pete Sweeney (more chengdu)|
I have to admit, the main reason I went to this restaurant was because of the name, lit up as it was on a jolly yellow sign looking over the placid, tree-lined, and, dare I say, funky-ass West Yulin Road. It arrested my progress and provoked contemplation. Lobster in Sichuan?
Well, no. What they mean by Long Xia is actually Xiao Long Xia (小龙虾), a river and creek-dwelling shellfish known to some as crayfish, or to others as the Crawdaddy of South Carolina Low Country feasting fame. About the size of a large shrimp (but smaller than a prawn) with a thicker, redder shell, Chinese crayfish comport themselves boldly; I met one in Hangzhou once, out for an evening stroll on the sidewalk by the back gate of Zhejiang University of Technology.
The restaurant’s concept is simple. They place a guy in front of a big bushel of scrambling crawfish, snails, eels, and other creatures who chose to don a carapace (minus the eel), and set him to work in front of a window. Soon they appear on a giant platter, slathered in the sauce of your selection, ma la (aka Sichuanese), yu xiang la (fish-flavored), wu wei (five-flavor spice) and so on. We had the fish-flavored hot sauce. It was both hot and, once the heat had abated, sweet with notes of cinnamon. The crayfish meat was tender and fresh though, next time, I might ask for a little less hot pepper so, God forgive me, I might possibly be able to appreciate the natural flavor more. As it was, I ate them with gusto, shells and all, which was not, as my date noted, a “very dignified way of eating” but I had no time to waste. Roughage! She deftly spat her shells out on the table, as is the custom, and regarded me with scorn.
The rest of the menu is pretty simple. Apart from the crawfish platters (small is enough for two at 45 kuai, but if you really want to overdo it, the large is only 10 kuai more), there are various noodles, soups, and vegetable dishes which you can pick out from a display case. Note: unlike the main courses, the vegetable dishes are all premade, and thus there is no way to extract the MSG were you inclined to do so.