“Spicy Home Tasty” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but I propose an even less euphonious name: Spicy Home Run Tasty. This restaurant covers all the bases — food, service, décor — and hits it out of the park.Three months after it opened in Commack, it has vaulted to the very top echelon of Chinese restaurants on Long Island.
Owner Yuling Chou and her partner, chef Xian Chun Du, serve dishes from all over China (as well as some Chinese-American standards), but the focus is on the sophisticated cuisine of Sichuan province, some of which is indeed spicy, but all of which is tasty.
Sichuan food has a spotty history in the metropolitan area. Starting in the ’80s, there was a vogue for restaurants that name-checked “Szechuan” (the old spelling), but the operators were rarely from Sichuan and, more often than not, the food was little more than a spicy tweak to what it purported to replace. In fact, the most distinctive feature of Sichuan cooking is the tingling, mouth-numbing sensation (called “ma la”) bestowed by use of the Sichuan peppercorn, a spice that wasn’t even imported to the United States until 2005.
At Spicy Home Tasty, you can appreciate the artistry of true Sichuan food. A good place to start is the beef in chili oil, cordovan shreds of beef fried into chewy oblivion. You can taste both the heat and the tingle, and both are tempered by a shower of cilantro and sprinkle of sesame seeds. Another winning starter are the wontons in chili oil, pearly skins concealing a delicate pork filling floating in a menacingly red chili oil that also has a pleasing sweetness. A pile of virginal white dan dan noodles perch upon a molten mixture of spicy-tingly minced pork that you mix up at the table.
Pasta lovers who are avoiding both spice and gluten: Order the sesame seaweed, thin “noodles” cut from sheets of kelp that have a firm chew that zucchini only dreams of. Here, they glisten with sesame oil, a few opalescent bean sprouts peeking through the verdancy.
In chef Du’s hands, even that takeout standard, cold sesame noodles, is refined. Instead of the sweet-peanut-butter bomb of lesser kitchens, his firm noodles are dressed with a restrained sauce that uses vinegar to offset the richness of sesame paste.
The entrees on Spicy Home Tasty’s menu are organized by preparation style, and if you’ve come for spicy, order one of the dry pots. Dry-pot lamb arrived in a small carbon-steel wok, a tangle of meat, onions, red chilies and red and green bell peppers. Further excavation revealed slices of potato and lotus root, softly gelatinous wood-ear mushrooms and fresh bamboo shoots. The exquisite spicing did nothing to mute the individual flavors of these vibrant elements.
I was surprised that Chengdu roasted chicken turned out to be a kind of stew in whose fragrant-piquant broth floated bone-in chunks of chicken and slender bamboo shoots. Concealed beneath was a nest of pliant, translucent potato-starch noodles. Mapo tofu was beautifully rendered, soft cubes of tofu tossed with deep-green segments of leek in a spicy matrix of pork and fermented black beans.
But fear of spice is not an obstacle to eating well at Spicy Home Tasty. One of the very best things I ate was a bowl of braised beef noodle soup so deeply savory I didn’t want to share. The mellow, beefy broth was enlivened with star anise; noodles mingled freely with chunks of beef tendon that had been long-poached into succulence. Tea-smoked duck, bearing the aroma of jasmine tea, competes with the very best American barbecue.
I always order snow-pea leaves when I see them on a Chinese menu. Here, they were somehow lusher than I’ve ever had them, perfumed with a judicious amount of pale, slivered garlic.
Spice-avoiding customers won’t go wrong with any of the “scallion-style” dishes, where slices of lamb or beef are inundated with stir-fried scallions. The kitchen also does a fine job with deep-fried “salt and pepper style” pork, squid (erroneously called octopus on the menu) or shrimp.
The price of authentic Chinese food is often paid in comfort and style, but the dining room at Spicy Home Tasty is lovely, painted in muted shades of gray with some subtle, blingy touches — ropes of crystals curtaining the windows, diamantine buttons pouffing the soft, tan upholstery. Service is solicitous and enough English is spoken to help even a novice navigate the menu.