Standing outside of most restaurants in Chinatown can be a tad disconcerting, and Szechuan Tasty House is no exception.
With its year-round Christmas lights flashing red and green, the Tasty House makes its presence known among its more drab neighbors, like Philadelphia Eddie's Chinatown Tattoo. Below children's alphabet magnets spelling out the "Chef's Favarites" (sic), amateur photos of badly lit dishes exemplify the typical Chinese food joint experience: lacking any sort of polish, but at least they try, right?
What makes the Szechuan Tasty House so tasty is its specialty in, well, food from the Szechuan province. What the restaurant lacks in subtlety, though, they make up for in heat. Nearly everything on the menu has a red star next to it, a sign that the Tasty House takes their spice to a whole new level. That being said, Tasty House's appetizers try to integrate their spiciness with other flavors in order to make for a more well-rounded flavor. A pretty good example of this strategy is the dumplings in spicy sauce ($3.00). The ginger on top and the citrus aftertaste of the chili broth are strong enough to force the heat of the dumplings to a supporting role. The end result is a filling and cheap dish that gives credit to creative Chinese cuisine.
Unfortunately for the dumplings in spicy sauce, the entr‚es can't muster up the energy to match such a high standard. According to the waitress, the Three Pepper Chicken ($8.95) is the shining star of the Szechuan menu. The premise is pretty simple: saut‚ pieces of chicken with oil and pepper flakes, saut‚ chili peppers, and add all of the above to dried chili peppers. What results is unexpected and unbearable heat. In a move that seems to defy its own principle of spiciness with nuance, Tasty House produces a dish that couldn't really be enjoyed.
All isn't lost on the entr‚e front, however, no matter how overpowering the Three Pepper Chicken may be. Perhaps the best entr‚e to order while visiting the Tasty House is the Beef with Garlic Sauce ($9.75). With garlic and brown sugar combined with regulars like water chestnuts and green bends, the Beef with Garlic Sauce comes off as a solid choice that combines interesting new flavors without being overly spicy.
The rest of the meal consists of other Chinese food staples that Americans have grown to love: Sesame Chicken ($8.50), Sweet and Sour Chicken ($8.50) and General Tsao's Delight ($9.95). And there's a reason why Americans love them: they're super sweet, and truthfully, taste almost exactly the same.
At the end of the day, the Tasty House tries too hard to be too many different things. To reward the intrepid experimenter for finding authentic Szechuan food, Tasty House jacks up the heat way too much. For the not so adventurous, it waters down its dishes a lot more than it should. For all you out there who are somewhere in the middle, tough luck. Maybe another, kindlier and gentler Szechuan place will open up; until that time comes, though, remember that those dumplings in spicy sauce may be the best dumplings you'll eat on this side of the Pacific, or at least in this part of town.