There's the tongue-on-fire heat that comes from snacking on habaneros; the up-your-nose heat accompanying a glob of wasabi; and then there's the heat of the Sichuanese peppercorn, which acts like novocaine on your lips, tongue and any other body part with which it comes into contact. It's this last type of mouth fire that you're in for at MáLà Project, a homey new dry pot Chinese restaurant that opened at the turn of 2016.
Order off the large menu of proteins, mushrooms, vegetables and various other accoutrements, and they'll deliver you a steaming wooden bowl of your selections tossed in the fiery, fragrant sauce redolent with the peppercorns, hunks of fresh ginger, garlic, whole and dried chili peppers, all of which has been seared on a wok over high heat. Munch on one of the whole peppers at your own peril.
To the uninitiated, the large menu of possible permutations can be intimidating. But the server will offer their opinion—chicken wings, lotus root, fish ball and others during a recent visit—and truthfully, once it's all mixed together, there's a harmony that exists between whatever you choose, whether that's the subtle funk of sliced lamb, the super salty fun sized sausage or chewy tofu skin.
All three were part of a meat-heavy combination our table devoured over dinner, along with beef tongue, Spam—disappointingly not the WWII-era tinned, but a close enough approximation, according to a dining companion—bok choy, enoki mushrooms, lotus root, cheese-filled fish cakes and rice cakes.
(courtesy MáLà Project)
If that all sounds like a boat load of food—and even for four people, it was—consider that each diner gets rice (purple or white) and there are simply no excuses for not ordering the restaurants excellent starters and supplements, too. Of the ones we tried, the MáLà Pickles ($4) were far and away the best; crunchy, vinegary, spicy, salty, mouth-numbing. Give me a bowl of those and several pints of crisp IPA and I could happily make a liquid-and-pickle meal of it. The Husband and Wife Lung Slice ($9), deceptively without lung meat, was solid, but you Must Love Tripe, while the Leftover Fried Rice ($13) was platonic ideal fried rice but nothing to go out of the way for.
They recommend 12 or more items per pot for a party of four, but we got away with 10 plus sides and still had leftovers to take home. Considering the volume of food that arrives at the table, $132 (pre-tax) for a table of four—alcoholic drinks included—is a solid split for a hearty dinner. The drinks are the only real oddity, with a 12 ounce bottle of Tsingtao running $8 ($5 during happy hour) while a glass of wine (Cotes du Rhone, for example) just is $9. In the long run, you're probably better off sticking to wine—or a $35 bottle of champagne—than spending craft beer prices on suds from the MGD of China.