“I think we could’ve gone up to super spicy,” remarked by girlfriend, while savoring the wooden bowl of fiery ingredients. We were both sweating like crazy people, but just couldn’t stop with indulging on this awesomeness in front of us. When you think of Sichuan hot pot, you think of putting different meat, seafood and vegetable ingredients into a broth. Unlike the traditional format, though, Mala Project is showing a “dry” version of the dish, where you pick different ingredients you want to put in a bowl and the kitchen stir fries them with different spices. You can choose four levels of spiciness and the amount of chilies will go up by each level. My girlfriend and I both love spicy food, but we also knew that the Sichuan dishes are not to be taken lightly although they are also very addictive to your palate. Our recent visit, as my girlfriend remarked at the end, was one of the best Asian dinners we’ve had in a while.
Before we ordered the dry hot pot dishes, we started with some appetizers. When the gold (deep-fried) and silver (steamed) manto (buns) came out first, I kept wondering whether we should wait before other dishes come out. At the end, we were both starving, so we happily dipped the buns into condensed milk in the center. I think having these buns served as a pretty good precursor before the more fiery elements came into our table. For appetizer, spicy chicken with cucumber had delicate flavor and texture that was perfect for getting acclimated to the main dry hot pot bowl. For the hot pot, we had beef heart, pork belly, chicken gizzard, quail egg, prawn, lotus root, oyster mushroom, bok choy and Chinese cabbage.
After much anticipation, the beautiful looking “salad” came out, and what an impressively spicy dish this was. My girlfriend and I preferred the vegetable ingredients, especially lotus root and oyster mushroom. Prawn and quail egg were also quite memorable. On the other hand, the meat ingredients felt a bit lacking in texture (I thought the beef heart would come out a bit more tender, and chicken gizzard could’ve had a bit more crunchy feel to the bite). Still, despite having nine ingredients in the bowl, we just couldn’t stop digging at this pure awesomeness. The consistently delicious level of spiciness throughout the ingredients, with xiangxi fried rice on the side, was quite remarkable that I really had to try hard not to rush into each serving at the risk of getting a stomachache. I suspect there must be some kind of magic formula behind the spices; it couldn’t be just peppercorns that comprise the Sichuan flavor. The dessert we ordered, soybean flour cake, was underwhelming, but that didn’t prevent my girlfriend and I from walking out from Mala Project very satisfied.
Getting a reservation at Mala Project was pretty manageable, although the dining space does fill out pretty quickly on a weekend dinner, so book in advance if you can. The vibe of Mala Project looks like a typical Asian fusion restaurant with younger crowds from East Village and beyond in the majority of tables. There are beer and wine selections (there doesn’t seem to be full liquor license) to complement your meal. Mala Project is a gem in East Village that you would absolutely love if you need that Sichuan fix every once in a while. I would totally come back with more people to share more ingredients next time.
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.0/10
Address: 122 1st Avenue, New York, NY 10009
Telephone: (212) 353-8880