Some people argue that spicy foods are supposed to cool you down on hot days, and if there was ever a day to test out this theory, it would be today. So with lunch on the mind, we set off for Xi’an Famous Foods, which has just opened a new branch at 60 Bayard Street in Chinatown. It was our intention to make it to the new outpost, but with the sun scorching us, we instead wound up at the East Village branch, at 81 St. Marks Place. Our usual standby is the delicious and slippery Liang Pi cold noodles, but this time we opted for the Chang-an Spicy Tofu (a very reasonable $2.50) and got an order of the Tiger Vegetable Salad ($4.50), should an excess of hot food lead to a profusion of sweating.
The super silken tofu jiggles in a container, easily broken apart by even the slightest knock of the spoon. On top, that slightly sour chile broth that flavors many of the dishes at Xi’an, plus a slick of chile oil and a smattering of cilantro stems and leaves. The dish is served warm but not steaming hot, and the chile oil glosses your lips as you slurp up this savory pudding, making them tingle ever so slightly. It’s certainly spicy, but not intimidatingly so, and downright delicious. As we lapped up our lunch, we were astounded that we hadn’t eaten this dish before.
The Tiger Vegetable Salad was fine, though it should really be called Tiger Cilantro and Asian Celery Salad, for that was basically it, plus a few jalapeños thrown in for good measure, all dressed with a sesame oil coating. It was fine, but not really Vegetarian Delight-worthy.
But the most important thing — did the tofu cool us down? Honestly, it was hard to tell. Not really. But at that point, we were so happy with it that we really didn’t care.
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