Turning Up the Heat at Hot Kitchen

"We are awash in good Sichuan restaurants," Bob Martinez observes, and he's not complaining. The latest to surface on hound radar is Hot Kitchen in the East Village, open since fall.

Sautéed homemade bacon with leeks and peppers is a standout, Bob says, "suitably smoky and salty, and the leeks balanced the dish." Chicken with spicy capsicum is another winner, "fully flavored and really juicy." 2slices singles out steamed fish with hot bean sauce: The fish is fresh and mild, and the sauce is not just spicy but boasts "a great and distinctive flavor." And ChiefHDB ordered an intriguing-looking dish that he spotted on just about every other table. It turned out to be the "assorted spicy wok," a kitchen-sink stir-fry of chicken, lotus root, potatoes, peanuts, tripe, sliced hot dog, and what appeared to be green olives, loaded with chiles and Sichuan peppercorns and presented on a metal dish. "Probably the most interesting dish of the evening," he says, "and something I'd very much like to eat again."

If there's a stylistic signature here, it might be a touch of sweetness, which Bob detected in both Sichuan dumplings and dan dan noodles. He didn't mind it, but ChiefHDB found it excessive. While most describe robust chile heat in their dishes, Pan warns of possible inconsistency in seasoning. "Despite its name," he says of Hot Kitchen, "I was totally unable to get them to give me anything that was remotely hot."

As Bob Martinez notes, this restaurant joins a crowded field that includes Szechuan Gourmet, the Grand Sichuan chain, Lan Sheng, Legend, and Café China, to name a few of Manhattan's Sichuan contenders. "New York seems to be able to absorb them—there’s a significant segment of the dining public that can’t get enough of this cuisine," he says. "Assuming you like Sichuan food, is Hot Kitchen a destination restaurant? Ten years ago the answer would have been yes. Today, the equation has changed. With so many good Sichuan choices all around, Hot Kitchen becomes a destination if you’re within 10 blocks of the restaurant. That’s not a knock on Hot Kitchen, it’s a byproduct of the wealth of great Sichuan restaurants all around the city."

Hot Kitchen [East Village]
254 Second Avenue (between E. Sixth and Seventh streets), Manhattan
212-228-3090

Discuss: Anyone tried Hot Kitchen on 2nd Ave?