Lucky Strike kicks up spice with nice touch of kung fu
Bread and Brew
The future of Chinese food is at Lucky Strike, which just made the move from Southeast 82nd Avenue to Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard. It's a significant move, and one that makes sense for a quirky restaurant that serves spicy pig intestine and describes its Kungfu Fry Rice as a 'guarantee ass kicking.'
About half the dishes on the menu have the word 'spicy' in their name. Lucky Strike first became known for its Hot Pepper Chicken Bath, a dish that requires you to pick chunks of chicken out of a volcanic pile of whole red peppers. The chicken pieces are crisp around the edges, and they burn with a steady, purposeful heat. Your lips will tingle but your head will not explode.
Another signature dish - and the one thing you must order - is the Guinness pork ribs. Each small section of bone has a morsel of fatty pork clinging to it, and the whole is glazed with a shiny, sweet and spicy sauce. You eat with your fingers, expressing your approval with crude, half-articulated words and by sucking on your fingertips.
Not everything is this good. The pot-stickers were dry and boring. My friends liked the sliced pork in spicy garlic sauce, but I thought it was slimy and unpleasantly lukewarm.
Cold noodles in sesame oil, on the other hand, were fresh and lively, sending off sparks of spice and sweetness in all directions. Dan Dan Noodles, topped with spicy minced beef, peanuts and scallions were a little more predictable but still chipper and glowing medium-hot. Cumin beef is another winner. The thin strips of meat are tender and juicy (they're from Painted Hills) and each bite floods the mouth with a rich cumin flavor.
Most of the seasonings at Lucky Strike are described on the menu as 'Sichuan.' Of course this means spicy, but it also means something bold and new. The older generation of restaurants spells the word 'Szechuan.' And the Sichuan peppercorn, used in some dishes here, has only been imported to the United States for the past five years or so.
To cool down, try the baby bok choy, which is sautéed very quickly, and not permitted to go limp. Or get the fried rice with vegetables, which is fluffy with eggs, not weighed down by grease, and striped with fresh greens. Or if you don't need a break from the heat, get that Kungfu Fry Rice, which is fried with kung pao chicken and won't actually do you any harm. In fact, it might make you stronger.
The feeling of youth and sizzle is enforced by the style of the dining room, which looks like a nightclub. Vermilion glass chandeliers hang from the ceilings. There's a huge dragon mural on one wall, and the bar is topped with Mahjong tiles and under-lit with glowing colors that change over time.
Call for cold one
The house cocktails have evocative names like Cotton Rose, Mo Passion and One Night in Beijing. The drinks are not as interesting as their names, however, and don't pair up particularly well with the extremely assertive food. A cold Tsingtao or three is what is called for.
At the end of one meal, my friends and I sat at a table covered with plates. Each plate was scattered with red peppers and not a scrap of anything else.
Portions here are small and sharable, and the menu, in mockery of split plate fees, pronounces: '$2 for NOT sharing.'
Lucky Strike, 3 p.m. to midnight Monday and Wednesday- Thursday, 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday, noon to 1 a.m. Saturday, noon to 11 p.m. Sunday, 3862 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., 503-206-8292, entrees $5-$16