Don't believe the naysayers.
I've been hearing that Joyce Chinese Cuisine is slipping. That's it no longer good. That something has changed for the worse. Ignore all of those wrong people. I'll be the judge of "good" thank you very much.
Indeed, everything seems fine at this Sichuan restaurant in River Edge, NJ. In fact, on a recent trip, I had one of the best dishes of this year.
I wanted some Sichuan comfort food, and for me, fried fish is comforting. I ordered the Fried Spicy & Aromatic Fish, which hit the spot. Tender pieces of fried fish, chili oil, chili peppers, and a load of Sichuan peppercorn. Classic Sichuan flavors here. "Boy, this has a spicy kick" I thought. I had no idea what I was in for next.
Tripe has been entering my face whenever I see it, especially following a recent trip to Tuscany, where I ate tripe as much as possible. So when I saw Tripe w/ Long Pepper and Peppercorn on the menu, well you know I just had to check it out. "You like hot?" the server asked. "Yes, of course," I confidently replied. I'm no rube, after all.
I patiently waited for the dish--which was taking quite some time to come out--trying not to fill up on the addictive fried fish nuggets which were begging to be eaten. I asked a server if they had forgotten my trip dish, dammit, and was assured that the kitchen was working on it. Well OK then. Not sure what is so complicated about tossing some tripe with long peppers, but whatever.
Well when this casserole hit the table, I could see what could have taken a while. A very complex bowl of food, to be sure. My first impression was that it had more notes of Southeast Asia than Sichuan food typically does. It almost had a Thai jungle curry aroma to it. Perhaps it was the fresh chili peppers (something you don't see very often in Sichuan cooking).
The flavor was intense. The heat was searing. The notes were herbaceous and fruity. Again, two elements I'm not used to experiencing in Sichuan food. The bowl was loaded with tripe, and Chinese celery, and bean sprouts, and pickled peppers, and ginger, and hot chili, and wood ear mushrooms. Textures swimming all around. I didn't know where to start, but didn't want to stop.
I'll tell ya, I didn't want to stop, but I had to stop. The heat was so intense that I was feeling it in my ear canal. My mouth was on fire. I went back to the fish, which 10 minutes earlier seemed pretty damned spicy. It tasted like nothing at that point. My tongue was shot. Ear wax was melting into my throat. My eyes were watering. The burning sensation reached the back of my head, like some sort of opposite-ice-cream-headache straight from hell. I felt intoxicated. It was friggin' glorious.
A subsequent visit was a bit less dramatic.
We had a crab dish, Sichuan style. All of the typical Sichuan flavors, and quite messy. Little crabs, not big. Which meant that it was really messy to eat. A good dish, but I probably wouldn't order it again as the there wasn't a whole lot of meat for all of that work.
The tea smoked duck was just wonderful. The smoke from tea seems sweeter to me than smoke from hardwood. Very subtle, very aromatic and herbaceous. This was some fine duck. I had the leftovers straight from the fridge for dinner later that day, and couldn't have been happier.
Joyce is still rocking it. Get yourself over there.
Joyce Chinese Cuisine : 478 Kinderkamack Rd : River Edge, NJ : 201.261.8858