Caught up this afternoon with a good friend. After her hair appointment and my mani-pedi in Rosslyn, we met up for a late lunch in Arlington. I've tried Uncle Liu's in Falls Church a number of times, and really like it. Sichuan food is deliciously spicy and I've been craving some serious spice lately. Fortunately my friend has wanted some spicy food as well. Earlier this year, Uncle Liu's owners opened an Arlington outpost named Mala Tang. With a much larger investment in decor, the interior of Mala Tang is really very aesthetically pleasing but I was interested in seeing how the spice factor translated from Falls Church to Arlington.
Dan Dan Mein
The noodles were wider and flatter than normal versions I've tried at Sichuan Pavilion in Rockville and DC. The sauce is spicy, but not authentically spicy, lessened perhaps for the tastes of Arlingtonians?
Steamed meat dumplings in a spicy sauce with scallions.
We ordered the tabletop hot pot with NY strip, lamb, bean sprouts, fish balls, enoki mushrooms and spinach.
Unlike Uncle Liu's family-style pots, Mala Tang offers individual pots.
Perhaps this appeals to people who may not view the idea of communal hot pot cooking as pleasant, but to me it was a bit odd. I do think this would be helpful if you have a group of people, with varying dietary issues.
We both chose the Mala, or spicy-numbing broth.
After adding in the individual ingredients to cook in the bubbling broth, we then removed the cooked items and dipped in a sauce provided by our kind server. It was really delicious, and had we been more strategic, we would have just ordered collectively for the table. As it was, we had a lot of ingredients leftover after reaching past the point of full. Tossing the leftover bits and bobs into the broth to cook, we asked the server if we could take home the rest.
Mala Tang is good, and fits the Arlington scene. However, knowing that a meal at Uncle Liu's is equally good and can be divided amongst a group of four or five for a much more reasonable $15-20 per person, the $40 each we paid was a bit steep. I know better, and should have figured out their system faster. I'd go again, especially if there was a vegetarian, someone allergic to shellfish, and a devote carnivore in the group. But I would definitely ask for an authentically spicy mala broth.