A Novocain-Numbing Experience at Sichuan-Newcomer Xin Wei Kitchen
Xin Wei Kitchen serves up a symphony of flavors.
Too often I see “Sichuan” used as a stand-in for “spicy.” As if the complex cuisine of an entire region can be defined by a single ingredient—its Novocain-numbing peppercorns that are undeniably a hallmark of Sichuan dishes. But this single spice is not the whole story. Not even close.
A great Sichuan dish invites all the senses to come out and play, striking that bliss point where sweet, salty, umami, floral, smoke and spice collide. Every taste bud is hit, like experiencing a full orchestra, versus just the drum section.
This is one way to differentiate the lions from the kittens of Sichuan restaurants. Xin Wei Kitchen, a newcomer opened earlier this year in the former Bahn Thai, is without a doubt the former. Its many dishes, prepared by chef and co-owner Dong Lin, a native of Sichuan Province, spit, pop and bloom with garlic, soy and chile oil.
Start with Sichuan classics and you won’t be disappointed. Sliced beef and tripe in chile sauce ($12) is a cold appetizer permeated with umami from fruity black vinegar. Rustic-looking wontons ($7) and dumplings ($8) are worth ordering solely for the gently numbing garlic and chile oil bath they come nestled in.
The Sichuan stir-fried pork ($15) is humble and intensely fragrant, with a sneaky heat that pulses like an electric current. Not a one-note heat, the crispy strips of stir-fried pork are lemony from Sichuan peppercorns, floral from jalapeño slices and sweet-sour from fermented soy paste. If you have an aversion to spice, we were told the shredded dried pork with bamboo shoots and spices ($15) is very similar but without the heat.
The crispy-chewy texture of the Chongqing spicy chicken ($15) had me inhaling this dish like popcorn. Marinated chicken is deep fried, then stir fried with dried chiles, garlic and Sichuan peppercorns. It’s well seasoned and wanting for nothing.
While I had my eye on spicy dry-fried string beans ($12), our server insisted a first visit needed braised eggplant ($13). And she wasn’t wrong. It’s a beautiful dish outside and in—colorful in looks and flavor. The eggplant was silky and smooth as custard. Still-crisp onions, carrots and green bell pepper add texture, acid and brightness. And that brown sauce—all the flavors present—I couldn’t get enough.
A friend once told me, if the seafood dishes at a Sichuan restaurant are good, everything else will be, too. If the boiled fish filet ($18) is any indication, Xin Wei is one of the best around. It’s like a large bowl of lava—fiery red, sweet and sour chile oil with delicately fried fish, cooling cucumber and wilted Napa cabbage that gratefully soaks up the broth. The cook on the fish is masterful, like little meltaways—firm enough to pick up, but fall-apart tender in the mouth.
The menu is intimidatingly long—and that’s just the Chinese menu (with a few Thai dishes thrown in here and there). I have a suspicion there are more than a few gems to uncover at Xin Wei. The Bashu grilled whole fish ($29) is at the top of my list for my next visit. Which will be very soon, I imagine.
1932 Henderson Road, Northwest Columbus,
This story is from the April 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.