The Gut Check One Hundred is our accounting of the 100 dishes in St. Louis that you must eat right now. These are the best dishes at the newest restaurants and the newest dishes at the best restaurants. These are the 100 dishes that define St. Louis dining in 2013. Our list culminates this fall when the Riverfront Times Best of St. Louis 2013 names the "Best Dish" of the year.
When Famous Szechuan Pavilion (8615 Olive Boulevard, University City; 314-685-0888) operated out of a drive-thru hut in Brentwood, you didn't have to eat the food to say it wasn't like any other Chinese restaurant in St. Louis. Now that it's relocated to a more typical (though spare) restaurant space in University City, you have to venture inside and order something before you can claim that it's one of a kind.
And if you haven't visited Famous Szechuan Pavilion and tried the incredible dishes there, then you can't say you've experienced the full range of culinary delights that St. Louis has to offer.
Szechuan cuisine is best known for its ferocious chile heat and its liberal use of the Szechuan peppercorn, which possesses a unique flavor (sort of citrusy, sort of floral; sort of reminiscent of gin) and imparts a unique sensation: a tingling numbness that spreads across your tongue and the roof of your mouth. (Botanically speaking it's not a peppercorn, or, for that matter, a chile, at all.)
You will experience both of the abovementioned characteristics at Famous Szechuan Pavilion, though not always and not necessarily in the same dish. The spicy wonton soup betrays its heat in the vivid orange-red of its broth, in which bob plump little wontons stuffed with ground pork. The Szechuan peppercorns lurk at the bottom of your bowl; stir them up, and the soup suddenly explodes with their more complex flavor.
For a shot of straight-up capsaicin, I suggest yu shan pork: slivers of meat and chopped scallions and red chiles in chile oil, the savory blend of pig and garlic quickly giving way to a heat so powerful that I stopped at a nearby McDonald's on the drive home for a cone of soft-serve vanilla ice cream to try to kill the pain.
Is there a dish that you think belongs among the Gut Check One Hundred 2013? Let us know!
See Also: The Gut Check One Hundred 2013 (So Far) - La Tejana Taqueria's Goat Soup - Hendricks BBQ's Ribs - Sauce on the Side's "Costanza" Calzone - Siete Luminarias' Guanajuato-Style Carnitas - Fork & Stix's Khao Soi