Rice University has more than its fair share of students from China. Chinese people are also part of the backbone of the Medical Center. But until recently, they had nowhere in close proximity to enjoy a taste of home. That changed last year when John Hu helped Cooking Girl to open a location on West Holcombe Boulevard. In the past two months, Katy export Tiger Noodle House and Hu's own restaurant, Hu's Cooking, have joined the small community of Chinese restaurants in the neighborhood that go way beyond the Tso.
So why does Hu call his cuisine fusion? The menu is heavy on Szechuan fare, but also has Taiwanese dishes, including a whole section of "three-cup" dishes (one cup each of soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice wine) uncommon in Houston. But the real reason to go to Hu's Cooking is chef Wang Yu's originals. "Our chef's creations aren't exactly Szechuan, but his style," Hu says. He adds that on the Chef's Specials section, alone, there are nine dishes that don't exist anywhere else.
One of Yu's best innovations is dishes that pair Szechuan peppercorn with spearmint. The spicy shabu shabu lamb with spearmint uses the herb almost as a vegetable, along with beansprouts, in an oily, chile-spiked broth. The result is tingly, spiky and oddly refreshing. He achieves the same feat with the sizzling beef platter with spearmint.
Other originals include spicy beef with kidney beans, sweet-skinned duck served at room temperature, and the dish that we saw going to the most tables the day we dined, braised pork with fried shredded potato. Cubes of chile-flecked pork belly over extra-skinny shoestring fries? How could diners resist?
But lovers of Szechuan classics will be very happy ordering those, too. Ingredients are top-flight, including Spring Mountain Farms chicken, Berkshire pork, certified Angus beef, and premium halal lamb. But there is also less compromising for non-Chinese palates here than at other Szechuan outposts, perhaps partly because there are very few non-Chinese clients.
Red chile oil wontons burn with a quiet but insistent flame. The chubby dumplings burst with porky flavor and just a hint of sweetness, but it's the chiles that dominate in the end. Ma Po Tofu, made with extra-creamy bean curd, only has one of three chiles next to its name on the menu, but it packs a serious punch.
The mega-sized menu presents a challenge for those keen to eat their way through all the offerings. But we recommend making a serious attempt.