Village Voice columnist Robert Sietsema once had an eye-ball eating contest with Dr. John in New York. He lost.
So, when I heard that the dapper New Orleans musician and composer once known as the Night Tripper was back in town chilling prior to the June 3 release of his new album, The City That Care Forgot, I asked a mutual friend to call and arrange a rematch.
He’d eaten a surfeit of eyes in the interim, so we decided to switch the contest to chile peppers. And the venue would be the spiciest restaurant I could think of: Grand Sichuan House in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I knew from several previous visits that the fearsome pepper onslaught would include dried red chilies, scarlet-chile oil, fresh green chilies, and—most formidable of all—Sichuan peppercorns, the berries of a shrub that induce a scary metallic numbness in the mouth, like a Novocain overdose. I secretly hoped the peppercorns would throw my adversary off a bit and give me the advantage.
The restaurant’s awning glowed yellow as we pulled up in Scooter’s blue Honda just as the sun was setting. As usual, Dr. John looked every bit the boulevardier in a trim black beret, leather coat, striped tunic, and carved African cane dangling gris-gris, the talismans of voodoo magic. The joint was nearly empty, but the staff was welcoming and cheery. Picking up the menu, I plotted the sequence of dishes so that the food would get hotter and hotter as the meal progressed.
If you didn’t click the above link for the rest of the story (which includes details of all the spicy dishes consumed at Grand Sichuan House), I’ll tell you who won, Dr. John. New Orleans cuisine has a lot of spicy elements, Dr. John must have a tongue of steel. I like a bit of heat in my food as well, but don’t think I could keep up with the Night Tripper either.
The album, The City That Care Forgot, looks good, btw, but I’m a big fan:
Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, Ani Difranco and Terence Blanchard join Dr. John and the Lower 911 in this musical paean to Dr. John’s beloved New Orleans. This powerful new recording features stirring and thought-provoking songs about the post-Katrina crises in the ravaged jewel of the American South, including “City That Care Forgot,” “Time for a Change,” “Promises, Promises,” “We Gettin’ There” and many more.