100 Degree C (3903 Fair Ridge Drive, Unit H, Fairfax, VA 22033; 703-537-0788). Its website is www.100degreehot.com, and it is an appropriate website title. The restaurant specializes in spicy Hunan cuisine, and it’s a great addition to the several Chinese restaurants in Fairfax that serve authentic spicy cuisine that gives no quarter.
Most Chinese restaurants have a “secret” Chinese menu, with authentic dishes listed and nary a word of English. 100 Degree C lists its secret menu at the front of its menu (in English and Chinese) with its American-Chinese dishes towards the back of the menu. We strongly encourage ordering from the front.
We started off with the hot and sour soup, which was both hot and sour and generously laced with tofu. It was good but didn’t stand out. However, the spicy cucumber appetizer brought us immediately back to memories of Beijing. Smothered in spicy chiles, the appetizer is not for the faint of heart but tickles the taste buds and challenges the palate.
The potstickers were not the restaurant’s finest moment. The filling (you can choose from several types, but we had the pork and cabbage filling) was flavorful and generous, but the skins were too thick and a little gummy.
The dish that we judge all Chinese restaurants by (especially those that specialize in spicy food) is mapo tofu, stir-fried tofu with spices and chiles. You can order this dish with or without ground pork. Unlike the version served in Beijing, the Sichuan peppercorns are not served whole but ground. The result is a more subtle pop of flavor in your mouth than you typically get with this dish. So, rather than a bite full of fire, you get a pleasantly tingly afterburn that grows with each mouthful. There is also less oil than in comparable versions (see my other DC reviews), but a quick reminder that the standard has a low bar. We gave the dish our hearty approval.
One of our favorite dishes was the hot and sour chicken. The hot is easily deduced from the hot peppers, and the sour is a result of the diced pickled green beans sprinkled plentifully throughout the dish. It was a definite pleasure to eat.
Another favorite was the cumin beef. You obviously have to like cumin to like this dish. The beef comes in tender slices, coated with cumin and stir fried with scallions and garlic. (Very little that we ordered did not come with garlic.) I like—I don’t love—cumin, and this dish was excellent.
Service, as with many Chinese restaurants, can be brusque and a little perfunctory. It helps if you order knowledgeably (*not* shrimp fried rice, for example), and it helps even more if you speak Chinese.
We definitely plan on going back to try more dishes from the front of the menu!