1083 Main Street, Worcester
1083 Main Street is hallowed ground, the site of Chopsticks Restaurant, the first ethnic cuisine I experienced in Worcester. This was decades before anyone dared dream of anything like the Worcester Renaissance and I’d arrived in town from a food desert; a place where the most exotic I’d ever tasted was Taco Bell.
Once I’d had a taste of fresh, intense flavors, real honest ingredients skillfully prepared, and enjoyed the hospitality of friendly owners I couldn’t help but to banish fast food from my life. Other remarkable cuisines were experienced, but for years Chopsticks was a monthly meeting place for my group of friends.
Things happen, people depart, new cuisines gained favor and gradually the Chopsticks tradition fell aside. I’ll admit to feeling somewhat apprehensive about a return to the new iteration, Red Pepper restaurant. But that would prove unfounded.
The dining room is still a minimalist experience of unadorned off-white walls, no bar, mostly Chinese spoken. And the menu remains extensive, self-described as ‘Authentic Sichuan Chinese’. As always, our table was set with a pot of tea which I immediately poured into our small ceramic cups.
We started out with an order of fried pork vegetable dumplings, aka potstickers. Frying at Red Pepper meant just a passing glance over the pan; our order of six dumplings were glistening paper-white with just a hint of light gold cast on the bottoms. The mild-flavored mixture of pork and scallions was minced as finely as possible; they were delicious dipped in the serving dish’s well of soy sauce.
Soon after this our entrée’s arrived, both ordered from the list of ‘Chef Recommends’ specials. The first item on that list, ‘Cumin Flavored Lamb with Chili Sauce’ caught my attention and, admittedly, I looked no further. Mind made up; I love Chinese cuisine treatments of lamb.
And it was a winner. The plate load of thin-sliced lamb was lustily imbued with cumin; a peculiar spice that in careless hands can be catastrophic. Each bite was exotically delicious, with cumin lending an earthy pungent flavor; wide ribbons of sliced white onion still retained a slight crunch, and the dish was scattered with cracked red chili peppers. My lips burned in a most pleasureful way! This was an unforgettable dish.
Our other choice, Sautéed Duck with Ginger Spicy Sauce, was a different story. Let’s start with what I enjoyed: true to my Chopsticks memories, it had big chunks of sweet red pepper, spicy green peppers, and bits of garlic. The sauce was tasty, but not particularly gingery. Where I struggled, though, was with the duck. The plate was heaped with chunks of it but be careful! All but two or three pieces contained shards and tiny splinters of bone. Some pieces had very little meat. This meant each piece had to be explored and mined for morsels of meat.
Another tradition, pork fried rice, was fluffy, tasty, and scattered with bits of red-tinted pork. Clearly this is a favorite no one wants to mess with. Red Pepper served a boatload, what we couldn’t finish went home in one of their wire-handled bait boxes.
Thomas Wolfe wrote ‘You can’t go home again’. With chopsticks in hand, a plate of cumin lamb and rice in front of me, the Red Pepper did – just a bit – feel like a return home.