Hot House

Jefferson Street’s Peking House doesn’t shy away from flavors — or the signs of authenticity.

[Ed. note: Peking House has since closed.] The guy knows his way around a pair of chopsticks. He lands a two-top right in the middle of Peking House, slaps his newspaper down on the table and orders without looking at the menu. Twenty minutes later, he’s hunched over a bowl as big as his head.

I lean over the back of my chair to face him.

“What is that?” I ask, looking at the saucy mixture in his bowl.

The man smiles. “Boiled pork.” I nod. He continues, “Boiled beef is good too. I used to go to this place when it was in Pewaukee. Now I drive into the city.”

Peking House moved in spring 2014 from Lake Country into the Jefferson Street storefront it now occupies, a space that once housed such dining establishments as Zaafaran, Los Mitos and Ed Debevic’s. For some of the latest wave of diners, the plump pot stickers, kung pao chicken and moo shu pork are enough.

But Mr. Two-Top above, he’s in the menu’s “House Special” section, an area that includes hong sue rabbit, frog with pickled chiles, and sour pickles with pig intestines. Sounds intense, but you need not be so adventurous to enjoy something with high returns. Consider the Szechuan hot pot ($12 and up), a stew that (one to four-plus) diners cook at their table à la fondue. (Bold, chile-infused flavors define Szechuan cooking, the specialty cuisine at Peking House.)

The kitchen, headed up by chef/co-owner Wei Ping (who formerly cooked at Yen Ching), makes from scratch the savory hot pot broth (three kinds, including a chicken-pork base), which comes to the table along with a portable burner that keeps the whole meat-seafood-vegetable cooking process simple, interactive and communal. Heighten the flavors by adding seasoning to the broth.

The hot pot has a long history in China. This is a perfect intro to it – and perhaps a step closer to enjoying delicacies like stir-fried kidneys with pickled chiles.

‘Hot House’ appears in the August 2015 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
The August 2015 issue is on newsstands August 3.
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Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.