We don't often think of hot and spicy dishes as comfort food, but that's precisely what ma po tofu is to the countless folks who call themselves fans of the Szechuan classic. And one of the best versions of the dish in Cleveland can be found at Szechuan Gourmet, a relatively new addition to the Asiatown dining scene.
The first thing that strikes you about the dish is its color — a fiery red that looks toxic to tongues. That color comes largely from the spicy bean paste, which gives the dish more bark than bite. Don't get me wrong: ma po tofu has heat — it is Szechuan, after all — but it's more of a slow-and-steady drumbeat of heat rather than a mind-numbing blast.
Served in a wide casserole, the dish ($7.95) features soft and silky cubes of tofu set off by finely ground and sautéed pork. A smattering of fermented black beans give the dish some texture, while the bean paste adds heat, depth and loads of umami. Ma po tofu is served with white rice.
Find Szechuan Gourmet at 1735 E. 36th Street, attached to Tink Holl market.