I is for Incendiary
Sushi Café · Ko Hyang · Joung Kak · Thai Landing · Sisson's · Café Tattoo · Austin Grill
In and of itself, sushi is not the spiciest food around. Sure, any fool can load up on wasabi, thereby killing the delicate flavor of the fresh raw fish that is, after all, the point of eating sushi (or sashimi) in the first place. But most sushi menus list a few inherently hot 'n' spicy items wherein the heat comes built in and on purpose. Sowebo's Sushi Café (1120 Hollins St.,  837-2345) cranks the fire up to 11 with its famed Ultraman Roll: Tucked in alongside the tuna is the hottest of all peppers, the habañero. It's been known to leave unsuspecting diners red-faced and gasping for water. Fortunately Sushi Café offers a starter course, allowing diners to work their way up the heat meter, through the Danger, Nasty, and Godzilla rolls. If you haven't got the tongue for it, the café does the plainer fare well too.
When incipient illness raises its aching, phlegmy head at Baltimore's Most Contagious Alternative Weekly, the prescription is Korean food. The most immediate source of relief comes from Ko Hyang (2101 Maryland Ave.,  385-9290), in the form of ojing uh bok eum. That's cuttlefish in spicy barbecue sauce to you occidental tourists, a dish that tickles the tongue as well as it clears the sinuses. The side of fat udon noodles provides the heft our fever-wracked bodies need to fight off further bacterial invasion, giving us the strength to tackle a tasty scallion pancake as well.
Whether you want to clear your head or sear a mound of raw beef at your very own table, Joung Kak (18 W. 20th St.,  837-5231/5235) is a great dinner pick for those with a penchant for the fiery. Japanese and Chinese dishes are offered here, but the tour de force is the Korean food. From chewy squid and crisp green chilis in a crushed-red-pepper sauce to a pot of buckwheat noodle with spicy sauce, eating here will awaken your every sense, and one or two you didn't know you had.
If you've got cast-iron guts and a yen for the unusual, tie up at Thai Landing (1207 N. Charles St.,  727-1234). They'll turn up the heat on dishes like gai pad mamoang himmapan (chicken with cashews, chili paste, roasted hot peppers, and spring onions)--already a heart- tingling three stars by the menu's heat meter--as hot as you like. If that fails to light your fire, ask for the fish sauce with peppers. Us, we'll settle for a heaping plate of pad thai, Thailand's version of comfort food.
Some eateries ceaselessly grapple with their motifs and menus, swapping concepts and switching offerings in an endless pursuit of a bankable combo. Sisson's (36 E. Cross St.,  539-2093] hatched a winner years ago and stuck with it: zesty, hot Cajun food combined with cold, tasty, made-on-the-premises beer. From a humble plate of Cajun fries to an opulent entrée of blackened salmon to a mountain of steamed crawfish, much of the Sisson's menu is designed to warm your tongue and transport you south to Bayou country. As this is Maryland's oldest brew pub, heat relief is also close at hand. We recommend the India pale ale, which packs enough hop power to cut through the mostly pungently pepper-packed dish.
If talking to Café Tattoo (4825 Belair Road,  325-7427) owner Rick Catalano--he's the cigar-chomping, Bawlmerese-speaking, aphorism-spouting, ponytail-wearing guy behind the bar--isn't enough entertainment (and believe us, it is), then the 'Too's steamy fare for the unabashedly carnivorous surely will be. Rick's daughter, Jen, makes the proverbial chili that takes the paint off your insides. Her spicy beef burrito topped with salsa also packs a punch, and her kickin' chicken wings have drawn comparisons to the breath of dragons. Good thing they have one of the best tap selections in town to help you put out the otherwise unquenchable fire.
Not your father's Tex-Mex joint, Canton's new Austin Grill (2400 Boston St.,  534-0606) is a monument to high tech and hot sauce. Six different hot sauces, in fact, from tame to tempestuous. Try the flame-grilled fajitas, the Mexican corn soup, or anything made with crab. Save room for a fabulous dessert like Kahlua flan and a couple cups of estate-grown coffee. On a cold night, request a table by the tortilla machine. It will keep you toasty after the effects of the chili wear off.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201