Answering my own query ( http://www.chowhound.com/topics/447174 ), William and I hit Szechuan Era in Cupertino Village with another friend in October at its two-week mark. Arriving on the early side on a week night, we got a table quickly, but a few minutes later, it was packed with a rapidly growing line outside. It’s a hot ticket already, in more ways than one. This new Sichuan specialist is under the same ownership as Panda Country Kitchen in San Francisco.
The menu we saw makes few concessions to Americanized dishes except in the Monday-Friday lunch specials. And even there, Sichuan dishes such as Twice cooked bacon cut pork or Spicy boiled fish filet are options for the lunch plates. The menu is quite extensive with Sichuan specialties and it was hard for us to decide what to order.
Here’s what we tried:
• Beef shank and tendon, $5.95
The well-known Sichuan cold appetizer, “husband and wife lung slices”, which has no lung but rather thinly sliced beef shank rippled with tendon and strips of tripe is done very nicely here. A favorite at the table, this was ma-la to the hilt with plenty of dusky spices. The honeycomb tripe had great texture, cut at the right angle to the grain to be tender and still have a telltale chewiness. Beef shank was somewhat dried out, but still very tasty.
• Green bean noodle with hot pepper, $6.95
This liang fen was very good too with an acidic bite and a refreshing taste. The vinegar gave it a nice lift, and I’d love to have this again on a warm day.
• Cucumber with garlic sauce, $2.50
Pretty good version, still can't figure out how Sichuan cooks get so much pungency from the garlic. Would be better with the seeds removed.
• Pork chitlins with homemade pepper sauce, $6.95
Ordered by mistake when I pointed to the wrong number. We like chitlins in every form, but these were lousy. One bite, and the lack of cleaning and urine-like flavor shut this one down.
• Potato with hot green pepper, $5.95.
A simple dish that relies on perfect execution for its calling card, and this was as good as it gets. Expert knifework, cooked perfectly on point, and just enough hot pepper to breathe some warmth into the dish without making it fiery. I’ve always liked this as a simple foil for the vividly spiced dishes.
• Spicy boiled beef (water boiled beef), $9.95
Usually one of my favorites in the Sichuan repetoire and this turned out to be a big disappointment. Tough beef, monotonal spicing, hardly any ma-la notes, to be avoided.
• Fresh pickle with fish filet and lamb hot pot, $16.95 large
Luckily we had ordered the hot pot. In a word - fantastic. The three of us managed to drain the bowl. Sorry, no photo. At this time, only the large size was available.
The cooking was solid even this early in the game. While we had two disappointments, the highlights more than made up for them. With only one meal each at Panda Country Kitchen and here at Szechwan Era, I can’t say which is better, only that the quality is pretty close. I’ll certainly be back to try more, and would like to hear about any recommendations here from others.
N.B. The menu spells the name as Szechuan Era whereas the signage for the restaurant reads Szechwan Era.
10971 N Wolfe Rd, Cupertino, CA 95014