For some years now, a few of us on Chowhound have tried to keep track of chef musical chairs as Sichuan restaurants open and close. Not that easy, as in many cases we do not know the chef's name, simply recognizing the style of cooking or the restaurants in the bio. This next installment was made much easier. I had dinner at Chef Z's in San Jose, the former venue for Chef Ma (reports here), and asked Chef Zheng if Ma was still in the area.
Zheng said that Chef Ma had opened a different style of restaurant in Cupertino but he did not know the name in English. He said that it was on Homestead, next to "Da Shanghai". I figured out that Da Shanghai was probably Shanghai Garden. So off to this strip mall we went to see what else might be in that shopping center and found Chili Pot.
The decor feels more like a boba tea/dessert type place with purple walls and customers focused on their laptops. We were the only ones in the place not eating hotpot. But I had wanted to focus on the things that require a chef's hand. We tried:
Beef tendon with chili - This turned out to be beef shank instead of simply tendon. The slices were webbed with tendon, cut thinner than at Chef Z's and more tender. The spicing was less salty and the heat more in control. A very nice job.
Pigs feet special (cold appetizer) - Served chilly, the texture of the rind and cartilage was pretty stiff and not easy to get off the bone. Good flavor though. Plastic gloves accompanied the dish to keep the pinkies clean when trying to tackle this.
House special dan dan noodles - My favorite dish at Chef Ma, and while a little different here, still very satisfying. The mix included plenty of ya cai, and now the seasoning blend has more creamy sesame paste rather than being dominated by red chile oil. Not as vertical in presentation and the noodles were warm and not quite as firm as before.
Lamb skewers and cauliflower skewers - Besides hot pot, a subspecialty here seems to be skewers. The lamb ones were deliciously seasoned cubes of chewy meat that managed to still be a little pink at the center. Cauliflower had some spicy salt to flavor them but not much caramelization.
BBQ whole eggplant - My favorite dish of the meal, the eggplant's butterflied and splayed out in a flat rectangle for grilling. Much less greasy than other preps and the charred notes of the velvety eggplant combined with the brushed on sauce made this really tasty. The leftovers the next day after the seasoning soaked in more were even better.
With tax and tip, the total was only $42 for this much variety and leftovers to take home. Prices feel like a bargain here and it's easy to see why students are hanging out at Chili Pot. The execution was not quite as precise as at Chef Ma, but the authentic flavors all there. I'd happily return and if I lived closer this would be a regular work place for me.
20956 Homestead Rd Suite D
Cupertino, CA 95014
$30 minimum for credit cards