Following up a lead from chowhound alum, chandavkl, that Full Moon Mandarin Cuisine in Monterey has a selection of authentic Sichuan dishes on the menu, our family headed over there to check it out. https://www.hungryonion.org/t/authent... The restaurant is run by a family from Sichuan who took over about a year and a half ago. The Sichuan dishes were added in the last year. The chef is from Chengdu and has been cooking in the States for several years. I was told that he worked for La Mei Zi in San Francisco. I recognized this as Spices! Szechuan Trenz, an early location of the well-known Spices! group that closed on 8th Avenue.
Though I tried not to order everything at flaming spice levels, it was kind of hard not to confined to a smallish menu. Here's what we tried:
Triple beef with spicy sauce, $12 - Aka "husband and wife", we asked what the third "beef" might be in what's typically made in the States with tripe and beef shank, and were told "lung". After closely inspecting the dish, I can say that there is no lung in it, and also beef lung is not sold for human consumption in the U. S. The dish gave us a full on ma-la buzz, and the sesame and chopped peanuts added nutty accents. Good job on cooking the tripe, but the shank pieces were on the dryish side. Still, I would order this again.
Sichuan style cold noodles, $9 - I ordered this one less spicy to try to not flame out with all hot dishes. Chile peppers were withheld but the full complement of Sichuan peppercorns gave this a tingly numbing sensation and citrus-y highlights. Noodles were mushy, but good flavors here.
Sichuan mapa tofu, $10 - My favorite dish of the meal, this was made in traditional style with ground beef rather than with pork or the vegetarian version commonly served in these parts. Brimming with briny, fermented flavors from the spicy bean paste and stray bits of fermented black beans, though this did not taste like Pixian doubanjiang to me. Medium-soft tofu stayed mostly intact. Note that the menu includes another version of mapo tofu too, so be sure to order the correct one.
Cumin lamb, $16 - Nice job on this dish too, revved up to fiery heat levels with colorful dried red chile pods, chile flakes, fresh chiles, and red and green bell peppers. Softened white onions and charred scallions added extra savoriness to the thinly shaved and seared lamb slices. Aromatic cumin seeds were whole for the most part, making this dish less gritty than other versions.
Shredded potato with green pepper, $10 - Textbook, well-executed version with firm, waxy potato shreds and a hint of vinegar picking up the elusive flavors of a well-seasoned wok. The menu also includes a version made with "wild pepper", the more biting green Sichuan peppercorn.
Chongqing spicy chicken, $14 - Boneless only here, the thin batter had a delicate crispness when first served. The meat was a tad dry. Beautifully seasoned with aromatic garlic, dried red chile pods, Sichuan peppercorns, sesame seeds and cilantro for a very good version. The heat of the meal started to build up on us by this point. I asked if a version with bone-in chicken, e.g., wings, could be available by special order. I offered to supply the chicken wings, and was told that the kitchen would cook my protein of choice for me. Our server also recommended the Hot and spicy duck, $16, that uses bone-in duck pieces in the same style of prep.
Brown rice - Besides the potatoes, our other carb for ameliorating the ma-la numbing spice was an order of brown rice. I'm highlighting it because the rice was better quality and cooked to proper texture here.
Pumpkin croquette (4), $6 - For a sweet ending to try to tame the flames in our bellies, we tried the homemade croquettes. Made with naturally sweet kabocha deep-fried in a crispy coating, the centers oozed black sesame seed goo. We liked these a lot too.
The menu includes two pages of mostly Sichuan style Chef's Specials.
Some of the dishes were quite good, and none of what we tried was bad, a better average than I expected to find here. Service was quite attentive and the staff were very interested in our feedback. So, it's true, authentic Chengdu flavors can be found in Monterey now.
I'll be back to try more of the menu. Next time, I will probably return armed with my own chicken and a package of Pixian doubanjiang.
Full Moon Mandarin Cuisine
429 Alvarado St
Monterey, CA 93940