S&W Pepperhouse (two locations) serves up some of the most robust and authentic Sichuan food in the area. The strong, bright, spicy flavours of the dishes were well matched by the skilled, yet rustic, no-nonsense presentation of the dishes.
Our table asked for the dishes "hot", and the kitchen delivered dishes replete with chilies and Sichuan peppercorns. Some of the diners were surprised that the dishes didn't seem "hot" - which can be partially explained by palate numbing effects of the Sichuan Peppercorns (called "ma la" in Chinese). Dishes which were literally swimming in a pool of lava hot chilies were actually quite easy to eat. Many lesser Sichuan joints omit the peppercorns and often add chili paste which makes dishes unbearably hot - thus overwhelming more subtle flavours. Good Sichuan cooking manages to retain all these nuances with a well-balanced heat.
We ordered the following:
Peanut-Cilantro appetizer, Shredded Potato appetizer, Twice-Cooked Pork, Chili-Chicken ("Chongqing Chicken") with Puffed Rice, Cumin Lamb, and the very spicy Pig's Blood and Offal Stew ("Feather, Blood, Prosperity" - but using pork blood instead of the traditional duck blood. (I think this dish was not on the menu.)
Their use of fresh ingredients (including a very good fresh Tilapia - often typically muddy in flavour and mushy in texture) elevates even the most simple of the dishes. The spicy and tart Peanut-Cilantro appetizer tasted complex and addicting despite its simplistic preparation.
The Tilapia dish was mentioned in a recent Conde Nast article as the "Single best culinary reason to fly to Vancouver" (http://www.concierge.com/cntraveler/a...). All hyperbole aside, it was a very good dish. Fresh deep-fried tilapia buried in relish similar to the Peanut-Cilantro appetizer.
The most challenging dish was the off-menu mao xue wang - Pig's Blood and Offal Stew (correct me if I'm wrong DylanK - I wasn't sure what this dish was exactly) - which is a stew of pork blood cubes, various offal, and Chinese house-made "spam". Delicious if you can stomach the stomach.
Just a few years ago, I was lamenting on the lack of authentic Sichuan cuisine here in town, but I am glad to say that things are definitely changing for the better. We now have quite a number of worthy restaurants - some I have yet to fully explore.
S & W Pepper House
4500 Kingsway, Burnaby, BC V5H2A9, CA