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Restaurants & Bars 9

Sichuan Food in Cute Houses - Sichuan Garden 2 and Red Peppers

lipoff | Nov 22, 2009 01:55 AM

In subsequent weekends I visited both Red Peppers and Sichuan Garden 2, and accidentally had very similar experiences in terms of both food and "overall impression".

At Red Peppers, three of us started by enjoying the excellent peanuts on the table, and then ordered cong1 you2 bing3 (Scallion Pancake), liang2 ban4 san1 si1 (Three Threads Salad -- seaweed, bean noodle and radish), and fu1 qi1 fei4 pian4 (Sliced Beef & Tendon with Chili Sauce).

The scallion pancakes were surprisingly good for a Sichuan restaurant, with a flavorful dipping sauce. The three threads salad is not usually my thing, but this was a particularly refreshing version and whoever made it has good knife skills. It was also very nicely arranged on the plate. Unfortunately, that knife work did not go into the fu qi fei pian, which had pieces of tripe that should have been cut much smaller. However, the flavor was definitely still there, but not as deep as at Sichuan Gourmet. Still, not bad at all.

For entrees, we ordered the mo2 yu4 shao1 ya1 (duck with konjac in spicy sauce) off of the specials board, and a xin1 xian1 ce4 yu2 (fresh whole fish) prepared qing1 zheng1 (steamed in ginger and scallion).

The duck is a stew, with pieces of roast duck interspersed in a flavorful and spicy broth, topped by plenty of cilantro and pieces of floating konjac jelly. Instead of being called 魔芋 (mo2 yu4) I'm more familiar with 蒟蒻 (ju3 ruo4). You may be familiar with this jelly from the little gelatin candies that come in a small cup and you suck out after opening a foil top. It tastes great in a spicy broth. My only complain is that the duck itself was a little dry (yes despite being immersed in a broth) and didn't maintain a crispy skin. Still the mix of peppers in the broth was complex and unusual.

The whole fish was excellent --- good quality fish, with plenty of meat, and terrific cheeks. The ginger taste was very present, but not overpowering. This fish was obviously very fresh.

Rice and tea were good, although nothing special. The service was prompt and kind, despite being very full on a Saturday night. The manager walked around to each table and was very conversant.

I hadn't been there since it was in its previous incarnation. Last time I seem to remember more Chongqing style menu choices, although in addition to the 魔芋烧鸭 we did order, there were a few other things written on the special board that were not listed elsewhere on the menu. These included 麻辣羊肉煲 ma2 la4 yang2 rou4 bao1 (they translated this as lamb with bean noodle in spicy sauce), 重慶东坡肉 Chong2 qing4 dong1 po1 rou4, which I found interesting because I always thought of Dong-po pork as a Hangzhou dish, so I wonder what this is. And 泡椒黄喉 pao4 jiao1 huang2 hou2, which literally translates as pickled pepper yellow throat, and is not translated on their menu, but is glossed in Chinese as 重慶特色菜 Chong2 qing4 te4 se4 cai4 (Chongqing local specialty). I thought I had a pretty good knowledge of Sichuan food, but this is above my pay grade. Anyone care of explain? I'm embarrassed to say, but I honestly don't know whether this is a mammal, bird, or turtle, presumably in a kind of hot pot?

The weekend before I found myself in Woburn and my DC and I went to Sichuan Garden 2 for the first time. We had been to Sichuan Garden in Brookline many times before, but I think we enjoyed this one better. We were also both incredibly hungry after a morning at the gym, a full day of car trouble, an afternoon of waiting in line for Chinese bureaucrats and the only food consumed were a few ginger snaps and some chocolate. We gobbled up scallion pancakes that I enjoyed thoroughly, although my DC said were "too chewy." fu1 qi1 fei4 pian4 (OX Meat and Tripe with Roasted Chilli-Peanut Vinaigrette) was well cut and ferociously hot, but again lacking the depth of flavor of Sichuan gourmet. We had Cheng2 du1 diao4 lu2 ya1 (Chengdu Roasted Lacquer Duck) and dou4 ban4 xian1 yu2 (Braised Whole Fish with Sichuan Chilli Miso Sauce) for entrees. I was actually expecting roast duck on a plate, but we were presented with pieces of roast duck chopped up and served in a very flavorful stew, with some excellent vegetables and a mild sauce. What I appreciated was the combination of roast duck skin that was still crispy with duck that was tender and soaked through in the broth. I still would have preferred the roast duck by itself, but the technique was excellent. The dou4 ban4 yu2 was also tasty, with the unusually deeply flavored sauce dominating. I really couldn't taste the fish as such, which is just fine. I don't know how else to describe this sauce except that it was "deep", but I was very impressed.

The service was earnest but a bit confused (we asked for tea four times, in both Chinese and English before we just gave up) and I'm not sure we saw the same waiter twice, but the manager was very attentive. We saw him take off an entire dish from the bill of the next table because they said they didn't mean to order it. I like the little historical house in which the restaurant is situated, and I like how the restaurant is divided up into little rooms, although we could hear everything else anyone else said in the room. It actually reminds me of the old L'Espalier space, although in a less opulent style (although the old L'Espalier also had a slightly New England Spartan/Puritan character). The entire staff of the Chinese embassy in New York also dined here that night. It looks like a good place for a private party.

Incidentally, both Sichuan Garden 2 and Red Peppers are in cute old houses. They have above average decor for Chinese restaurants, sophisticated menus (Sichuan Garden 2 also has a wine list and a very extensive cocktail list, including unusual cocktails, such as gin fizzes made with raw egg), and attentive managers. However, they both fall short in delivering a really polished experience --- the plates were interestingly shaped, but had chips and slight discolorations and should be replaced. The teapots were pedestrian. Water comes in enormous plastic glasses. Both were decorated space,, but urgently need new coats of paint and more attention to detail. Both had clean bathrooms, but also urgently need upgrades in that department. Put another way, if you moved Fuloon to a pretty house in a nicer suburb, it would be the total package.

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