Having read about Sichuan Garden several times on this board, and hearing about it from a bunch of other friends, I'm estatic to finally eat there. I'll pick this superb place over any place in Chinatown, simply because I'm a fan of Sichuan cooking and have been dying to get away from the commonplace Cantonese/HK cooking for ages. Besides, this is a treasury of Sichuan cooking that is not easily found in this country. Back in SF, I used to finagle rides down to the South Bay for this kind of cooking. Now I can get this with a quick T ride. I'd rate this place as better than Little Sichuan (San Mateo) but slightly behind the ultra-finessed House of Yu Rong (San Jose).
The flavors are right on, with each chilli-hot dish exuding a slightly different flavor combination. Different nuances of smokiness and heat, from red glowers and complex spicibess. This place also has the blessings of a Beijing friend. They're deploying sichuan peppercorns (note to self-- ask where they get them). The heat's a little mild, but that's not a serious problem. Next time, I'm going to ask for extra "ma la" (numbness and spiciness) characteristic of this native sichuan condiment.
The ox meat and tripe with roasted chilli peanut vinaigrette is one of the best versions I've had in this country. The beefy strands of meat are moist and slightly stringy, tenderly woven together. They contrast very well with the crunchy tripe.
Rabbit with roasted chilli vinaigrette comes with peanuts and scallions. Tender bits of rabbit come off nicely against the smoky chilli sauce and benefit a lot form the texture and taste contrast of the peanuts (cooked together, not added as an afterthought) and sharp scallions.
Special flavor chicken stands out with a mild specky herby flavor.
Garlic sauce with shredded cucumber presents coolness cloaked by an oily garlicky red glower. A simple dish but pleasant for the hot and cold combination.
Dan dan noodles are satisfying, but somewhat more ordinary. The noodles don't seem to have that distinctive gentle chewiness.
BTW, one can save a few dollars by ordering a triple delight -- that lets you combine any 3 appetizers on one platter.
"special flavor" peanuts off the chinese menu of new items is a good dry contrast of battered peanuts, lightly spiced.
Shredded camphur tea smoked duck stir-fried with gingerhad plenty of evocative flavor in the smoky meat. Incredible.
"Ants climbing a tree" cellophane noodles (aka mung bean vermicelli) with minced pork is also a fairly good rendition. Nicely spaced with water chestnuts for a quick crunchy punctuation (I would have loved more of that waterchestnut crunch). In the background is a spicy bean paste for a deep glowering flavor. I'm guessing that their ma po (ma paul on the menu) tofu is going to be good too because that calls for a similar bean sauce.
A braised fish has clean fresh flavors. It comes under blanket of ok sauce with pickled mustard greens -- I would have loved to have more of those pickles to liven up the fish.
There are a few nods to other northern chinese dishes on the menu. Peking duck (listed as roasted lacquer duck beijing style), as well as Shanghainese mini juicy buns and fish with pinenuts. Also a ton of standard Cantonese offerings, which I would probably never try since I'd be hankering for the Sichuan cooking anyway.
Will definitely chomp on other standards like the fish and pickle soup, tripe, tendon, cold noodles and the water cooked beef next time. I didn't see powdery steamed spareribs (fen3 zhen1 pai2 gu3) which I'm fond of. Maybe I wasn't paying enough attention; have to check next time.
Also, as anyone tried the beef satay? I'm wondering if it's a variation of the cumin spiced lamb satays common in the Islamic parts of Northern China.
OK enough rambling. You can tell that I'm super excited about this place.