Tuesday night was my birthday dinner at Sichuan Garden. There is LOTS to write about.
I made a reservation a few days ahead of time for 14 people, ordering the hot pot for 7 people. The hot pot costs 16.95 per person. I arrived at the restaurant first, and a long table was set up with two stoves and little dishes of hot chilis, sichuan pepper (looked like crushed black pepper but tasted quite different) and msg. I barely used any of them during the actual meal.
As I was waiting for the other people to arrive, I asked to see a chinese menu. For some reason, they didn't have a copy of the chinese menu in English, at least not the one for 2004. It was weird. However, I luckily remembered that I wanted Wenjun Shrimp, so I was able to get that. I really wished that I read chinese.
Anyway, service was great, the waiter (possibly owner? guy in charge? not sure...) was very helpful and explained everything to me, made sure everything was all set, etc. Once everybody arrived, he brought out a dish of sauce for each person who was having hot pot (approximately 8). This sauce was peanut, garlic, sesame oil, and some other things. It was very good, but again, I barely used it once I was actually eating.
To start off we ordered 3 types of dumplings: The hot sichuan dumplings were my favorite, the sauce was spicier than the ones at Zoe's in Somerville, dumplings themselves were good. The regular pan fried pork dumplings were fine. I was unimpressed. I didn't try the vegetarian dumplings, but they looked fine.
Dishes were ordered, especially for the vegetarians, but also for other people:
wenjun shrimp were fine, the sauce was a bit goopier than I had anticipated and I was not a huge fan. But I really liked the bits of cabbage in it.
I didn't try the other dishes: eggplant that looked good, noodles that looked good, and something else. I dunno. Maybe people who ate those things will decide to post too :) :)
OK, so now for the hot pot. We were all pretty clueless about how this worked. It probably showed. First came two HUGE pots of broth, both split down the middle. One side had a mild broth, but very flavorful, with some type of red fruit (like a cherry kind of??) and vegetables already in it. I loved the flavor, it was noticeably more flavorful than the normal broth at Shabu Zen, although I can't pinpoint what the flavor was. But this was quite different than plain chicken broth. The other side had the sichuan broth, FILLED with chili peppers and pepper corns and soft, whole cloves of garlic. This broth was pretty intense (i.e., drinking it like a soup would have been too much to handle).
After the broths were out and the stoves were on, he brought out two platters of meat. These were beautiful. They included: shredded beef, chicken (fatty and on the bone), sausage (which was more like paté, in the shape of SPAM), tripe, fish (with bones, maybe mackerel??), shrimps (with head), fish balls and squid. Wow.
Then came the large baskets of veggies. Someone remarked that it looked like someone's basket at the market, since it was so full of veggies. Spinach, bok choi (and a lot of it), chinese cabbage, firm tofu, celery, regular mushrooms, daikon (which I preffered raw).
Then came the plate of glass noodles, other type of mushroom and seaweed. The glass noodles were really good, I rarely see this type of noodle at chinese restaurants, I wonder if they use them in other dishes at Sichuan Garden.
So after a bit of trial and error, we figured out that the best strategy was to throw a ton of things in the pot, then fish them out with the net (one net per pot), and serve them. in my opinion, the beef was the best of the meats, it was incredible when cooked in the spicy broth. Some of the vegetables and the noodles absorbed too much of the spicy broth, making it too intense. I preferred the veggies, sausage, fish balls and squid from the mild broth, although it usually all ended up touching some of the spicy broth's peppers and pepper corns on my plate, so it was kind of a mix between both of them. Very good. Lots of fun, but it all also took some work. It wasn't exactly a relaxing dinner, although we started to get the hang of it after a while.
If I were to do this again, which I would, I would ask for no tripe and no fish (since nobody in my party really liked them). The veggies and the rest of the meats were great. People on this board were right that hot pot for 7 people is really enough for about 12 people. The dinner ended with a platter of fortune cookies which was enough for my whole table plus the table next to ours! Hopefully, the other people who were at my dinner will post a response to this, to correct and fill in the things I missed. I am not sure of the exact things people liked/disliked, but I am pretty sure that everyone had a great time!
This was a great wintertime meal, I encourage others to try it!