Yeah, it's long; we ate a lot!!! Fourteen hounds met for dinner at Sichuan Garden in Brookline Village on Wednesday nite. After we all oohed and ahhed over Jujubee's engagement ring, we started on a bottle of Pinot grigio, and a round of Tsing Tao's...
Most of the things we ordered were from their special(newly translated!!) authentic Sichuan menu; no Kung Pao anything here! The only thing I would have changed was the pacing of the service. Since this is a smaller restaurant, and not used to the "banquet" crowds of the places downtown, they seemed to bring everything out at once, when we had finished our appetizers..This was unfortunate, because with that high chili-oil and sauce ratio, it was pretty tough to keep foods separate and isolate the different spices in each dish...It didn't dawn on us til too late to just say, "Slow down!"
We started with special flavor peanuts, fun, crunchy tasty,with a dry coating, more aromatic than hot. Other apps. were Steamed Juicy Mini-pork Buns, (a crowd favorite), Ox meat and Tripe with Roasted Chili Vinaigrette, (when they say chili-vinaigrette, they mean it; their own mix, and you can see that chili-paste mixed in!), Rabbit Meat with Chengdu Red sauce,(got lots of happy noises, tender red-cooked meat), Sliced Cucumber in chili-vinaigrette (fabulous; cold-crunchy strips marinated in that hot chili-sauce),and Stuffed Tofu Crepe with Shitake-Bamboo Shoots..I expected these to be more like dim-sum, but they were served cold, and sliced. Didn't excite me...
Everyone loved the Fish Ball with Pickled Mustard Greens Soup...The greens lent a salty, bitter flavor to the broth, and some hounds said the fish-balls were better than Mom's.
Up until then, we held our own..Then the hits started coming thick and fast, so I'll try..:)
House Hot Crispey Whole Fish...Good spicey version of a wok-fried whole seabass.. Not too greasy, and easy for our crowd to eat.. Nice heat level.
Wenjun (authentic Sichuan) Whole Prawns...One of the favorite dishes. When asked about the spices and the peanuts, the owner said, "It's Kung pao", which drained the bolood from my face til he explained, "Not Kung Pao like regular menu" (sneer of derision from him!),"But real old Sichuan kind.." I didn't analyze the first bite closely enough, so I can't report on what those tastes WERE....But I can heartily recommend it!
Dong-Puo Pig Feet...Braised for hours, so the skin was crispy; served with baby bok choy..I know this, because somehow, it ended up in my refrigerator...Stop laughing! Ben, it's still here if you want it!(No chili oil!)
Cellophane Noodles with Minced Pork (ants climbing up a tree;a traditional Sichuan bellweather, someone else will have to report!)(no chili oil)
Braised Beef Fillets and Napa cabbage with Roasted Chili...I know this was good, because I've had the fish fillets they serve this way...A meal in a bowl, with the beef and napa swimming in the hottest sauce on the menu...A healthy amount of lip-burning chili-oil; must be eaten with rice.
Sauteed Shredded Potatoes and Green Peppers..traditional; par-boiled long, slivers of potatoes, lightly sauteed with pepper...Yup, those were potatoes, not noodles.(no chili oil!)
A carnivore will have to speak up on the Camphor Tea Smoked Duck and the special steamed Pork-- another one cooked 3 hours, till all the fat melts away.(no chili oil!)
Fresh Squid with Pickled peppers was my particular favorite, (n.b, Csimon, this is one for you!) The piquancy of the peppers infused the juicy squid with a flavor that helped it stand out from a broth that was more delicate than some of the others.
Sauteed Shredded Eel...Closer to the potatoes on the heat scale, a nice, flavorful, meaty dish...The strips were large enough to actually TASTE the eel, and the vegetables were a mere garnish; in a good way..It's funny, tho, I'm always looking for that Japanese barbeque taste....
Dried Mushrooms with Towel Gourd...Whatever...Kinda got lost among our hot stuff...I thought the sauce was too thichkened, and overwhelmed the flavor, of the (I think?) loofah.
Tiger Skin Pepper...Long, slightly hot, green peppers pan fried...I thought they were going to be a "Double dare" food, but the thin-skinned peppers were actually a nicely flavored vegetable dish, that could be EATEN!
Sichuan Braised Whole Fish with Tofu ..The underrated dish of the nite..I know this, because I ended up taking half of it home! Unfortunately, they served it at the end, when we wre groaning in our seats, and it looked like a big, boring bowl of sauce...But oh, the lip-searing heat of the chili-sauce covering the huge chunks of tofu and the whole-steamed fish.....Full of chopped scallions, and I think i detected a hint of stinky tofu that mutiplied the true heat of the chili oil...At first I thought, "Oh, glop", then I realized it was lighter and hotter than I expected....An authentic winner; and a good breakfast!
The homestyle sea cucumber was another dish I wish i could have explored further...I never got a second taste to figure out what was wide noodles, and what was sea cucumber...I liked it, and I'm gonnah try it again!
Dessert was Eight treasures pudding.. I got as far as steamed sweet rice, red bean paste, date, and chestnut before the lard controversy started, and I got distracted..It was moist, and rich, and not too sweet..I would have actually preferred sweeter....
In a nutshell, if you want to experience real Sichuan cooking, with it's heavy use of chili-oil and lots of sauce, you should give it a go...Keep in mind that a lot of the flavors become similar when they hit that chili-oil on your plate, so be careful with that pacing..My particular favorites are anything with their Roasted Chili vinaigrette, and anything flavored with pickled vegetables. Order off their special menu for starters, and remember, as Ben said, it's a land-locked province, so don't expect them to specialize in seafood.(The wok-seared scallops I once had there, of their regular menu, were abysmal..) Althogh, that said, the seafood they offered on the special menu shone....That squid with pickled peppers, and WenJun Shrimp, rocked!
Our group was a wonderful selection of old and new hounds, full of comfortable, familiar flavors, and the piquancy of some heretofore untasted seasonings...A lively mix!!! Conversation, of course, included worries over the time spent reading chowhound boards, that amazing risotto recipe, and where our next dinner will be!! And don't forget, go buy some good will!