Yesterday’s mention by “elliora” of the new Sichuan House in Walnut Creek set off a chain of investigation that uncovered Chef Zhang Shaobin (aka Ben Zhang), partner in Pleasant Hill’s Sichuan Fortune House, as the owner. The trail starts here,
Coincidentally I would be in Oakland in the morning, making it easier than usual to swing by the Creek for lunch. Sichuan House is a couple doors down from Genova Deli and opened about seven weeks ago. Hearing the staff speaking Cantonese to each other was concerning. Before getting too cozy with the menu, I asked whether Mr. Zhang was cooking today. The waitress immediately brightened and said, “Ah, you must be a customer from his other restaurant. Yes, he is cooking today. This is his own place, the other restaurant is with a partner. He only makes the sauces there now, and is here all the time.” That was good enough for me to sit back and relax.
I’d been handed the menu of lunch specials (available Monday through Friday), but I also asked for the full menu. The table was set with a fork, chopsticks and napkin. I asked for hot tea, which was served in a pot at no charge. The very good pao cai (Sichuan spicy pickles) and glazed peanuts were complimentary too.
To hedge my bets, I ordered one lunch special plus tan tan noodles. Dan dan mian had been my favorite dish at Sichuan Fortune House.
Hot and sour soup was as part of the lunch special. Innocuous enough, yet with a good amount of pressed tofu underneath the egg and strips of bamboo plus a good snap of vinegar tartness.
I’d ordered the ChongQing style spicy chicken wings lunch special, $7.75 with meat on the bone. My waitress nodded saying, “It’s better that way.” Boneless is an option. The wings were hacked into thirds and the lunch size serving was about the equivalent of four wings. The pieces were deep-fried, then wok-tossed with dried red chili pods and other seasonings. Crispy and very flavorful fried skin with juicy meat to be worked off the bone fragments were everything they should be and reminded me of earlier discussion referring to ChongQing la zi ji as “chicken ribs”. Yes, I guess those pairs of parallel bones are akin to ribs.
A closer look in these two photos at the ChongQing la zi ji, shows the singed garlic, scallions, ginger, and plentiful Sichuan peppercorns. So tasty, about medium heat and plenty of ma la numbing power.
After I'd eaten my fill and packed up the leftovers, this shows how many dried red chilis were left on the plate.
The dan dan mian, $8.50, was not as pleasing. The waiter put the bowl in front of me and immediately started mixing things together without asking me, all the while balancing a plate of food for another table on his left arm. The sauce spattered about and I had to ask him to stop. Made with thickish, soft wheat noodles, this version was meat heavy with a load of ground pork. Nice lift of vinegar and a nutty creamy quality from a bit of sesame paste, but lacking in Sichuan peppercorns, chili heat, scallions, or the earthy complexity and salt of preserved vegetables. And the dish was too sweet. The addition of sautéed pea shoots was a surprising and welcome touch. The dish seemed Americanized to me in the extra sugar and absence of traditional flavor elements. This was doubly disappointing since I’d liked Chef Zhang’s version of this dish before.
A mixed scorecard on this initial visit with one dish as good as it gets around here and the other rather dumbed down. As we often find with the huge menus at Chinese restaurants, some trial and error will be needed to figure out the gems. I wouldn’t hesitate to return to order other Sichuan standards here. Let’s hear from other ‘hounds who’ve given it a try.
2064 H Treat Blvd.
Walnut Creek, CA
Free delivery within 3 miles for purchases over $30
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