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Restaurants & Bars

A Survey of Classic Sichuan

Deeg67 | Mar 11, 200701:01 PM     8

As I live only a couple of miles away, I've made several visits to Classic Sichuan in Millbrae, the reincarnation of the old Little Sichuan in SM. They seem to be doing quite well - busier for lunch than dinner, with a clientele I would guess is 80% Asian. They've done a nice job with the old Kwong's space, making it attractive and bright. Service has generally been good, if occasionally slow or brusque. The owner/manager (Anita, I believe, who I remember from LS) often stops by to chat.

Enough of that, on to the food...

Winners:

Spicy Boiled Beef. For me, one of the true pillars of Szechwan cuisine. Here it's properly intimidating, served in its massive bowl and swimming in red oil. The beef is good quality flank steak, tender and flavorful, interspersed with cabbage and onions. It's not quite as good or as potent as China Village's version, but packs a real whallop. Steamed rice is a definite necessity for me with this dish.

Herbal Chicken Soup. Served in its kawaii little mini-tureen, the broth is incredibly rich and deep. Tiny pieces of bone-in chicken are mixed with potato(?), but the star here is the stock. It's a truly satisfying starter - not at all spicy, but rich and complex.

Xing Jiang Stir-fried Roasted Lamb. One of the best versions I've tried. It's not overpowered by the cumin, which is balanced by ample jalapeno, ma la peppercorns and dried red peppers - not to mention fragrant roasted garlic and sweet onions and red bells. This is gutsy, high-quality Chinese cooking - amply spicy (which this dish sometimes isn't) boldly seasoned and subtle at the same time. The lamb is dry, but it should be in this dish - it's not at all tough and the high-heat cooking intensifies the rich flavor of the meat. This is an exotic dish, a mix of the flavors of China and the middle east, and it's a real sensory experience.

Not so "hot":

I tried a few items off the regular menu, just for informational purposes. While they're competently prepared, clearly the Sichuan menu is the way to go here.

Sichuan Beef Stew. This was one item off the specials menu that disappointed me. The meat was high-quality for the context, but I found the dish underseasoned and a little bland. Again, the China Village version seems to be the way to go here.

On balance, I prefer Classic to Little Sichuan - though perhaps only because it's so much more accessible for me. It's a nicer space, IMO. I should mention that there is no Chinese-only menu here (well, a few items on the main menu) - it's easy to order even for a gringo, though you have to be specific as many items have very similar names. I think they must recognize me now, as they've stopped trying so hard to dissuade me from ordering the boiled beef! If you get a chance, stop by - I don't think there's a comparably good Szechwan place anywhere on the North Peninsula.

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