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Szechuan Bay dinner, March 18 2007

Dr.Jimbob | Mar 18, 200707:52 PM

I went out with a large crew to Szechuan Bay in Teele Square to try out their wares. I talked a little bit with the owners -- they're from Shanghai, got their engineering degrees in Beijing and Shanghai, then came to the United States. Apparently the owner has managed to coax an Imperial Palace-grade chef who used to work for Sichuan Gourmet (the Framingham one, not Sichuan Garden) to come here and work for him.

The initial appetizers were quite promising ... scallion pancakes were ordered off menu and had a pleasant crunch and nice scallion flavor. Five flavored beef (Wu-xiang Niu-rou, #14 on the menu) was roast beef like my mom makes. Tofu with preserved egg (Song-hua-dan ba dou-fu, #17) was chunks of silken tofu with stinky preserved duck egg, and surprisingly popular at the table (stinky duck egg is kind of an acquired taste, sort of the Chinese blue cheese). Fresh bamboo shoots with spicy sauce (xiang-you sun-jian, #19) was delivered in a nice lethal red sauce and dan dan noodles (#21) was similarly tangy and spicy.

However, the starters got ordered with a small subgroup of the final party of 15 present. The full group included only one other Chinese, and a few children, and I think that might have been a miscalculation, because they put the kid gloves on for the rest of the courses. Not that there wasn't flavor, and not that people didn't seem to like it, but the general sense that I got was that the things that should have been spicy (la) or Sichuan-peppercorn-numb (ma) weren't really enough of either.

We got the house special duck (shi-fu xiang-ya, #1), offered in chunks with bones in, not bad assuming you got a chunk with some meat on it. The fresh fish in house special sauce (chuan-rong xiang-la yu-pian, #3) was spicy and flavorful, and a mild fish inside (perhaps coated with cornstarch or something?). Lamb with hot and spicy sauce (zhi-bao yang-rou, #4 and oddly also listed as #77 without a spice warning) was in a foil wrapper (hence zhi-bao or paper-wrapped), a little gristley and a little hot. The Le Mountain Spicy Chicken (ge le-shan la-zi-ji) was bone-in-chunk (which I guess is country style in the Old Country), was decent but again a bit short on flat-out heat compared with the likes of Sichuan Garden.

We also wound up with jumbo shrimp with mashed garlic sauce (suan-er hui da-xia, #56, I might be misreading character #3) which disappeared before it got to me. Lamb with scallions (cong-bao yang-rou #78) is reliable and like Qingdao Garden, has a nice blend of scallions and onions (the more allium members in this dish, the better as far as I'm concerned). Beef in spicy chili sauce (shui-zhu niu-rou, #80) was underspiced, both in the ma and the la component, though this did let you appreciate that there was a nice complex blend of flavors going on underneath, with elements of black bean, soy and garlic. Chicken with broccoli (jie-lan ji, #99) offered no surprises and was decent. "Ants climbing the tree" (ma-yi shang-shu, #117) was a bit heavy on the cellophane noodles (fen-si) and a bit short on meat and heat. The stir fried pea pods (suan-chao dou-miao #119) and baby bok choy (chao shanghai bai-cai, #130) were solid, with almost enough garlic :-) Mapo Tofu (#122) again had a nice complex blend of black beans, leeks and sauce, but I could have used more ma and more la.

Because I called in advance warning that a group of 15 was coming, the owners made arrangements (at my request) to make tang yuan available. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite everything I was hoping for, mostly in the broth (interesting decision to put chopped ginger in the broth).

The proprietors are very nice and very interested in trying to make this thing work. I was happy enough or intrigued enough with enough things on the menu that I think I'm going to return with a smaller group of chili-heads, chat up the proprietor and the chef beforehand and see if they can deliver. Stay tuned.

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