Five Chowhounds (well, 4 hounds and 1 friend of a hound) met for an exploratory chowdown at the recently opened Szechwan Chilli (that's the English name on the front of the restaurant) in San Jose (Lion Market plaza, Saratoga Ave. at I-280). (Just to surprise you, they've also got the name of Sichuan province spelled as Szechuuan and Szechuan on the menu.) With only 4 of us initially, we thought we would make a sampling foray and try a variety of dishes to get an idea of what the chef can do.
We ordered the beef combination (fu qi fei pian), green bean jelly (sichuan liang fen), spicy fish (xiang la kao yu), shredded pork with spicy garlic sauce (yu xiang rou si), Szechuan steamed pork (sichuan kou rou), sour bean fried minced meat (suan dou jiao chao rou mo), and hot and sour potato (suanla tudou si). I hope I got the pinyin right -- the written language is not my forte. The menu is marked with 1, 2, or 3 chili pepper symbols next to most dishes indicating progressively spicier preparations. Let me come right out and say that nothing about any of the dishes we had even made me think they were spicy, unless one were, for example, to eat the chili pods that came with many of the dishes. I don't know if they dumbed things down for us, but there wasn't the slightest pain in eating of the dishes. The Szechuan steamed pork had no chili symbol next to it, but did have some chiles in the dish. Most dishes are in the $7-$9 range. Only the BBQ fish dishes (including the spicy fish) and the spicy pot dishes are more expensive, all $32-$34.
So, with that said, my favorite dish was the spicy fish. The presentation was beautiful (look for pictures from Melanie), in a metal tray over a small sterno fire. We actually ended up extinguishing the fire as the fish was becoming overcooked. The fish had a health coating of whole cumin seeds on the top that really made the dish stand out for me. The beef combination, green bean jelly, and shredded pork didn't do a lot for me. They were fine, but not stand out dishes. The steamed pork was, unfortunately, not as impressive as the picture in the menu -- think meicai kourou, but with some chiles thrown in. Instead of thick, unctuous slabs of steamed pork belly, it was just thin slices of pork belly served a top a pile of weak meicai (or was it some other dried leafy vegetable?). I enjoyed the sour bean fried minced meat a lot as it was both tasty and friendly to my diet, and would have cheerily eaten more of the lovely shredded potatoes were I not on that aforementioned diet.
All in all, I'd say the restaurant is perfectly acceptable. I'd definitely like to try some more offerings from the menu, particularly a spicy pot and perhaps with instructions to the chef to serve some real heat. Perhaps, they just need to adjust to the fact that the local populace will actually eat authentic Sichuan food. Surprisingly for a Friday lunch in the Silicon Valley, the restaurant was not busy. Our group of 5 occupied a table that sat 10. I suppose word hasn't fully filtered out that they are open.