Sichuanese Dinner at Spicy City 重庆麻辣成 in San Gabriel, CA

Sichuanese Dinner at Spicy City 重庆麻辣成 in San Gabriel, CA

Walking into Spicy City last Sunday night, we were caught off guard by the new furnishings and new tableware/settings.  The servers had to reassure us that that was all that changed with the restaurant.  They still have the same chefs and still churn out delicious Sichuanese food that we’ve grown to love over the last 4 years.

Even their menus are new, although I preferred the old menus as they had photos of all the menu items, making it easier to identify what you want to order and what else looks tempting to try.

Food is almost as good as the last time we ate here.  There were a couple of noticeable changes.  The Rattan Pepper Fish didn’t seem to have the depth of flavors as before.  There was definitely Ma (numbing quality from the Sichuan peppercorns), but not enough La (spiciness from the chiles).  The Lamb Chops were tasty, but they’re really serving you lamb ribs as opposed to lamb chops, where you’d expect a nice portion of meat attached to the bone (which was what we had the last time we were here several months ago).

Other than that, we enjoyed the food and appreciated them fulfilling a couple of requests, such as preparing the Fried Shrimp with Red Chilis with shelled shrimps rather than with the whole shrimp (shell and head attached).

And while we didn’t take advantage of ordering desserts, we were served complimentary plates watermelon and assorted moon cakes (as this the time of the Chinese Autumn Festival).

As always, click on the thumbnail to enlarge the photo.

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Sichuan Dinner at GuYi 古亦廚房 in the Brentwood Neighborhood of West Los Angeles

Sichuan Dinner at GuYi 古亦廚房 in the Brentwood Neighborhood of West Los Angeles

The Westside of Los Angeles is becoming a haven for only excellent Chinese restaurants, but specifically, Sichuan food.  A couple of years ago, China’s Meizhou Dongpo opened up their first US location in Century City.  Then GuYi opened up earlier this year, followed by West LA’s Hop Woo adding management and chefs with experience preparing excellent, non-Americanized, Sichuan dishes.  In the near future Sichuan Impression will take over the space where long time Chinese American restaurant Jin Jiang used to reside, in West LA as well.

Though I wasn’t much of a fan of the food at Meizhou Dongpo, it was quite the opposite with GuYi and Hop Woo (both whom have created dishes that are spicy and are packed with indepth flavor).

What a even more surprising about GuYi was that their Sichuan cookery has improved since my first visit back in May.  The dishes were well prepared and seasoned well, offering a good amount of spiciness and mouth-numbingness without the dishes being extremely salty as many other Sichuan restaurants seem to do.

Highlights of our Labor Day dinner at GuYi were the Fish with Green Chiles and the Steamed Chicken in Chili Sauce.  The flavors were outstanding; the spice level, good; and an adequate amount of mouth numbing Sichuan peppercorns used in the dishes.

Because GuYi is located on the west end  of the 3rd Floor of Brentwood Gardens shopping mall, their prices have to be on the higher side in order to compensate for the higher rents they have.  In addition, some of the portions were on the trimmer side. However, the deliciousness of the food made it easy for us to overlook that.

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酸菜魚 Dinner at Tai 2 太二 Chinese Sauerkraut Fish in City of Industry

酸菜魚 Dinner at Tai 2 太二 Chinese Sauerkraut Fish in City of Industry

Sichuan style restaurant that specializes in spicy whole fish cooked in a spicy broth made with sour pickled vegetables (aka Chinese sauerkraut), dried red chiles, and Sichuan peppercorns.  The dish is can be quite spicy depending on the level of heat you choose.  We went with Medium Spice level, and it was quite spicy for our table.   The Sichuan peppercorns gave that nice numbing effect that somewhat neutralizes the burn from the chiles.  Unfortunately, the dish was quite salty.  In fact, almost all of their dishes were over-seasoned.

The fish used was tilapia.  In our Extra Large sized order, the used 2 loosely filleted tilapia.  I say “loosely filleted” because the skin is not remove, and you would definitely encounter bones that are still inside each chunk of fish meat.  So, eat with care.

Pricing here seemed rather high for the quality of the dishes, and their sizes.  Even a bowl of steamed white rice costs $2 per bowl.

Service here is typical of restaurant from Mainland China.  The staff is nice, but other than serving you your dishes, and provide you with the basics, they don’t do anything extra, such as refilling water glasses.

The best dishes of the night were the chicken feet and the vegetable dishes as well.

We did enjoy quirky English names given for their dishes, almost literal translations from the quirky Chinese names.

Sichuanese and Cantonese Food at Hop Woo Restaurant 合和 in West LA

Sichuanese and Cantonese Food at Hop Woo Restaurant 合和 in West LA

I can remember when Hop Woo first opened on the Westside.  It was around 2000, and I was working for a solo practitioner/attorney in Bel Air at the time.  I discovered them when I was running errands in the area.  At that time, much like their sister restaurant in Chinatown, they were serving solid Hong Kong style Cantonese food, as well as offering a deli section with roast pork, BBQ pork, roast duck and soy sauce chicken to name a few.  However, when the interest plateaued over the years, so has the quality of the food.  And with that, the crowds became smaller at nights and weekends.

Recently, noticing the Los Angelinos’ craze for authentic Sichuanese cuisine, a new manager brought in a chef who specialized in preparing popular Sichuan dishes, and the result, from word of mouth, was packed dining rooms full of Chinese expats who work in the area or work/study at UCLA.

When ordering the Sichuanese dishes, ask specifically for the Sichuan 四川 menu, a paper menu, separate from the regular menu.  When ordering dishes such as Mapo Tofu or Kung Pao Chicken, which appear on both menus, indicate you want the Sichuan menu preparation, so that you don’t end up with the Americanized version.

The highlight of the menu is the Spicy Chicken (口水雞, cold chicken in spicy chile oil), where the meat is moist and silky, the type of chicken meat you expect in Hainan Chicken, but only now, it’s drenched in a bath of red chile pepper oil with sesame seeds.  Add Sichuan peppercorns, and you have an amazing dish that tingles you mouth nicely.

Their other dishes are quite good as well, especially when you ask them to reduce the amount of salt used in the preparation of the Sichuan dishes.  Sichuanese and Hunanese restaurants in the US, for some reason, use a lot of salt in their dishes.  Sometimes it enhances the Ma-La 麻辣 flavor (balance of the numbing sensation from the Sichuan peppercorns (or Ma 麻) and the spiciness from the dried red chile peppers (or La 辣).  Sometimes, after the spicy burn settles, it’s just salty.  Asking them to cook with reduced salt seemed to have solved that issue for us, though I wonder with the reduce salt, if it might have altered the flavors somewhat at all…

One disappointment has been the lack of Spicy Cold Jelly (Noodles).  It’s never been available every time I’ve eaten there in the last 3 months.    Oh, and parking here is a bitch.  Arrive early to find parking in the streets in the area.

Click on the thumbnail to enlarge the photo.

 

Szechuan Chef 川揚軒 in San Gabriel, CA

Szechuan Chef 川揚軒 in San Gabriel

I first dined here 2 1/2 years ago when it was still called Szechuan Chef in English, but it’s Chinese name was “醉成都.”  First time back after 2 years, I was surprised to see new signage out front with a new Chinese name, “川揚軒.”  Generally, when this happens to a restaurant, it can indicate that it has gone through a change in ownership.

This dishes we ordered on this night were excellent.  They weren’t shy about using the Sichuan peppercorn as the effects of it hit a few of us hard resulting in coughing spats.  Sometimes in order to offset the spiciness level of the food, more salt will be used.  That was the case with the Mapo Tofu.  After the initial burn from the chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns, the dish became rather salty.  The other dishes were more balanced.

The dish the table couldn’t get enough of was the Dry Pot Cauliflower.  Cooking the cauliflower with fresh Chinese bacon gave a bit of smoky flavor to the dish that made it stand out from the rest.

The House Special Fish Fillet in Hot Sauce had a mixture of green and orange chili peppers, as well as an abundance of Sichuan peppercorns, which gave a nice tingling burn with every bite.

A table of 8 of us shared 10 dishes, and the bill came out to only $15 per person (with tax and 20% gratuity included).

As always, click on the photo to enlarge it for better viewing.

Dinner at Sichuan Impression 镍城里 in Alhambra

Dinner at Sichuan Impression 镍城里 in Alhambra

Though their sign still reads Szechuan Impression, somehow, over the years, they’ve decided to stop using the American romanization of 四川 and started using the Pinyin spelling instead.  And you can see that on their claimed Yelp page and Facebook pages.

The food here was solid but not as good as when they first opened, and Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold was patiently waiting outside for a table with his son.

While the highlights of the dinner were the Bobo Chicken of Leshan (bowl of skewers of chicken innards, seafood and vegetables), Fish Filet with Rattan Peppers (spicy and mouth numbing – so good, my dinner mates kept fishing through the broth for any last bits of fish meat), and, especially the Tea Smoked Pork Ribs (which was wonderfully seasoned with a nice smoky flavor – heavy on the garlic but not the spiciness), there were some dishes that disappointed me.

Their cold jelly noodles had a nice touch of heat, but there was a bit too much vinegar in the sauce.  In my first bite, I got this huge hit of tartness from it.  Only when it subsided did the spiciness rolled in a little.

Another disappointment was their Wontons in Chili Oil.  Though it was a little spicy, but that was overshadowed by overly sweetness of the sauce.  Similar issue with the Kong Pao Chicken.  It was just a tad too sweet.  Ironically, what wasn’t sweet enough was the Cinderella’s Pumpkin Rides.  Pumpkin cakes filled with red beans, and not a lot of red beans, nor sugar.  Had they used sweet red bean paste instead, that might have made the difference.

Lastly, the Sauteed Shredded Potatoes were bland.  It was the only dish that hardly anyone at our table opted for a second serving.  Upon leaving the restaurant, I notice the same dish at the next table.  Only theirs had red and green chilis pieces stir fried with the potatoes, whereas our order only had scallions.  I found it odd that they would make such error preparing our order.  No wonder it was plain bland.

For the number of really good dish, there were equally the number of disappointing ones for me.  Even so, there’s so much more of the menu to explore.  So, another visit will be warranted.  However, there are newer hole-in-the-wall Sichuanese places that have popped up around the San Gabriel Valley over the last year that are making much more flavor forward dishes than this place now…

Click on the thumbnail to enlarge the photo.