Dinner at Sichuan Impression 锦城里 in Westwood/West Los Angeles

Dinner at Sichuan Impression 锦城里 in Westwood/West Los Angeles

If you’re a Chinese foodie, then you’ve been waiting for Sichuan Impression to open in the Westside since it was announced that they acquired the location that used house Jin Jiang, a Chinese American style restaurant (similar to those like Yang Chow in Chinatown) that was in business for over 25 years before shuttering this summer.

Sichuan Impression originally wanted to open last Sunday, but they didn’t quite finish setting up the place, so Tuesday became their opening day.  They opened with little fanfare, and by Thursday, they have been written up by EaterLA.  Since yesterday’s lunch service, long queues began for form as many locals, particularly ex-pats who work or study at UCLA come down for a bite one of Southern California’s most popular Sichuanese restaurants.

And they didn’t disappoint.  They brought in a chef from Chengdu to work with the other chefs and kitchen staff to create new dishes for this location, as well as ensuring that the kitchen churn out dish after dish of deliciousness.

The dishes, for the most part, are just as good as those at the Alhambra location.  One major difference here is obviously the prices, as they are slightly higher, compensating for the higher rents on the Westside.

Of all the dishes we ordered tonight, only the Impressive Sausages, Impressive Cold Noodles and the Wontons in Spicy Chile Oil didn’t impress me at all.  Flavorwise, they were rather ordinary, and the texture of the cold noodles (versus room temperature noodles) were unpleasant.

Delicious were the Bean Jelly, Steamed Chicken in Chile Sauce, Kung Pao Chicken, Stir Fried Lamb with Cumin, Mapo Tofu and Fish Filet with Rattan Pepper all sang with a depth of flavor with the expected spiciness from the chiles and numbing effect from the Sichuan peppercorns.

For their first week, they’re doing well with service and, especially, the preparation of the dishes.  Once the servers get into their groove, then things will be running like a well oiled machine.  The host station still needs more time to be able to answer questions by customers waiting for 20 or 30 or 45 minutes for a table and better keep order around the host station.

No reservations taken.  Just put your name, contact number and the number of people in your party and wait…but make sure everyone in your party is present when called as they may refuse to seat you not everyone’s present.

Now, if they could have spent some money renovating the restrooms.  The main dining room looks new, but the restrooms remind me of Chinese restaurants from back in the 1980s.

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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.

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.