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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Yunnan & Sichuan Dishes at Yunnan Restaurant 雲南過橋園 in Monterey Park, CA

Yunnan & Sichuan Dishes at Yunnan Restaurant 雲南過橋園 in Monterey Park, CA

When eating Chinese food in the San Gabriel Valley of Greater Los Angeles, there are only a few Chinese restaurants that specialize Yunnan cuisine.  It’s probably not easy to offer considering it’s province of China that features over dozens and dozens of minority ethnic groups, such as the Miao, Dai and Bai peoples, and many of the dishes are made with regional ingredients we most likely don’t have in the U.S.

From what little research I have done, I found that Yunnan Restaurant offer at least a half dozen of dishes that are popular within that region of China, such as the every so popular Yunnan House Special (Crossing Bridges) Rice Noodle Soup with boned-in Chicken, and square slices of sandwich ham meat.   This dish was served table side, where a server will bring out all the ingredients on a compartmental tray and then start mixing them into the broth, followed by the long thick strands of rice noodles.  It was hearty but a light dish as well.

The Cured Pork with Leeks was tasty, but was too salty.  The same can be said for the Yunnan Dried Beef, which was a little salty and chewy.

We supplemented the rest of dinner by ordering some of the more Sichuan dishes such as the Kung Pao Chicken and the Chungking Style Spicy Shrimp (it’s normally whole shrimps with shells deep fried, but they offered to prepare a version with shelled shrimps.  I wonder if that was suggested to us since our table was half non-Chinese.  We opted for the shelled version).  These 2 dishes were stand outs for me.   We enjoyed the slight sweetness in the Kung Pao Chicken.  So much so, that we finished the dish in minutes.

Though the rest of the dishes ordered were good, they didn’t have enough Sichuan peppercorns nor the ma-la flavor profile to make the dishes sing.  Nevertheless, price-wise, you get ample amounts of food for your money, and that Cold Appetizers Bar at the front of the restaurant is a much try.

 

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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Return Visit for More Sichuan at Best Noodle House 重慶小面 in Rosemead, CA

Return Visit for More Sichuan at Best Noodle House 重慶小面 in Rosemead, CA

Second dinner here revisiting some of the dishes that we enjoyed during the last dinner and trying a few new dishes as well.  Most of the dishes were excellent.  Aside from the dried red chiles and Sichuan peppercorns, their usage of a chile bean paste (combination of red chiles and broad beans) was what made many of their dishes stand out, particularly with their Szechuan Dumplings.

The chile bean paste also provided a very bold and rich flavor to the broth that was served with their wontons.  Every drop of that broth was devoured.

Their Spicy Cold Jelly (noodles) were good as well.  The only fault with the execution of this dish is the temperature of the jelly.  Would be perfect if the jelly was cold and firm to the bite, but it was room temperature, giving it a less pleasurable taste.

Their Kung Pao Chicken had a great flavor with a hint of sweetness from the sauce, and a bit of crispiness from the flash fry of the chicken cubes.  Wished they had used a better quality of roasted peanuts as the ones in the dish didn’t have the crunchiness I’ve experienced with Kung Pao from other restaurants.

If you want that good smokiness from the Mala flavor (combination of the spiciness from the dried red chiles and the numbing effect from the Sichuan peppercorns), then the Lamb Chops have that.

We ended dinner with what appears to be the only dessert offered on the menu:  Black Sugar Ice Jelly.  Clear gelatin cubes in a slightly sweet broth made with black sugar, which is an unrefined sugar that has a darker brown color than brown sugar, and fermented rice that floats on top of the broth.  Nice palate cleanser and very refreshing.

If decide to eat at Best Noodle House, bring CASH, or arrange to pay them via PayPal or Venmo.

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Another Sichuan Feast at Hop Woo 合和 in West LA

Another Sichuan Feast at Hop Woo 合和 in West LA

Came back for a hedonistic feast with a group of about 22.  This time, we wanted to sample more dishes on their Sichuan menu, as well as offering a couple of familiar Cantonese dishes to give our palates a rest from the barrage of spicy, mouth numbing food.  And in this meal we got quite a bit of that numbing quality from the Sichuan peppercorns used in the Boiled Fish with Rattan Peppers, and Rock Cod Fish.

Food was excellent as before, but many in our group enjoyed the shrimp, cauliflower and eggplant dishes a lot.

So glad that the former owner of Meet in Chengdu in Monterey Park sold off the restaurant in order to join forces at Hop Woo, bringing with him one of his better chefs.

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…

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TEMPORARILY CLOSED: Delicious Sichuan Fare at Best Noodle House 重慶小面 in Rosemead

TEMPORARILY CLOSED: Delicious Sichuan Fare at Best Noodle House 重慶小面 in Rosemead

A true hole-in-the-wall found on the eastern end of the city of Rosemead where Valley Boulevard and Mission Road intersects, where the food is mouth-numbing from the aggressive use of Sichuan peppercorns as well as the spiciness from the dried Sichuan red chili peppers and chili oil.  Then tastes the layers of flavors found in each dish, and you have a delicious meal, and for me, it’s some of the best Sichuan food in the Los Angeles area, and at a price point that’s lower than many of the well known Sichuan restaurants such as Chengdu Taste and Szechuan Impression.

Place is CASH ONLY, and their servers speak Mandarin, Cantonese and English.