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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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.

Knife Cut Noodling at Shanxi Noodle House in City of Industry

Knife Cut Noodling at Shanxi Noodle House in City of Industry

In the East San Gabriel Valley, more and more Asian restaurants are popping up all over from La Puente to Walnut, and from Northern Chinese cuisine to Burmese.  Shanxi Noodle House isn’t a newcomer.  They’ve been in business for over about 2 years now, only having been discovered by me, when a friend and I needed to find a place to grab a bite while on our way home from checking out the superblooms along the 15 Freeway in Lake Elsinore back in March of this year.  Searching through Yelp, we stumbled upon their listing, which has been awarded a good number of 4 and 5 star reviews from Yelpers, and decided to give them a try.   The result was enjoying the wonderful layers of flavors as well as different textures in the dishes we tried, particularly of the Crispy Potatoes with Oat Flour Noodle Rolls.  After that night, we came back for more.  The noodles and dumplings are all house made, and the knife cut noodles are made to order.

Awesome Sichuan at Chongqing Xiao Mian in San Francisco 

Awesome Sichuan at Chongqing Xiao Mian in SF

Sometimes, the easiest way to figure out where to go to grab some good eats is by using Yelp.  At times you’ll find substantive reviews that would draw you to a restaurant, and if you enjoyed your food, then it was a win-win situation.

Such was the case here.  This place was reminiscent of some of the excellent Sichuan places in the San Gabriel Valley, just east of Downtown LA.

We originally wanted to order the Steamed Lamb with Sweet Sticky Rice Pot, but they were of it, along with the beef counterpart.

Food had great flavors, and just spicy enough to create a little sweat and a little numbing sensation (thanks to the cracked Sichuan peppercorns).

This is one place I’d go back the next time I’m in SF, or even Fremont, CA.

Chongqing Xiao Mian

915 Kearny Street

San Francisco, California 94133

Telephone: 415.983.0888

Szechuan Style Mouthwatering Chicken – Bone-In Chicken with Ma La Chile Oil, Bean Sprouts, Scallions, Sesame Seeds and Peanuts
Cumin Lamb Skewers (Menu states 4 per order, but we got 6)
Lamb in Pickled Mustard Greens Noodle Soup
Steamed Vegetables
Chongqing Xiao Mian

Soft-Opening:  Chef’s Tasting Menu at Chengdu Impression

I read about Chengdu Impression’s soft-opening on EaterLA.com.  Chengdu Impression (not to be confused with Chicago’s Chengdu Impression, which is unrelated) is a restaurant chain in China, that, like Meizhou Dongpo and Hai Di Lao, has opened its first location in the United States.  CI is known for being a more upscale Sichuan restaurant, providing an elegant and tastefully designed and decorated space for diners to enjoy elevated versions of Sichuan favorites such as Kung Pao Shrimp, Ma Po Tofu, and Fish with Pickled Green Peppers.

The service here is very attentive and polite, with a majority of the staff being bilingual (Mandarin and English) and even trilingual (Mandarin, Cantonese and English).  They have some issues to work on, such as the timing of the service of each course (at times they were ready to serve the next course just as soon as half of the table finished with the current course).

The food itself is a good representation as to the style of the Sichuan dishes they serve, and it was tasty, with some dishes packing a good bit of heat.  At $45 per person plus tax and gratuity, it seemed to be a good bargain for those who are accustomed to tasting menus from having dined at the likes of Maude, Patina, or even Papilles.  But for those who mainly dine at Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley, the price is a bit high for the amount of food served.

The tasting menu is being offered during dinner hours and on weekends.  A separate lunch menu is available only during weekdays, and that’s where you have the ability to order a la carte as well as being able to try dishes that are not featured in the tasting menu.  I will definitely go back for that.

Chengdu Impression, 21 East Huntington Drive, Arcadia, California 91006, Telephone: (626) 462-9999.  No website as of this posting.  Generally open from 11:30 am to 2:00pm and 5:3opm.  Call for exact hours.  Parking in the rear.  Reservations highly recommended.