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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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.

Click on thumbnails to enlarge the photo with captions.

 

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.

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.