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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9th Annual L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade at UCLA

9th Annual L.A. Loves Alex’s Lemonade at UCLA

This is perhaps the best food festival one can attend in Los Angeles, and all proceeds raised will be go to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer.  This is one of the few local food festivals that have chefs from other parts of the country participate, such as Jonathan Waxman, Marc Vetri, and Donald Link, just to name a few.  They, along with top chefs in the LA area, graciously donate all of their time, effort and food for a wonderful cause.

Added the amazing prizes that were being auctioned off during the Live Auction (a week’s trip to Rome and Tuscany for 4 with dinner at Nancy Silverton’s Tuscany home, plus wine tasting throughout the region fetched a whopping $100,000 from one bidder; and dinner for 8 at Jimmy Kimmel’s home with chefs Josiah Citrin, Michael Cimarusti and others, also fetched $100,000 from each of the 3 winning bidders).

Tickets to this event cost $195 for general admission, but it was 4 hours of culinary and liquor bliss as the food spread offered by the chefs were delicious.  However, another way to be able to attend the event and be able to sample of the offers was to volunteer for the event.  The middle of September is usually the start of the hottest time of the year for Los Angeles, and yesterday, it was no different.  While it wasn’t extremely hot, walking around for hours in the sun and heat drained me out completely.  In the end, I only had enough time and energy to hit a few of the stands.

My two favorites out of the bunch were Stephanie Mutz’s Sea Urchins and Sea Urchin Shooters, Kevin Meehan’s Beef Tartare with Charcoal Chip & Yolk Aioli, and Jeremy Fox & Andy Doubrava’s Bone Marrow Fried Farro Verde.  Both made my palate sing.

Perhaps next year, I’ll attend the event as a regular ticketholder and hope to be able to maximize the experience of this event, an event which, I’m quite sure, easily raised over a million dollars to fight pediatric cancer.

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.