Every so often my mind is set on a particular restaurant. As I was driving towards that restaurant, out of nowhere I spotted this huge sign along Colonial Dr. It just so happened that the Sage was in the car. I’ve seen this word “Sichuan or Szechuan” on every American Chinese take out menu. But an entire restaurant that boast this cuisine? This I had to see.
Chuan Lu Garden is right next to Ginza Japanese Steakhouse along Colonial Dr. in the Mills 50 area. One step through the door and you are in the dining room. There are about 10 highly polished tables and chairs. The walls are sparse with blood colored Chinese red. From the entrance to the left is a long hallway that leads to the shared restrooms of Ginza. Two restaurants sharing a common restroom? Brilliant idea, until I got the bill and the top said Ginza also. I guess same owners, two different spaces, different cuisines, different restaurant, same restroom. Wonder if they share kitchen?
The first couple pages of the menu showcases Sichuan dishes. I am sure you have all seen the little red pepper on American Chinese take out menus denoting “hot and spicy”. It is no different here. However, this little symbol was next to almost every item in the Sichuan Section. Szechuan Cuisine, as it is called in North America, is a type of Chinese cuisine that boast bold flavors incorporating garlic, chili peppers, the uniquely flavored Sichuan pepper, peanuts, sesame paste, and ginger. Chili in the form of oil, flakes, and paste is highly utilized. The lunch portion of the menu is your regular American Chinese favorites like Spring rolls, Egg Drop Soup, Fried Rice, Lo Mein, and the gamut of Stir fried dishes. With the Sage’s careful guidance we made a few choices. I have to compliment the server on thorough knowledge of every menu item. Great representation of the cuisine.
CA4. Chuan Bei Liang Fen – Northern Szechuan Style Bean Gel is served cold. Mung bean sheets are boiled to tenderness, cut into chunks and served with a savory sauce consisting of soy, sesame paste, and chili oil. I rather appreciated that the entire dish was not doused with sauce. It gave me an opportunity to taste the gel chunks as they stand alone and adjust the heat level as my palate got acclimated. Be forewarned this is a very spicy (as in high on the Scoville scale) dish. The heat creeps up and smacks you, before you had a chance to realize you went too far. Caution! Or if you are a heat fan, let the perspiration roll.
CA5. Hong You Chao Shou – Szechuan Wonton, stuffed with pork and served with chili oil and soy sauce. Amazingly tender and succulent little morsels of pleasure. These wontons were so tender they literally melted in my mouth, I was caught off guard. I was expecting a dumpling texture, but this is way more tender. Do I have to repeat the heat warning?
CB1. Shui Zhu Niu Rou – Sliced Beef in Special Hot Chili Sauce, is a watery dish that blazes with fire. The beef is delicate and tender with good heated note. Under the beef lies napa cabbage as if to cool the palate. The watery sauce is an explosive soy and Sichuan bean sauce combination. Chili flakes add more heat. Individually, all the elements of this dish carry their own, collectively they work a harmonious melody that reels in your burning palate to the very last drop. There is a bowl of accompanying rice to ease the burn.
CN1. Lanzhou – Beef Hand Pulled Noodle Soup, is one of the many specialties of this restaurant. The noodles are pulled or made by hand at time of order. No prepackaged noodles here. How did I verify this? By chance, I happen to go to the restroom and my curious glance went towards the kitchen window. You guessed it, the chef was whooping away at some noodles. Looking at the noodle section on the menu, on the right side are three columns of prices. The left side is pulled noodle, the middle is shaved noodle, and the right is rice noodle. This particular broth was very delicate, clean and balance with subtle hints of ginger. The noodles were soft and slightly chewy. Beef slices were perfectly poached.
Table Condiment – As if there wasn’t enough heat on the plate, there are these little darlings available at your finger tips. Chili and sesame oil.
A word of caution. This restaurant and Sichuan cuisine is not for the faint of heart. Yes they may be able to accommodate your tender belly. But know this, there is only so much they can turn down the heat level as the ingredient is by nature hot. Another word of wisdom, clear the hair off of your face, avoid at all cost touching your face or any body part after touching any of this food. On the other hand, live a little and challenge your palate. There is heat, but there is also great, bold flavors in these dishes. Star of Parts Unknown, Anthony Boudain said on Piers Morgan Tonight, “The next big trend in American dining will be very niche regional cuisine.” Looks like the owners of Chuan Lu Garden were tuned in also.