I'll admit that I love a good spicy Kung Pao Chicken but can't in good conscience order it at Full Kee...the chorus of fingers wagging at me ("Cantonese! Cantonese!") stops me.
So suggestions? DC is best. I have this aversion to 66 and I can never find my way around out there.
Many were disappointed when TemptAsian lost its star chef (moved there from China Star, stayed at TemptAsian long enough to make a lot of publicity, moved away to Fairfax and then almost immediately left the area altogether.) But I maintain that TemptAsian has not entirely lost its temporary infusion of "authentic Szechuan".
I absolutely second what was said about Sichuan Village in Chantilly, PLUS I felt a very warm welcome there.
Two places across the street from each other just off the Beltway/Rt 50 are Peking Village, 2960 Gallows Road - it's unbelievably funky (the front room looks so bad it just HAS TO be good, and then you ask for the Szechuan menu and get shown into the back room, and think 'I'm not going to leave here alive, am I?') but I've heard several China hands say it's the real deal. Always avoid the buffet and ask for the Szechuan menu.
And there's Jasmine Garden, 8106 Rte 50 - ask for the Szechuan menu, get Chicken with Three Peppers, and smile through the sweat. Much nicer decor, friendly - your choice of the two is a toss-up: do you want to be brave and dare the funky hole-in-the-wall hoping for a hidden miracle, or do you want a nice ambience and some less adventurous but still delightful surprises?
re: wayne keyser
Maybe I've been watching too much film noir or reading too many old pulp magazines, but that part about getting shown into the back room sounds like a Chowhound dream. You go to some little hole in the wall place long enough to become a regular, and then you graduate to "serious" in the estimation of the staff (though they never give you a clue that you are being scrutinized and tested), and then one day, you get ushered into some hidden room with the owner smiling and saying "NOW you are ready!" :-)
If you are looking for something in DC, there is a tiny little hole in the wall place on close to 14th & P Streets, just a few steps from the Studio Theatre. It's called Great Wall. It's a takeout place primarily, but they have a few Sichuan items on a separate menu on the bulletproof glass window where you order. I've tried *almost* everything on that menu and have been pretty pleased with the results.
The owner/chef's wife takes your order typically, and she is a lovely, chatty woman who will probably ask any Caucasian ordering off the Sichuan menu if you can really handle the spiciness. She also mentioned to me that they've done special menus for groups that want to come in, including Sichuan hotpot/firepot and several "banquets" -- although the space is hardly banquet-like. Her husband, the chef, was apparently granted "master chef" status back in China and went to the same culinary school as the brothers who cook at Wu Liang Ye in NYC -- the place that Alpha Hound Jim Leff considers the best Chinese restaurant in NYC.
I went to Sichuan Village last night with my wife. It was awesome! Best chinese I've had in the US outside of China. The Chonqing Chicken was fantastic, as were the Street Dumplings and Cold Spicy Beef. They said that they have Hot Pot. It won't be the same as Shanghai's Little Sheep, but it might be good. I'll try that next time. Take a look at the menu online. That tells you that you are onto something interesting.
Hot Pot at Sichuan Village is great, especially as the weather gets a bit colder. I personally think it's better when you're there with more friends so you can get a much larger variety of items. It gets a bit harder with the larger table, but they'll usually setup 2 or 3 hot pots. Make sure to get half spicey, half regular soup base. The spicey has a BIG kick to it and very delicious, but you'll need to cool down your mouth with the other one once in a while. The fish is pretty good for it.
The best Szechuan in the area was, with little doubt, available at Formosa in Crystal City, but that closed to make more room for an adjacent restaurant that serves mediocre kabobs. However, the owners and chefs at Formosa moved all the way out to Chantilly (yuk) and took over a restaurant that is now called Sichuan Village. They strongly promote the buffet to try and lure lunch traffic, but the buffet is, as you might predict, awful. I have only eaten at the new place once since the move, but the chinese menu items do not appear to have lost a step at all. I was with a party of 8, we all ordered our old formosa favorites and they were top-notch.
The Sichuan food at the Village is the best and most authentic I have had in the area, though the atmosphere is not what it was at Formosa. I lived in Hong Kong for quite some time (and still spend a couple months a year there), and while that may not be the Sichuan province I have a pretty good idea of what's what when it comes to most types of chinese food.
Chantilly is a pain in the butt though...if Rockville is more convenient, Joe's Noodle House is an EXCELLENT choice...if I had the luxury of eating at both Sichuan Village and Joe's often, I imagine I'd find each had dishes I liked more than the corresponding dish at the other place. I used to eat at Formosa all the time (at least 1x, usually 2-3x per week when I was in DC) and while it has lost the mom and pop atmosphere in the move, the food is still wonderful at S.V.
I can't say much for China Star. If people are talking about the China Star in Faifax, I went there about 2 years ago and don't recall seeing anything really Sichuan on the menu with the potential exception of a couple chinese-americn dishes dubbed "Sichuan" because they were spicy. Some friends who's opinions I trust have recommended the place recently though, so I may give it another try now that I am local again for a couple months.
If you go to Sichuan village, DO NOT get the buffet. If the long menu is disarming, ask your waitress to recommend something from the "real" menu, tell them what type of meat (if any) you want, how spicy you want it, and tell them you are serious. I haven't had Kung Pao chicken there, but I will promise it's good anyway!
One of the best parts is that Milwaukee's Frozen Custard is across the street for dessert!
When you went to China Star 2 years ago, maybe they had a separate Sichuan menu that you didn't notice. Now all items are included in the main menu, with the Sichuan specialties in the front, well separated from the Chinese-American menu. I suggest you check out their website, linked below. You will see that you need to go back. Also, please take the many suggestions already posted on Chowhound.
Yes, after I put up that post I did some poking around, since there is such an overwhelming positive response here to China Star, and saw in a Washingtonian review that China Star added 100 or so Sichuan choices at some point in 2003. It was probably late 2001 when I went, so that might explain it. I will definitely give it another try, very soon. Thanks for the tip.
Lowbar: thanks for the great tip. We live in Chantilly (I will ignore your yuk comment) and have seen this place go through several name changes, but always as a buffet, so we never went in.
Based on the mailers the current owners sent out bragging about their chefs' culinary educations we gave it a shot and you are correct -- the buffet is not good. Surprise surprise.
We would not have gone back but will now give it a shot and order off the menu. I will report back when we do so.
re: Bob W.
I said "yuk" in reference to Chantilly only because it takes me almost an hour to get to Formosa now instead of 5 minutes. Meant no offense by it, sorry!
I would give you some menu suggestions but I'd much rather hear what you discover on your own...our waitress was extremely patient in describing some of the dishes we were less familiar with and seemed happy to make some recommendations which were fairly bold.
I agree though, you could totally write the place off forever with one trip through the buffet. I would ask why they do it, but I'm sure a trip by at lunchtime would find a packed buffet line.
It took about 5 trips back for me to figure out that it was the Chongqin Chicken that blew me away the first time I went. I forgot what I'd ordered and the staff didn't recognize it from my description. 1/2 chilli peppers, 1/2 diced chicken fried crispily. My wife is hooked on the salt and pepper shrimp and my father swears by the hot and sour soup.
I guess I cannot get away without posting a response. Joe's and China Star are the two biggies when it comes to Sichuan food in the DC area, though there is also Peking Village (a tad misnamed, unless you go for the menu put in front of non-Chinese customers) on Gallows Road in Merrifield.
While both Joe's and China Star have their pluses and minuses, I think that overall I prefer China Star, though this may have something to do with my proximity to it.
At China Star, there are a few top-rated (by me) dishes; I have posted about them before, but there they are again (I am not including appetizers, since these are small enough--and cheap enough--that you should just go with what sounds interesting and see if you like it, with the exception of the diced rabbit cubes, which are really very good, if not quite as sublime as Joe's):
Twice Cooked Pork
Fish with Sour Mustard
Dried Braised Fish with Chili Miso Sauce
SIchuan Chili Chicken
Ma Po's Bean Curd (we usually ask them to add more Sichuan Pepper)
Dried Fried String Beans
Spicy Capsicum Diced Chicken
Tiger Green Pepper
Eggplant with Garlic Sauce in Hot Pot
Shredded Pork with Ferny Vegetable
Chen Cang Flavored Diced Beef with Pancake
Beef Stew in Hot Pot
That should get you started!
Forget about China Star. Try Joe's Noodle House in Rockville. We like it so much better and it's worth the drive.
If you have any questions about the items on the menu, don't hesitate to ask. They are very friendly and very helpful. They can tone things down if you want but go full strength. The flavors are amazing. Try H20 or the Mapo Tofu....yum!
There are many, many recommendations on this borad -- just search the page for "china star." One thread is linked below, but it barely scratches the surface. The weekly specials are often among the best things to order -- and some weeks, James G. even translates them for us here!
My favorites include Nos. 3, 4, 6, 10, 12*, 13*, 22*, 23*, 32, 46, 48, 50, 66*, 73, 83, 86*, 93, 95, 103* and 107*.
(Asterisks are those that are reliable yummy, IMHO.)
Other Hounds rave about the Salt & Pepper Eggplant (which I find too deep-fried) and the Crystal Shrimp (which is fresh and a very good, cool palate-cleanser, but a tad bland and not necessarily the best value for $13); and I haven't even begun to cover the whole menu. One important thing to do is to get a range of stuff that balances all the flavors and peppers. James can speak to that strategy better than I.