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Mar 16, 2002 11:19 PM

Little Sichuan - San Mateo

  • w

Thank you to all the Chowhounds who gave me a variety of recommendations for Chinese restaurants in San Mateo. Tonight we went to Little Sichuan (4th Avenue at Ellsworth -- across from Draeger's) and had a delicious meal.

It was packed and we had to wait for about 30 minutes for a table but it was well worth it.

We had a small order of Chinese Herbal Chicken Soup that came in a cute mini-tureen. Our waiter said that the little red morsels were good for the eyes (he didn't know the English word -- could they have been pimentos?). There were a few slices of what tasted like potato but I have never run into potatoes at a Chinese restaurant. Very light, enjoyable soup.

Everyone around us seemed to be ordering the Spicy Sichuan Cold Noodles so we went for that and ordered them with chicken. The sauce was delicious and I can only guess that it was some kind of soy sauce, chili, and peanut combination. Delicious strips of chicken and cucumber were mixed in.

Next was the Stir Fried Tofu with Chicken and it was outstanding. The strips of tofu looked like shiitake and had a wonderful smoky flavor.

The only so-so dish was the Scallops A La Sichuan House Special. The scallops were cut thin and the dish had an overabundance of water chestnuts that also resemble scallops. There were unusual mushrooms in this (are they called cloud something?). Anyway, I probably wouldn't order it again, but it wasn't bad.

So I think we will frequent this place often. Thanks again!


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  1. ahhhh the herbal chicken soup - wonderful stuff. if you have a cold, there is nothing better. if not, it's still amazing, and you can enjoy it that much more!

    1. Hi Wendy-san,

      The little red things in the soup are called gou qi zi in Mandarin. There are a few english names: medlar, lycium fruit, wolfberry fruit, and boxthorn fruit. The last name makes sense when you see the plant that they grown on - you can sometimes find it fresh at chinatown grocers. The plant is often sold as a bundle of long (1.5 foot) stiff green stems, with oval leaves about 1 inch long, which connect directly to stem. The easiest way to recognize the plant is by the flexible but sharp spines along the stem. The leaves are the part that is used for food - often added to a soup. They're a little bitter but refreshing and cooling.

      The potato-thing in the soup is probably shan yao ("mountain herb"), also called Chinese yam or dioscorea. It's often used for problems with the digestion (diarrhea, fatigue, or lack of appetite), and to tonify and stabilize the fluids of the Lungs and Kidneys.

      You right about potatoes in Chinese restaurants - you don't see them that often. Sometimes though you can find stir-fried shredded/julienned potatoes that are quite tasty. My favorite version is suan la tu dou si ("sour hot earth bean thread"). The hot wok-oil is infused with whole chili peppers and just a touch of vinegar, then the potato shreds are thrown in and tossed until they're coated and still have a bit of crunch to them. Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant 3132 Vicente has a decent varation, but the green bell pepper version (qing jiao tu dou si) at Szechuan Home (used to be called House of Yu Rong) has the fresher flavors and crisper texture that I like. Szechuan Home is by far the best sichuan restaurant I've found (so far) in the Bay Area. It's in the Cupertino area, but the street address is 7271 Bark Land, San Jose (exit north at DeAnza off of Hwy 85).

      7 Replies
      1. re: Charlie T

        Could you please tell us about your other favorite dishes at Szechuan Home? There are so few good sichuan restaurants in the Bay Area, it's very exciting to learn about this one.

        Btw, I've really been enjoying your posts here. Hope to hear from you more often.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Hi Melaine,

          I think Szechwan Home may have been listed on chowhounds in the past (Nancy Acton?). (I've been lurking for a while, enjoying the Taco Truck chronicles, etc.). It used to be called House of Yu Rong. The name changed recently, but as far as I can tell nothing else has.

          My #1 favorite dish is the shui zhu rou pian (“water cooked meat slices”) – I think it’s listed as Water Boiled Pork on the English portion of the menu – I’ll check it out this week. It comes out as a large bowl of thin-sliced melt-in-the-mouth-tender meat, immersed in deep orange-red “broth”. I hesitantly type “broth” because the fluid is so intensely flavored with a heat and viscosity to it, that it breaks all conventional categorizing characteristics of “water” vs. “oil” vs. “broth” vs. “sauce”. From the top down the bowl contains: a heavy garnish of garlic chunks and cilantro, chili pepper flakes, slivers of meat (I prefer the pork, but beef, tripe, coagulated blood, or tofu are all available), black beans, scallions, leeks, Napa cabbage, and most importantly: a mist of powdered Sichuan peppercorns floats at the bottom of the bowl. I usually ask for extra Sichuan peppercorn (jia ma la “add numb hot”) when ordering. This is an intense dish that they’ve done justice to at Szechwan Home. I had just returned from two months in Beijing when I walked into Szechwan Home for the first time. As I sat there lamenting all the food I had left in the motherland, I was shocked to see a bowl of shui zhu rou pian sitting at the next table. The waiter actually politely side-stepped my order with “are you sure I think maybe it’s too hot” until I had insisted on it at least three times. With enough rice, this one bowl can probably feed 2 to 4 people.

          [On a side note, I haven’t been able to find a good shui zhu yu pian (“water cooked fish slices”) in the Bay Area – any leads anyone? In Beijing you’d order the amount of fish by weight, then they’d bring out huge aluminum bowl – usually a foot to two feet in diameter, bubbling with a solid inch of whole red peppers and Sichuan peppercorns at the surface. The waitress would scoop off the peppers and you’d be left with a mouth-numbing bowl of that translucent “broth”, translucent enough that you could just make out the firm-fleshed slices of fish resting in barely cooked fresh bean sprouts. The “broth” was decidedly lighter and less oily than the traditional shui zhu rou pian. Mostly just the essence and heat of the peppers, without the cilantro, leeks, etc.]

          Some other things worth trying:

          These three are from the Chinese appetizer menu, and aren’t on the English-language part of the menu. The waiters are usually pretty patient with non-chinese speakers describing the dishes they don’t know the names of:

          Fu qi fei pian (“husband and wife lung slices”). This famous little appetizer is actually boiled? beef (no lung involved?) slicked down in a sour-hot chili oil with the prerequisite chopped garlic and cilantro topping.

          Ma la niu jing (“numb hot beef tendon”). Szechwan Home version is sliced thin and with a true ma la numbness to it. Last time I went to Little Sichuan, the tendon came out in slabs (instead of paper thin), burning hot but not numbing enough.

          Xiang you chun sun. (“fragrant oil spring bamboo shoot”). As you’ve probably noticed by now, Sichuan food tends to have a lot of chili/oil and a high proportion of meat to vegetable. This little appetizer, thin julienned bamboo shoots and scallions with a sesame oil gloss, plays a cool and crisp counterpoint to the heat and meat.

          Off the Chef’s Specials section of the English-language part of the menu:

          Spring onion shrimp: I don’t have the menu with me, and haven’t order this dish in a while, but I think that this is the listed English name of it. It’s also a small cold appetizer of baby shrimp swimming in a clean, fresh pesto-like wash of scallion oil.

          Many of the other items on the Chef’s Special can be found scattered though out the menu. Here are some more of the dishes that they do remarkably well:

          Zhang cha ya (“camphor tea duck”). Listed as “Tea Duck Smoked”, this is a very good version of this specialty.

          Qing jiao tu dou si (“green pepper earth bean thread”) I talked about this one is the earlier post about potatoes. A fine dish in itself, it plays the same counterpoint role as the bamboo shoot appetizer. I think its listed on the menu as Potato with Bell Pepper?

          Qiezi ji – (“eggplant chicken”). I think it’s listed with a pepper next to it on the menu, but it really isn’t that spicy-hot. Long pieces of eggplant stir-fried with white chicken meat. Garlic.

          Of course, their mapo doufu, yuxiang pork (listed as shredded pork with garlic sauce) and kong bao chicken aren’t bad either, its just that most of the above dishes are exceptional. Many of the dishes I’ve listed above are heavy on the hot spices and full-flavored oils. If its just my girlfriend and me going, we’ll usually just order the shui zhu rou pian, the fu qi fei pian, and the qing jiao tu dou si. And maybe also the eggplant chicken. If we’re with an unfortunate soul who won’t eat spicy food, we’ll order some generic things off the menu to balance out the spiciness of the meal. If anyone’s not sure, just ask the waiter what they think of your order to avoid too many dishes that taste the same or are too heavy. They’ve also got a very fresh looking hot pot, and several interesting choices listed on the noodles and soups part of the menu that I haven’t tried yet. They also have an additional sheet of specials that I think recently changed. BTW, the rabbit on the old specials menu wasn’t that good.

          Szechwan Home also has a selection of fine teas available by the pot. At least once, you should order the ba bao cha (eight treasures tea). It consists of green tea, red dates, wolf berries, walnuts, rock sugar, raisins, chrysanthemum, and comes in individual covered teacups. The water-bearer comes around and pours the hot water into the cups from a metal pot with a two-foot long spout.

          They also make desserts not listed on the menu – ask the waiter.

          Szechwan Home is a tucked behind the gas station that’s at the corner of Bark Lane and DeAnza Blvd. Exiting 85 onto DeAnza, go north through the first light ( Rainbow Drive) and take a left at the next light onto Bark. The restaurant is on your immediate left. Avoid going on weekend nights around dinner or lunch (esp fri or sat nights). It’s just too crowded and the wait staff and kitchen are overwhelmed. I prefer a leisurely late lunch around 3 or 4 pm. There usually isn’t anyone else there, and the waiters are in the other dining room watching kung fu VCDs while we eat, talk, and drink tea.

          1. re: Charlie T

            Excellent post... I have a couple of questions about Szechuan Home:

            Do you know if they serve "Hong Yiu Chao Sho" (Red Oil ?? Hand). This is the wonton in red chili oil dish.

            Also, do they server "Dan Dan Mien"? I think Melanie mentioned she was on a quest for this dish. And if I remember correctly, Dan Dan Mien is an original dish from Szechuan cusine.


            1. re: tanspace

              Hi T,

              they do have the hong you chao shou ("red oil toss hand"?), but instead of wontons, its with the bigger, boil-able dumplings. It's listed on the chinese appetizers menu as hong you shui jiao ("red oil water dumpling"). I haven't had them there in a long time - I'll try them again this weekend.

              I'll also be trying the dandan mian, I don't think I've ever tried it there. YOu're right though, it is a sichuan dish.

              BTW, a call to the restaurant today revealed the name to still be "House of Yu Rong", not "Szechwan Home" as is listed on the takeout menu.

              Happy eats,


            2. re: Charlie T

              Outstanding post, Charlie!!! Thank you for such a thorough explanation of the restaurant's specialties. I can't wait to try it.


          2. re: Charlie T

            Charlie T, thank you so much for the fascinating info.

            1. re: Charlie T

              Little Sichuan actually also has the stir-fried potatoes. It's one of my favorite dishes there.

            2. Last week I stopped here for a quick dinner on my way down the peninsula and had the chance to try the dandan noodles here.

              This has got to be one of the best value meals for $6. Complimentary appetizers of salty boiled peanuts and pickled sichuan veggie salad, plus a huge bowl of noodles that was more than I could finish despite being ravenous. This must have used at least a 3/4 lb skein of fresh noodles. The mound of plain wheat noodles was topped with a fiery chili-based sauce, slivered cucumbers, pork shreds, chopped scallions and a spoonful of unadulterated raw garlic paste. No peanuts in this preparation. The shreds of sauteed pork were so tender and moist, plentiful too. All that garlic goodness was oozing out of my pores for a couple days and not a single vampire crossed my path. But the sauce missed the mark. It was still delicious, but had little flavor of Szechuan peppercorns or dried Szechuan chilis. Very odd. Also, it was thickened slightly rather than the thinner, almost soup-like consistency I'm looking for.

              The hunt continues...

              For tanspace, I did note that dumplings in soup with hot chili oil or something to that effect is on the menu.


              4 Replies
              1. re: Melanie Wong

                I recently found at Ranch 99 that they sell a Dan-Dan Mien Sauce in a glass jar. There's "regular hot" and "very hot" versions. I tried the "very hot" variety and it was pretty spicy and tasted pretty good. I don't know how authentic it is, but it was good. If I remember correctly, the sauce for this should be thicker rather than soup-ier. There's also no peanut traces.

                I belive the brand was "Amoy" or something like that. You may want to give it a try.

                1. re: tanspace

                  Interesting, and what kind of noodles did you use?

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    The noodles I also got from Ranch 99. It's in the fresh noodles section (near the tofus). The brand is called An1 Tai4 Mien4 Chang3 (An Tai Noodle Factory) It comes in a clear plastic bag, with about 6 servers per bag. BUT the specific kind I got also has a white sticker with blue lettering specifying its type as "Nan2 To2 Yi4 Mien4". It is a little wider than linguini.

                    I couldn't find this at the Milpitas store (they have only the regular type), but I got mine at the Cupertino store. So apparently not all the Ranch 99's carry this.


                    1. re: tanspace

                      Thank you for the information, and especially for being so precise in your descriptions. You set a new standard for posting here, you know!

                      I would mention that the noodles used by Little Sichuan were disappointing. These were the regular chow mein type noodles, not the flat kind or the thick chewy variety. Good quality but out of place in this dish.

              2. Did takeout from here last night, wondering why it gets so little love here on CH

                Uptodate URL

                The lady answering the phone spoke very little english. Hard to order. I kept getting passed to a guy who spoke a bit more. After some back and forth - one dish was "lunch only", they said they would make a "special dish" (was like a decent Mapo Tofu) - I ended up saying I wanted it hot "like in china". This seemed to kick them out of "white guy spice level".

                Chive Pancake - actually was a chive & clear noodle pocket of dough. Really, really tasty.

                Dry fried beef - spicy, but cooked a little harder than Crouching Tiger's. Wanted more numbing, but it's tasty.

                Mapo-ish tofu - again, wanted more numbing, but a good rendition

                Cumin Lamb - pretty good, although I would have taken a bit more cumin and a bit less pepper flakes

                The menu is very interesting, the prices are low.
                Yelp complains about "too much salt" but I didn't feel it
                Also about bad service, which I didn't experience

                Would return more if it was closer to my house, but will put it higher on the sunday-night-takeout list.

                $50 gave us a full meal and enough leftovers for another full meal (basically, $12/pp)

                6 Replies
                1. re: bbulkow

                  Agree -- Little Sichuan serves some tasty food! Now that I work nearby, I get takeout often, which is saying something considering all the other restaurants in the area. Their (warm) sliced garlic pork is heavenly!

                  1. re: bbulkow

                    I went there for a solo late lunch there recently. Not impressive at all, even with me speaking Mandarin. They were moderately packed even in the late lunch hours. The mapo tofu was just mundane, with hardly any exciting spices (hot or numbing-wise).

                    1. re: vincentlo

                      Having gone back and thought about it, and eating through the leftovers, I have to go back on my recommendation.

                      My initial excitement about a place like this is often the menu. It's real chinese dishes. I still get too much american chinese in the south bay, and this place is simply not american. Not much at all.

                      I did get my food spicy. I had to say "like in china".

                      Still, every dish was pretty far off the mark. The cumin lamb was mostly hot pepper, little cumin, average meat quality. The mapo-ish dish was mild, no numbing. The dry-fry wasn't succulent.

                      So, alas.

                      1. re: bbulkow

                        I can understand why a Sichuan restaurant doesn't want to use too much (or any) chili peppers for fear of burning its customers' tongues, but why skimp on Sichuan peppers? Too expensive?

                        1. re: vincentlo

                          I asked this question of Chef Liu of Hunan Restaurant in Fresno, as his default seemed to not stint on chile peppers but were scant on peppercorns. He said many of his customers don't like the numbing effect or don't care whether they're in the dish.

                          (I had sent half my dishes back, then he poked his head out of the kitchen, recognized me and came out to apologize and explain.)

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            Oh, crud.

                            So we not even have to say "like in China", we have to explain that we want it with proper peppercorns?

                  2. Linking up this tip about Jimmie Kwok's cooking here,