Best Szechwan Chili etc in Monterey Park, new review
So I took some friends who had rarely if ever been to Monterey Park. On the drive we discussed what kind fo chinese they wanted, and since they liked spicy food, I decided to go with them to Best Szechwan - the one in the mall on Garfield 200 block N, about a block orso north of Garvey (same mall as Giang Nan - east side of the street).
First the cold dishes - one plate of their spiced baby bamboo shoots and a spiced daikon. Second plate had their version of soybeans (lu dou) and kale, a pao-cai medley of lightly pickled vegetables and the cold spiced beef with scallions (these were all from teh cold deli buffet at the front of the restaurant). The fun thing about the huajiao sichuan peppercorn in the dishes is that it makes the beer taste as sweet as chinese sodas.
Main dishes - all big successes,
1. Shuizhu yu pian, the "water-boiled" fish slices, they use sole (lungli yu). came in a chili and oil broth with lots of the yellow bean sprouts (not the white mung bean ones - huang dou ya) and were great. We asked for the food to be spicy (la) and while it was, what makes the place good is that the heat doesn't linger as it does in some Indian food, and that the heat is balanced with many other flavors, herbal and floral and rich and delicate.
2 Chao shour on the menu, in english spicy wonton soup. It's not a soup, it's not wonton but it is spicy. These are the sichuan small (a bit bigger here) boiled dumplings with a soft wheat skin. Served in a spicy chili "water" I guess. You lift it out of the water and eat it. No dipping in sauce, it's already sauced. the least interesting here although at some other "sichuan" places, it is often the only real sichuan item on the menu.
3. Chinese - mala yao hua - lit hot and numbing kidney flowers, english was something like spicy fried kidney. The spice combo was very different than the fish. The pork kidney is in small slices and cut like squid flowers, stir-fried with lots of black wood ears and some other vegetables and then a thin gravy is added to the wok and is set to boil and then served immediately. It's not the first thing that comes to mind when you hear "fried" - it's certainly not deep-fried, not really even pan-fried. The english on the menu is at best idiosyncratic. This was my favorite dish. the kidney meat wasn't gamy as it might be in steak and kidney pie, it was soft and mild, milder than ankimo in flavor. the wood ear texture made a great contrast.
4. Their "herbal smoked duck", chinese zhang-cha ya, lit. camphor and tea (leaf) (smoked) duck. served warm. dry, smoky and I'm not sure if they really use camphor wood orsubstitute something, but it's real tea in the smoke tray I'm sure. Wonderful and a great balance to the other dishes which had more chili than this one. Even in the appetizers we tried to balance the dishes in flavor, and you can see here that the mains are also made using different cooking techniques (even cantonese meals are better if you limit the stir fried dishes to a max of maybe two).
5. Their san-xian guoba tang, three flavored sizzling rice soup. not much soup - the broth was thickened and there was more solid material, chicken, mushrooms, shrimp, pork perhaps, bamboo shoots etc than broth, and the homemade sizzling rice squares were smoky and crunchy yet absorbed some of the broth. really good. and cooling.
6. They pushed the gan shao xia ren. They said my friends would like it - we were speaking mandarin, I'm not a chinese ethnic, and they pushed it. If I get a gan shao (dry cooked/pan roasted) dish, I like to get the beef which gets a bit of a jerky texture, caramelized and chewy but soft. they pushed the shrimp, we got it, I don't regret it because yes my friends liked it, as did I. Some crunchy vegetable, I don't think it was jicama but it had that texture and I didn't ask. It was nearly sauceless and mildly spiced. A nice foil. Sauceless means that the english is really odd, braised shrimp. braised? no liquid? ANyway, that's what they call it.
Biggest compliment- an older couple, non-Chinese speaking, came over and asked us what some of the dishes were - they are habitues of the place and had just eaten. We ordered a lot of food for just three people so we sorta insisted that they taste a few of the dishes whcih they did. lovely people. lots of fun. As well, the staff was very sweet to us - the two waitresses aren't from sichuan, one is from shanghai, the other from qingdao, but the chef and staff are from sichuan and were out eating as we came late-ish and closed out the place. Lovely staff, liked to laugh, cracked a few jokes with us, all in all a wonderful evening. (four bottles of beer, total with tax before tip, $69.10)
230 N. Garfield Ave., #12