Sichuan in Beijing: Baguobuyi
After the Forbidden City we somewhat randomly chose Baguobuyi because it was in the neighborhood to the north and in my Lonely Planet guide. We were with SO's aunt and uncle from Hong Kong who know Chinese food and all of us were extremely pleased with this lovely restaurant and fresh, delicious food. It is at 89-3 Dianmen Dongdaije, north side of the street, not hard to find, and well situated for strolling afterwards through the rapidly gentrifying hutongs that extend to the north towards the Drum and Bell Towers.
The restaurant is in a hutong-type building with a courtyard, we ate in the part that faces the street, quite nice, with excellent service. The main house has gorgeous wood-paneled rooms. The menu has photographs so Mandarin proficiency isn't necessary.
Starter was a complementary bowl of thick rice noodles bathed in chili oil, sesame oil and flower pepper with peanuts and sesame seeds--perfectly sets the stage for the clear, fresh, intense Sichuan flavors. We have some decent Sichuan places in Queens but this is really on another level--my first experience of Sichuan food in China, I would love to hear how it compares to other places.
Next came a large plate of fried croaker, 6 inch fish edible bones and all, covered with finely diced peppers and cucumber. Chopped fried chicken (into tiny pieces, with bones) covered with red chilis was fantastic, the fried flower pepper making our tongues sing. Yellow eel sauteed with sliced green beans was perfectly fresh and outstanding. It was cooked with fresh green flower pepper, my first time trying that--chew one peppercorn and the anesthetic effect on the lips and tongue evolves into pulsations, really addictive. Ma po tofu was similarly intense and delicious...amazing that the flavor of tofu is discernable with so much spice on the tongue. We got some dumplings with greens and pork inside, also perfect, a mild counterpoint. Portions of all these dishes were huge, way more than we could eat. Dan dan noodles come in individual servings and were as good as the rest of the food here, making any versions of this dish I have had in the US seem like a pale shadows of dan dan. We washed all this down with three large Yanjing beers (except my friend's aunt who doesn't drink cold drinks--she had hot green tea!) Truly memorable and a highlight for me of our short stay in Beijing. The killer was the final bill--Y199. $25 for 4 for a meal like that? I LOVE Beijing!
They also have this restaurant in Shanghai, with performances and stuff, food here is very great as well. Definitely a good place for a gathering.
If you like Baguobuyi, you owe it to yourself to try two other places: Fei Teng Yu Xiang (there's a branch just north of the Worker's Stadium on Chunxiu Lu), and South Beauty (branches are everywhere). The former is great for the shuizhuyu, the fish dish that is served smothered in chili-laced oil, while the latter has a huge range of great Sichuan dishes.