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Szechuan Bay, Somerville

New ownership in the old YumYum/Sesame space, open about 2 weeks. Tried one of the specialties, "Le Mountain spicy chicken," small chunks of bone-in fried chicken tossed with a LOT of coarsely chopped dried red chilis, with a touch of star anise. Also cold bamboo shoots with sesame oil and scallion, nice and fresh tasting. Enjoyed both dishes.

The chef has/had some connection with ... memory failure, it was either Sichuan Garden or Sichuan Gourmet.

Their menu is up at www.sichuanbay.com (note spelling variation).

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  1. Thanks for the heads up - it would be great to have a Szechuan option in the area (not that I'm complaining about the abundance of Northern Chinese, mind you). Didn't realize Sesame had closed.

    1. Sounds great -- many thanks for the new find....will have to check it out.

      1. you rock. thanx for the tip.

        1. Funny about the northern Chinese thing ... I think that might be one rare area where Boston trumps New York. I was in NYC about a year ago, and posted to the NYC board asking if there was a good northern Chinese place in any of the various Chinatowns. Struck out completely. It would seem that since Tianjiin Goubuli Bun closed its doors in Flushing, there isn't a jiaozi hut that stands out in the way that Qingdao Garden or Mulan do. Odd.

          1. can't view pdf. alternatives to seeing the menu?

            3 Replies
                1. re: Taralli

                  New HTML link is now available next to the PDF link. It's just images, but hopefully you can read it. Yay!

              1. If you were to go for Chinese food in general (not just Szechuan), would Szechuan Bay be anywhere near the same league as Qingdao Garden, Zoe's, or Wang's? I ask because I might grab some quick Chinese food near Davis Square after work sometime this week.

                1 Reply
                1. re: hiddenboston

                  Well, based on a grand total of 2 dishes, sure give it a try. Getting the bamboo shoots right is a good sign I think.

                2. stopped by last night per Aromatherapy :) and it was great -- more American than Chili Garden but spicier and more diverse than a typical Chinese restaurant. Ordered the standards to see how they fared: hot and sour soup was filled with mushrooms and things, a nice spice but not as spicy as Chili Garden (prob. will ask for spicier next time). Then the tofu/veg dish w/the single pepper to indicate spiciness -- very good! chunks of red/green pepper, scallions, chili pepper pieces and mung beans and thinner slices of lightly fried tofu. You can taste the spice and the ginger and I just loved it. I eat lots of tofu so it's not always easy to get it just the way you like :)

                  They've only been open for 2 weeks, have been doing lots of delivery and the dining room has about 12 tables (neat and clean). The owner was a very friendly talkative guy who is also an engineer with four degrees :) he opened the restaurant because he loves food and to fund other scientific ventures. His two kids went to MIT, etc. he reminded me of my dad, nice guy who likes to chat. I have great hope for this place -- so far so good :)

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: MaineRed

                    My dinner last night was actually better than any I've yet had at Chilli Garden (I've had one mediocre and one very good there). We started with Dan Dan Noodles, which were in a lighter sauce than any other I have had, and resplendent with Sichuan Peppercorn. Nice. We continued with Beef in Spicy Chili Sauce (called Boiled Beef or Braised Beef at other spots). I have only had it hotter at Sichuan Garden. It was most flavorful, redolent of garlic, ginger, and Sichuan Peppercorns. The beef was wonderful and plentiful,and there were plenty of veggies too. Dish number two was the Le Mountain Chicken, described aptly by Aromatherapy above. Ma Po Tofu was flavorful, with plenty of Ma (that numbing Sichuan Peppercorn effect) and chili spice. The soft tofu was nice, and there was a healthy amount of ginger and garlic there asa well. Kung Pao Chicken was nice, but not much morre than that. It was well prepared, but not very exciting. It lacked the sweet/salty/spicy/sour balance I hope for, mostly the sour of vinegar.

                    Like MaineRed, we talked to the owner for quite a while. The chef they imported from New York because the owner couldn't find the "talent" he wanted locally. Like the chef from the late and much-lamented New Taste of Asia, this one is trained in banquet preparation and uses ingredients that would be used in a celebration meal. The owner (whose name I didn't manage to learn, or the chef's for that matter) described it as preparation that uses twice the number of vegetables (his example) than might be used in home cooking of the Sichuan region.

                    Based on one visit, I am sold - I want to go back and sample more!

                  2. Had lunch there. Was very happy.

                    I ordered the fresh bamboo shoots with spicy sauce, the diced chicken with hot and spicy sauce, and the Szechuan bitter melon.

                    Despite clear communication with the waitress, my appetizer must have been the "house special sauce" bamboo shoots (right under the spicy sauce version), because it did not have a hint of hot pepper. The bamboo shoots were marinated in a light sesame oil and sesame seed sauce. It was refreshing and nice enough, but the least impressive of the dishes, and not as good as my memory of the bamboo shoots at Chilli Garden.

                    I have had a similar spicy diced chicken dish at Qingdao Garden and Zoe's. It's my favorite dish at Zoe's, though I do not like the Qingdao Garden preparation. Szechuan Bay's preparation was very good--not as over-the-top flavorful and spicy as Zoe's, but crispier and less overwhelming over other dishes. I would definitely recommend it, though I would have preferred it spicier.

                    The bitter melon was surprisingly superb, and really the highlight for me. I've had bitter melon dishes at Qingdao Garden and Wang's, which, respectively, I considered yucky and pretty good. Szechuan Bay's was by far the best I've had. The flavoring came from fermented black beans and an oily stew of onions and green peppers. This contrasted perfectly with the soft bitter melon. Great side dish (though I imagine the bitterness would be unpleasant to "supertasters").

                    The complementary rice was delicious, highly aromatic, tied with Sichuan Garden in Brookline for my favorite in Boston. The complementary tea, on the other hand, was undrinkably cold.

                    The service and atmosphere do not comport with American expectations, seemingly due to lack of cultural awareness rather than indifference. But good news: they say they deliver to Harvard Square.

                    All in all I considered the food on par with Wang's and Zoe's. But at those places I have the benefit of ordering experience--the best of Szechuan Bay may be better. I also felt like the chef might have been toning down the spiciness, so maybe if I ask for extra spicy next time it will be even better.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: fenian

                      Hm, I had to make rather a fuss to get the bone-in chicken dish, they kept pointing me to the boneless. I think assumptions about what "Americans" like are at work. Can't say I blame them, but next time in I'm going to be extra-slow and specific, and point a lot. I'm assuming the diced chicken is the dish with whole dried chilis?

                      1. re: Aromatherapy

                        The diced chicken dish had a few (ten at most) chopped up dried chilis (compared to what must be over a hundred whole chilis in Zoe's dish), as well as some not-all-that-hot fresh peppers.

                    2. Ordered in from there last night - some communication problems in what i wanted vs what they wanted to send me, but over all, I was pretty please. The double taste pork thigh had a good braise and a decent amount of tasty bok choy, mushrooms and bamboo in a gigantic platter. Have had better renditions elsewhere, but it was good for takeout. Also ordered the dandan noodles which weren't particularly hot, and seemed really greasy. Definitely like the dan dan noodles better at Anise. The pickled long beans with minced pork were really vinegary and hot as hell when I continually bit into the diced hot peppers in there. Thought it was an interesting dish, but too big of a portion. I'm going to have these in my fridge forever. Needed something green to even out the porkiness, so had some stirfried pea pods with carrots and garlic - thought I was getting pea pod stems, evidently not. These were crisp and fresh and very green - excellent. The delivery man said that I sure knew how to order when he came to my door - how sweet. Really thankful there's another good chinese takeout place in the area.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: gini

                        Upon reconsideration (and eating them cold), I have determined that the noodles aren't greasy, they're just not flavorful. They are neither covered with that insanely hot vinegrette (Sichuan Garden/Gourmet) nor toothsome and green like Anise. They're just noodles with crumbled pork on top.

                      2. We ordered from Szechuan Bay last night and the food was very good. However, we had the same problems as other posters with not getting the food we ordered. I ordered the fresh bamboo shoots in spicy chili sauce and instead ended up with the house special sauce (sesame, not spicy). Still very good but not what I wanted. The Kung Pao Chicken was very tasty, and not loaded with all the bell peppers most places use (which I don't like - my husband ordered the dish). All dark meat in the Kung Pao. I also ordered the Beef in Spicy Chili Sauce, which came as Pork in Spicy Chili Sauce. Which was fine, because I like pork, but I specifically wanted beef. The whole thing is weird, because there definitely was not a language barrier over the phone; the man I spoke with had very good English. He even complimented me on "knowing how to order". So I'm not sure where the confusion stems from. I was a little frustrated not to receive the items I ordered, but I will definitely go back because the food was light years ahead of anything else I can get delivered to Arlington.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: MrsCheese

                          Ordered from here again. Ordered bamboo shoots in spicy chili sauce, got the special sauce version as usual. Ordered rice, did not receive it (too bad).

                          But what I did receive was very good. Whole fish with pickled Szechuan peppers was delicious. Szechuan green beans was very tasty but not as interesting as the Szechuan bitter melon.

                          I really like the food. I wish they would give me what I order. The lengthy conversations are strange. Lots of talk about this not being the same Chinese place, this is fine dining. Shouldn't I judge that for myself, why are they telling me this? Even a comment that I really should come in for dinner to get the full experience. Having been there in person, this seemed absurd, though I guess they could be talking about the food being better right out of the kitchen.

                          Regardless, definitely recommended for the food.

                        2. From a recent chowdown:

                          Excellent dan dan noodles with crisply caramelized ground pork, firm noodles, a balanced hot and sour sauce. As good as Sichuan Gourmet's version.

                          Sesame flavoured bamboo shoots (house special sauce) were on the bland side, with nothing but mild sesame going for it.

                          Twice cooked pork was appropriately fatty, with a gentle kick of spiciness. Would be even better if the flavour were more smoky.

                          I really liked the spareribs in sticky rice wrapped in a bamboo leaf and steamed-- glutinous rice with just that point of sweetness, soft but not mushy. Basic but nicely seasoned sparerib on the inside.

                          The likely favourite of the evening might be the "water-cooked" fish (not the English name on the menu, but I vaguely remembered it was the first dish in the fish section of the menu), a potent bowl of an oily, moderately fiery sauce with perfectly cooked slices of fish, lots of dried chilli, vegetables and mung bean vermicelli.

                          The yu xiang eggplant was nice and basic, sweet, spicy and garlicky. I thought the eggplant could be a touch more tender, but that's a quibble.

                          On whole, very lovely homey Sichuan cooking.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: limster

                            Any scallion in the bamboo shoots? I'm wondering if both versions are mild, despite the menu.

                            The smokiest twice-cooked I've had was at Chilli Garden. It was a more austere version than usual, just pork and green chilis (no onion, red pepper, etc.), the smokiness really made it.

                            1. re: Aromatherapy

                              No scallion in the bamboo....the chinese names implied that both of the bamboo dishes were going to be hot, so I was a little surprised.

                          2. I just finished up some leftovers from this weekend. House special duck--soy glaze with a little sweetness, saltiness, hints of star anise and cinnamon. Very nicely cooked, nothing dry, greasy of course but not all that much. Couldn't leave it alone. Special lamb with cumin and hot pepper (requested "not so spicy") was presented in a foil packet that the waitress cut open. Sliced lamb and pieces of thin-walled mildish green chili. Thought it fell a trifle flat but maybe because we monkeyed with the spice level. Simple quartered small bok choy ("Shanghai green" on menu) were a nice counterpoint to the richness. Very good and I'd order any of them again, with the original spicing on the lamb.

                            1. Just a note, found www.szechuanbay.com to be alive and points to the same website.

                              1. Got take-out from Szechuan Bay last night:

                                -Family style tofu: triangles of thickly-cut tofu in a mildly spicy oily sauce with leeks. Pleasant enough, but no really specific flavor.

                                -Szechuan jumbo shrimp: same type of sauce as above. Addition of celery made it a little different than your usual shrimp dish (I actually liked it). Shrimp was slightly overcooked (but that might be due to ~5 min travel time in a takeout container).

                                -Yu-hshiang eggplant: not a big fan of this treatment of eggplant in general, but the flavor was more distinguishable than the first two dishes. A bit salty and mushy, though.

                                -Szechuan string beans: best dish of the meal. Flavorful and beans still had some crunch.

                                Overall, a good takeout meal, nothing more or less. I found all dishes a bit too oily and saucy for my taste. Nevertheless, we'll give it another try and maybe eat in next time. I'd like to try some of the fish dishes.

                                1. Happy to report that we had lunch delivered (10 orders) and everything was correct and tasty! the lunch specials are good-sized and the picky eaters were pleased. The one complaint was that the breading on the general gao's chicken was too thick. eh.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: MaineRed

                                    had lunch here saturday. people are very welcoming, and the scallion pie was good. my so's choice of sesame chicken was a little gummy but good (though i chided her for her unadventurous choice!) and the "double taste pork thigh" from the chef's specials was a relatively mild but flavorful and tender piece of thigh falling right off the bone. a bright, almost citrusy flavor and a pretty presentation. looking forward to going back here and trying more menu items.