Great Szechuan @ Pacific East Mall, Richmond - rival to China Village?
I happened upon this new restaurant last night at the Pacific East Mall in Richmond -- it's taken over the spot of the mediocre Shanghainese restaurant in the back of the mall past the Ranch 99. I was incredibly impressed. The menu and food were very similar to those at China Village on Solano in Albany (our waitress definitely used to work at CV), so much to the point that it's maybe the chef also used to work there. The dishes were even better prepared than the ones I remember at CV (I've been there about ten times). We had a light meal -- Sichuan-style cold jelly, ma pa dofu, "A" (this Chinese green that I've had many times at China Village under the same name though have never seen anywhere else), and sesame pancakes -- and all the dishes had Sichuan peppercorn and chili oil more liberally applied than at CV, a big plus for me as a Westerner who even after adamantly requesting them often receives lightly spiced dishes. The spices were all very fragrant and fresh, which is sometimes a problem at a lot of Sichuanese restaurants, and the textures of the "A" and ma pa dofu were also dead on.
Does anyone know anything about the story of this place and who's running it? I'm very excited to hear what other people have tried and enjoyed...
I've been to both China Village and Great Szechuan over the last week, for different kinds of meals (heavy solo lunch at CV, light group dinner at GS) so the comparison might not be fair, but I think the quality of the cooking is very similar, maybe with a slight edge to Great Szechuan. On the other hand, the service at China Village is excellent, while at Great Szechuan it's abominable: serving us the soup before they had washed enough spoons for us was merely the funniest of our problems, and hardly the most serious.
Dinner for six (inc. one vegetarian and one chilli-phobe) at Great Szechuan:
Sliced chicken with home made spicy sauce: much thinner sauce than CV's home style chicken but almost as spicy, excellent
Jelly fish salad with green onion sauce: not spicy, agreeably salty
Sizzling rice soup: surprisingly good, lots of shellfish in it, MSG perhaps
Ma po tofu: oh yes, very soft and gingery, maybe the best tofu I've had in this country
Spicy garlic eggplant: extremely spicy, no eggplant taste, should try this again when it's in season
Salt and pepper prawns: pretty good, nice crispy batter, more salt than pepper
Some nonconfrontational scallop thing: eh
The stuff I expected to like was as good as I'd hoped, the stuff I didn't expect to like was better than I'd hoped. Will still probably go back to China Village first.
I had a meal here maybe a month ago, but nothing really left an impression. The only thing I really remember was the horrible service, yelling around about where to sit, not getting utensils, not getting more tea, not getting our rice. The waiters/waitresses did not really react to our waving, so eventually, we waited so long we actually walked up to the kitchen to ask for the things we needed. Perhaps the service has improved since then?
I went there for lunch a few weeks back; we ordered off the main menu, including pine nuts diced fish, salt and pepper fish, salty duck, dry fried string beans, combination fried rice, dry fried beef, and probably one or two other items. I particularly liked the salt and pepper fish, lightly battered and deep fried with a well balanced salt-and-pepper dusting (white pepper possibly accented with five spice), tossed with chili and garlic. I have seldom had a better version of this. The rest of the dishes that I remember were decent to well done. I spoke with the waitress who came over from China Village, and she said that one of the chefs had taken over at this restaurant- I didn't enquire more as to the details, but she did say that it was not the same owner.
I have been to China Village many many times since 2003, though less so recently, perhaps once every other month, and would say that that restaurant is still doing yeoman's work in sichuan cuisine. Based on the one lunch at Great Szechuan, I would not give it the edge over China Village, not even close, but I would be willing to go back to try more. They've done a nice job sprucing it up over the previous tenants, but I don't like how that space doesn't have it's own restrooms (as far as I know).
I had a Szechuan craving about a week back and did takeout from here. I got the spicy boiled beef (often called water boiled i think?), Ma-po tofu and tan-tan noodles.
The noodles were a little skimpy on ingredients other than the noodles but very tasty nonetheless. [Aside: I have had this in various places but no two versions seem similar - is there a standard version? Is it supposed to be dry or with gravy? The version here had ground pork and some greens and what tasted like spicy coconut flakes to me but I am sure they were not!]
The Ma-Po Tofu seemed a little too oily to me but the tofu was very very soft and once you drained the oil out as much as you could the taste was excellent too.
The definite stand-out was the spicy boiled beef - the meat was soft, meltingly tender, it had been vigorously spiced, complex. The waitress glowed when I asked her if it would be ma-la and said yes, definitely! And it had that amazing mouth-numbing flavor that I was looking for. It was also a huge portion - the beef alone made for three or four meals with rice for me. I want to go back and try other things on the menu - any suggestions? I am thinking the salt and pepper fish mentioned above and maybe one of the not so spicy things on the menu - the sweet and sour chicken maybe? (Yet another aside: I hope that does not sound too funny - I had this sweet and sour chicken in a Szechuan place in Hong Kong that was soo delicious and I have been thinking of it since I saw it on the menu here)