Szechuan Era, Cupertino
Answering my own query ( http://www.chowhound.com/topics/447174 ), William and I hit Szechuan Era in Cupertino Village with another friend in October at its two-week mark. Arriving on the early side on a week night, we got a table quickly, but a few minutes later, it was packed with a rapidly growing line outside. It’s a hot ticket already, in more ways than one. This new Sichuan specialist is under the same ownership as Panda Country Kitchen in San Francisco.
The menu we saw makes few concessions to Americanized dishes except in the Monday-Friday lunch specials. And even there, Sichuan dishes such as Twice cooked bacon cut pork or Spicy boiled fish filet are options for the lunch plates. The menu is quite extensive with Sichuan specialties and it was hard for us to decide what to order.
Here’s what we tried:
• Beef shank and tendon, $5.95
The well-known Sichuan cold appetizer, “husband and wife lung slices”, which has no lung but rather thinly sliced beef shank rippled with tendon and strips of tripe is done very nicely here. A favorite at the table, this was ma-la to the hilt with plenty of dusky spices. The honeycomb tripe had great texture, cut at the right angle to the grain to be tender and still have a telltale chewiness. Beef shank was somewhat dried out, but still very tasty.
• Green bean noodle with hot pepper, $6.95
This liang fen was very good too with an acidic bite and a refreshing taste. The vinegar gave it a nice lift, and I’d love to have this again on a warm day.
• Cucumber with garlic sauce, $2.50
Pretty good version, still can't figure out how Sichuan cooks get so much pungency from the garlic. Would be better with the seeds removed.
• Pork chitlins with homemade pepper sauce, $6.95
Ordered by mistake when I pointed to the wrong number. We like chitlins in every form, but these were lousy. One bite, and the lack of cleaning and urine-like flavor shut this one down.
• Potato with hot green pepper, $5.95.
A simple dish that relies on perfect execution for its calling card, and this was as good as it gets. Expert knifework, cooked perfectly on point, and just enough hot pepper to breathe some warmth into the dish without making it fiery. I’ve always liked this as a simple foil for the vividly spiced dishes.
• Spicy boiled beef (water boiled beef), $9.95
Usually one of my favorites in the Sichuan repetoire and this turned out to be a big disappointment. Tough beef, monotonal spicing, hardly any ma-la notes, to be avoided.
• Fresh pickle with fish filet and lamb hot pot, $16.95 large
Luckily we had ordered the hot pot. In a word - fantastic. The three of us managed to drain the bowl. Sorry, no photo. At this time, only the large size was available.
The cooking was solid even this early in the game. While we had two disappointments, the highlights more than made up for them. With only one meal each at Panda Country Kitchen and here at Szechwan Era, I can’t say which is better, only that the quality is pretty close. I’ll certainly be back to try more, and would like to hear about any recommendations here from others.
N.B. The menu spells the name as Szechuan Era whereas the signage for the restaurant reads Szechwan Era.
10971 N Wolfe Rd, Cupertino, CA 95014
Wow- thanks, M- I just logged on for the first time in whenever, specifically to see if the Sichuan place in Cupertino you mentioned a while back had been identified- and I see it has. I look forward to trying this. Regardless of how adventurous I end up being, there is something about the blast of flavor that really works if done well.
re: P. Punko
Two dishes that we meant to try, but got lost in the shuffle, would be dandan noodles and a cold dish, white bacon with garlic sauce. Don't know what these are called exactly on the menu, but they are among Sichuan standards and among the dishes I'd use to judge a place. Please let us know if you try them.
re: Melanie Wong
I tried the dandan noodles while I was in the neighborhood for a late lunch (near 2pm). The restaurant probably was around 1/3 capacity by the time I ordered.
There are two versions, spicy and non-spicy (what's a non-spicy dish doing in a Szechuan restaurant?? :) ). I of course had the spicy version.
The sauce was pretty good, very flavorful, sufficiently salty without being overwhelming, and SPICY. I have a very high tolerance for heat, (i.e. I eat habaneros regularly). I think it's pretty clear they made no concessions. The noodles were just about to make me sweat by the time I finished.
The only real disappointment is that the noodles were overcooked. Some were on the verge of being gelatinous. It didn't help they used very thin noodles which were less tolerant of being overcooked.
I'd recommend the "regular" dishes over the noodles if you frequent this place.
My mom and I were wandering by tonight and I was struck a craving for Szechuan food that I remember having in Beijing, so we decided to eat here for the first time. At around 6:15, the tables were 1/3 full, but within 20 minutes, the place was packed with a healthy line outside (for this place and for DongBei). Hurray for the downfall of Cantonese-Chinese restaurant hegemony! =)
The Water Boiled Fish was okay. I went to a topnotch place in Beijing so it pales in comparison, but even so, the "mala" (numbing, spicy) notes were very weak. Also they only use pieces of fish fillet instead of a whole, fresh fish.
The other main dish we had was the Chong Qing Spicy Chicken. I've never had this dish before, and I guess it's so-so to my Cantonese-trained tongue. The pieces of chicken they use are the bony parts of the chicken wings. I would have preferred at least eating the drumettes.
The Green Onion Pancake was done very well here. Not too oily, and served crispy and hot. Not too thin, and not too bready/thick.
Thanks for the update, Cary. Having been subjected to too many bad green onion pancakes in recent weeks, that sound particularly good to me.
The CQ chicken I've had at other restaurants locally is always made with cross-cut chicken wings. One chowhound not recognizing the piece of chicken anatomy in the dish described it as "chicken ribs" for the two parallel small bones. (g) One time I had this dish made with strips of boneless chicken breast. At China Village in Albany, I think you can specify whether you want it with bone or not.
Was in C. Plaza Friday night (7:30pm) and every restaurant there was packed---except for Szechwan Era which had only a few tables occupied. There were a bunch of servers just standing around talking since there was nothing else to do. I took that as a bad sign and went to HC Dumpling Hse instead. Had their version of XLB which was tasty although their skins are relatively thick. Also had been curd strips w/ pork, bitter melon with salted egg, drunken chicken, and spicy duck webb with cucumber.
I've had good experiences at Szechuan Era and it's in our regular rotation. Maybe I've been lucky but the Spicy Boiled Beef has been killer - great heat, tender beef and tons of sauteed garlic. We always have the sesame pancake too - wonderfully crispy and toasty. The tripe hot pot is also very good. It's a huge menu so plenty left to explore.