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Apr 11, 2008 02:53 PM

The Chef from China Village has been found.

rworange had reported that some of the staff of China Village and maybe the chef from China Village may have resurfaced at Great Szechuan in Richmond at the Pacific East Mall. But I had missed her post, but I want to give you credit for doing so. I check to see if anyone had reported this earlier.

Last night a few hounds on the scouting mission headed by East Bay Hounds Marlon and Cece had a wonderful dinner.

I will only post about the four dishes I had a hand in ordering.

Cold plates

Szechuan style jelly, which is a wonder Agar type jelly with a red pepper sauce.

Chicken gizzards in a Szchuan peppercorn mumming sauce.

Pork kidneys in fire pepper sauce.

All three dishes had it own mumming, spicy and hot flavor. I what I have love about this chef was his ability to use a combination of sauces, spices and peppers to get my taste buds to dance in my mouth. Unlike Spices where the peppers and spices were so alike that my mouth was burnt out after the first few dishes.

I also order a dish named by Chowfun as the soup of a thousand deaths since it was top by a layer of red pepper.

The soup has a depth of flavor that I have missed since chef left China Village. Much richer in color and flavor.

In seems after speaking to the lady that had serve us at the old location both the senior and second chefs at now at this location.

I will let the order discuss the other dishes.

Great Szechuan Restaurant
3288 Pierce ST B109
Richmond, CA
sorry did not get the telephone number

Thank you Marlon and Cece for finding him again.

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  1. Thanks for the report! How would you compare your meal at Great Szechuan to your recent meals at China Village?

    4 Replies
    1. re: david kaplan

      Every meal I have had at China Village has been wonderful. But in the past when the first chef was there the dishes were more complex and the flavor were better layered. He would have my taste buds dancing in my mouth.

      Each dish would have it own group of taste bud being "attacked" by heat and taste.

      Unlike Cantonese food the chef allows the nature taste of the food comes out the master Szechuan allow spices and peppers to add it own flavor to the dish and it a more of a total reaction from the taster. I never sweat at a Cantonese meal.

      I can hardly wait for my next meal there.

      I think the chef at Great Szechuan is more skill in this area of cooking while the present chef is also very very good. But I will go again to both. Just another place for me enjoy eating.

      1. re: yimster

        Well, you could have knocked me over with a chopstick seeing my name in a Chinese food thread. I am sure every Chowhound will be grateful to you for following up and tracking this down.

        Yimster, do you know what nights this chef works?

        1. re: rworange

          The phone number is in the Place link

          Great Szechuan (closed)
          3288 Pierce St, Richmond, CA

          1. re: rworange

            Sorry, I was not at my best Thursday (I was sick for a couple of day prior to the meal) and forgot to ask which day the chief chef was off. But I am sure that one of the local hounds who attend Thursday will ask if not I will next time I am there. But it is almost a 100 mile round trip for me. So it will not there that soon.

      2. It was a great surprise to find that the ex-chef had moved here. China Village remains a great place, but Great Szechuan has a very different menu!

        We had the Taro chicken, Ribs wrapped in lotus leaf, Hot chillli fish soup (AKA soup of death!), Fish with pinenuts (ordered by mistake...we wanted the fish with black beans), Clams withbean sauce, Greens with fermented tofu, sesame bread and scallion pancakes.

        Each dish was unique and had a wonderful combination of tastes. Only the pinenut fish was on the bland side but still perfectly cooked. Not dry or oily...

        It is great to have one more choice!


        1 Reply
        1. re: marlon

          Thanks for updating the dinner. I was not at my best recovering from a little illness. But I was not going to miss this meal, even if I have to crawl over there.

          The clams was cooked with Thai Basil and Pea sprouts were cooked with only garlic and oil. Yes Cece did her lqf act to remind me to order greens.

          The scallion pancakes were wonderful, but the sesame bread at China Village was thicker and more cooked to a golden brown. The center of the bread we had Thursday night was a little doughy in the center for my taste.

        2. This was a really excellent meal. As the Yimster points out, what was special was how subtle and layered the seasoning was. No spicy dish was overwhelming; all were completely distinct in character, and there was always interesting depth to the flavors.

          My favorites were the kidneys, the gizzards, and the soup. But not just my favorites of the meal; these were truly outstanding dishes by any standard. The gizzards were thin sliced and had just enough bite, with a sauce that was spicy and complex and somehow refreshing. The kidneys were wonderfully cut in that flower way, well-cleaned, and perfectly cooked to a juicy tenderness, with a complementary spicy sauce that never interfered with the kidney's flavor, and yet contributed an assertive and complex flavor of its own. The soup was rich and hearty in the mouth, tinged with the wonderful flavor of the slightly-burned peppers, and the soft pieces of fish served as a textural counterpoint to the flavorful broth.

          The jelly was interesting texturally and had a very worthwhile spicy sauce. It's not something I'd want a lot of, but it's certainly a worthy thing to include in the order if you have a large group.

          Stir-fried peavines with garlic were quite tasty, but I probably didn't appreciate them as much as I would have if I had not just returned from Hong Kong, where this dish can be high art, at Yung Kee, for example.

          The fish with pine nuts was competently cooked, but didn't sing for me. I liked the soft pieces of fish, but there wasn't enough going on in the dish flavorwise. Maybe a more intense toast on the pine nuts would have helped, but since the dish was, as Marlon says, only on the table because of a case of mistaken identity, oh well.

          The clams were also a very pleasant surprise; clams with basil didn't sound like an auspicious combination to me, but they came perfectly cooked to tenderness, and bathed in a rich and savory brown sauce that absorbed and extended the clam flavor. Really nice dish.

          The scallion pancake was crisp outside and quite tasty, though I might have wished for a touch more salt; the sesame bread I found bland and underbrowned so it really didn't do anything for me. It would probably have been nice to dip in sauces, but I was running out of room by the time it arrived, so I didn't experiment with that.

          The taro chicken and the ribs were good dishes, but have not remained distinctively in my memory.

          Richmond is closer to Petaluma than the city, so I'm very pleased to have a Chinese restaurant of this caliber within striking distance. And I can go shopping at 99 ranch, about 50 steps away, when I finish eating!

          Thanks to Yimster for putting this delicious dinner together, and to Marlon and Cece for the great detective work.

          1. Good work, guys! At one point I had joked with another chowhound that we should put Master Chef Liu's picture on a milk carton to see if anyone could find him. Just in case that's necessary, here's his mug. Anyone who spots him, please let us know!

            Chef Liu (on the right) -

            Since you didn't mention him by name, I'm assuming this is whom you've located? There have been several chefs who have passed through China Village. As someone quipped recently, CV is becoming like Chez Panisse as a career building step!

            Last week after the East Ocean lunch, I headed over to Great Szechwan (how it's spelled on the take-out menu) hoping to catch the staff eating lunch at 2pm to see if I could make a positive ID to confirm the rumors. The employees were indeed eating, but no Chef Liu. I inquired about him, but am not sure I was understood entirely. I was told that the second chef was working Friday (he was pointed out to me) and the other chef who was the owner/manager would be back on the weekend.

            I also noticed some banners on the front of the building for Great Szechwan for something that started in February. Wondering what that's about - - - maybe Chinese NY or a relaunch?

            15 Replies
            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Chef Liu is featured prominently on the website for this restaurant in FRESNO.

              Wish I'd been paying attention, this post from a year ago on the Calif board mentioned Hunan and its chef at Bocuse d'Or, which should have been the tip-off.
              Cece, maybe your Fresno connections know if he's still there or what the story is?

              Hunan Restaurant
              6716 N Cedar Ave Ste 104, Fresno, CA 93710

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                I will investigate and report if anything turns up.


              2. re: Melanie Wong

                If was Chef Liu was the name that was mention Thursday night, I was not sure of the spell he used. He was sick that night but the food had his style. The Lady that took our order did not know about his past, but the other chef confirm Chef Liu past.

                I will return on a weekend to see if I can actual see him. I have in-laws in the area and will return to when I visit them.

                I do know what he looks like. I think Marlon has seen him in the past since he has been there a few times already.

                1. re: yimster

                  I know the owner of this restaurant and asked him if his first chef was Chef Liu. He said it is not, that as far as he knew, Chef Liu opened his own place in Concord, but he didn't know the name.

                  1. re: anli

                    Isn't that a different former China Village chef (not the original) who opened a place out that way (actually Pleasant Hill)?

                    Sichuan Fortune House
                    41 Woodsworth Ln, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      The chef/partner at Sichuan Fortune House is Ben Zhang. He was head chef at China Village after Chef Liu departed. His partner is named Alan, and both of them used to work at Shanghai Gourmet in Walnut Creek. I asked Alan if he knew Chef Liu's whereabouts and he did not . . . not that I would expect him to tell me if he did.

                    2. re: anli

                      anli, thank you very much for following up with the owner about this dead end on the search for Chef Liu. I had feared as much, since no one in this thread has yet claimed to have seen Chef Liu at Great Szechuan. If someone has indeed seen Chef Liu with his/her own eyes, please let us know. Yet, if the chefs in residence there now can cook as expertly as he does, maybe it's irrelevant that he's not there. We can still enjoy this place for what it is.

                      Still I would love to catch up with Chef Liu for the Tanjia cuisine side of his repetoire. While I enjoyed his mastery of Sichuan cooking, the Tanjia preparations were the most compelling dishes for me. Hopefully, we'll hear soon from somebody in Fresno on his status at Hunan Restaurant.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        To my taste, CV was never quite as good after Chef Liu left, although it was still very good and enjoyable. I ate there a lot while he was cooking, and immediately after he left I noticed a decline- things still tasted good, but didn't quite have the same flair. The spicy stir-fried cabbage was a key example- I would order it every time, almost. The sauce was perfectly balanced and in exactly the right amount- the cabbage itself was perfectly cooked, not one bit past the optimal tenderness, and with a strong wok-hay. In fact, I noticed a change in this dish before I figured out he had left. Things stayed a pretty high level for a long time after that, but there was a period in 06-07 where I had a multiple very ordinary dinners. Sometime in late 07 I feel the quality and consistency improved again, although the latter is harder for me to judge since I don't go as often anymore. But definitely over the last 6-8 months I have had a number of well cooked, well balanced dishes there. Don't get me wrong, with the exception of 1 or 2 meals I was always pretty happy with my meals there; it mainly suffered in comparison to the 2003-2004 glory days.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          I phoned Hunan a couple of evenings ago and was told that Chef Liu is there daily and that they are open for lunch and dinner. Have not had the opportunity to stop by and visually confirm, but was assured that it was the same award winning chef from the bay area.

                          1. re: PolarBear

                            Houston, we have a visual. Stopped in late this morning and met Chef Liu, such a likeable person. He was excited about putting on a dinner for a group of hounds from the bay area and us locals. He is in the kitchen six days a week for lunch and dinner (closed on Mon.). Let's get this puppy planned!

                            6716 N. Cedar #104 (SE corner on Herndon)
                            Fresno CA 93710
                            (559) 297-0336

                            1. re: PolarBear

                              Do you recommend any particular dishes on Hunan's menu? I'm going to Fresno soon, so I want to take the opportunity to visit this restaurant, but I'm pretty clueless when it comes to Chinese cuisine. Thanks.

                              1. re: Emilie.

                                There are several reports on meals at Hunan in Fresno on the California board.

                          2. re: Melanie Wong

                            I plan to stop by soon and see if I can see him. But the food is a level higher than CV at this moment. The spicing and flavoring remind me of Chef Liu. The food show Chef Liu touch, maybe the chef there worked with him the past or was trained by the same mentor. I just glad for another choice for Szechuan food locally.

                            Maybe I need to stop in Fresno on my next trip to Vegas.

                      2. re: Melanie Wong

                        Melanie: (re the milk carton photo remark. Rotfl!

                      3. Bravo report, Yimster, Marlon and SoupNoodles.

                        I ache, yes indeed, for this food.

                        The only two off choices, I felt, were: (1) the green onion pancakes (which I insisted be ordered) and the minced white fish w/ pine nuts. And they were only off because of the excellence of the rest of the meal. The green onion pancake (we had ordered it previously and I was then in awe) was slightly oily / greasy; the minced white fish just didn't show off any kind of complexity (or as Yimster says layering) that I long for in Szechuan food.

                        BTW, thank you SN for the fantabulous Australian sparkling wine. What a remarkable pairing w/ the heat of the GS food.

                        I positively adored the ribs wrapped in lotus leaf and the taro chicken. Those bones make for great sucking of marrow. Also, the ribs had these tinee weenee peas/soy beans (?) that added another layer to the dish. The chicken's sauce was something that I crave with the pancakes -- sopping is such a hedonistic, yet important facet of eating.

                        Service was great. I think because of Yimset and Marlon -- it was clear that they were known and their knowledge was appreciated.