Great Szechwan Chowdown
23 commited Hounds took a few hours off to enjoy a meal at Great Szechwan in Richmond (in the Ranch 99 complex). The company was great as well as the food...
I am leaving for NY in a very few hours so I wanted to post a link to the pictures before flying off for 5 days (that is 23 meals?)
Hopefully others, especially Yimster, will fill in details. I will give my oppinion in a few days.
One thing I want to say is that the Taro Chicken was not the one we had expected, but on second thought it was better than the old version (taro or not!). Star anis, cardamom, bay leaves, chili oil...wow!
I had such a wonderful time at dinner - which included a number of firsts for me. Almost all of my favorite dishes have been mentioned in this discussion as being better at China Village, so I know where my next big dinner needs to be!
It was my first time eating kidney, which I actually quite liked, and am happy to hear that there are better versions out there. While it is always good to eat a delicious version of something for your first time, it is so sad to find out that everything afterwards will be a disappointment.
It was also my first time eating (or knowing that I was eating) tofu skin. And what a delicious dish that was - the cucumber and tofu skin were so light and bright that I kept scooping tiny bits onto my plate to contrast with the spicy and deep flavors of just about everything else served in the group with them.
The soup of red death. I had read about it on Chowhound for years but never had a version myself. I can't wait to get to China Village to try one that is even better. I could have eaten half of that huge vat of soup by myself, I think.
The green onion pancakes were amazing, as everyone else has said, light and greaseless and perfect for picking up the spicy sauces on my plate.
Husband and wife was just delicious. The richness of the meat and the spring of the spicy sauce was a wondeful contrast and I know this dish is going on my 'must order' list for any time I see it on the menu.
The pea shoots were impecably done and very refreshing.
Everything else was quite good, but those are the ones that really stood out.
Thank you Marlon for arranging this wonderful event, and Yimster for acting as our table's guide and order guru!
Xie xie, Marlon and Yimster, for organizing this wonderful meal! My favorites include those perfect Green Onion Pancakes, the cucumbers/tofu skin, the tea smoke duck, the steamed spareribs, and one of the best renditions of yu xiang qie zi (spicy garlic eggplant) I've had in a long time. As for the braised chicken with taro/arrowroot, I had never tasted this dish before, and the sauce was awesome. I ended up adding the sauce to the Chow Ma Mien, which had been a little understated up to that point - a vast improvement! Like Daveena, I was curious about the frog dishes on the menu, but that will have to wait to the next foray. Thanks again, Marlon and Yimster, and thanks to Cece for her lovely wine!
This was an excellent meal for sure. The soup really stood out, with an absolutely delicious broth I couldn't get enough of, and soft, soothing big chunks of fish, subtly flavored by the broth and the floating, burned peppers. What a wonderful dish.
Like others, I loved the kidneys, perfectly cooked, just the right bite to the tooth, fresh and flavorful. I dispute the Yimster's claim that I am nameless, and anyway it was the waitress that dumped the last of the kidneys on my plate. Perhaps he meant "blameless." Or maybe not. Sorry, Lillian and Louise; I though I was waiting long intervals between my attacks on the kidneys, but perhaps my kidney yearnings had telescoped time for me.
The tea smoked duck was also a standout. I've had versions of this dish that came across greasy, or dry, or flavored in an indistinct way, but this one was fully and interestingly flavored, with a nice fat layer on some pieces that was tasty rather than heavy.
Two more dishes wowed me. The eggplant, with its sensual texture, dark, flavorful sauce, and slippery, caramelized skin was one of the better renditions I've ever had. The stir-fried potato threads were perfectly textured and very subtly flavored.
That's my list of outstanding dishes, and most of the rest was excellent. The cucumbers and tofu skin was a surprise, with a very firm, bouncy texture and an overall refreshing quality that was a perfect interlude in a multicourse spicy meal. The chicken with arrowroot had a wonderful sauce and was really delicious. I missed out on the spareribs, unfortunately. I must have been distracted by some other wonderful dish while they vanished.
On the mildly negative side, I do prefer my fried breads to be a bit more crisp and well-done on the outside than these were, but that may be more of a stylistic preference. The seafood noodle dish, the one with the squid and tree ears, didn't have enough flavor to stand up to the noodles, so came across too bland and plain for my taste.
The final rice wine soup was a nice surprise, savory and sweet at the same time, with flashes of acid when you got a bite of fruit. A great finish to a great meal. I loved hanging out and eating with you guys.
I found the dishes uneven. The ones I liked best (pea sprouts, green beans, cucumber with knots of tofu skin, chicken with "taro" and the best green onion pancakes within recent memory) stood out for fresh, bright, distinctive flavors, with a fine blend of spices in the chicken/"taro" sauce. But many of the spicy dishes tasted like they were made with the identical sauce and my palate tired pretty quickly; several of the non-spicy dishes were good but were too underseasoned to be served after the spicy dishes. Unfortunately, I didn't pace my appetite well and had no room left for the chow ma noodles, which were abundantly topped with fresh-looking sea creatures.
Others liked the pork kidneys and tea-smoked duck more than I did--the texture and hatched-slicing of the former was delicate and appealing but the taste didn't stand out, and I found the latter dry, a bit tough and not smoky enough (China Village and Great China both do better versions, in my opinion).
Enough grousing (except to add that the service--particularly the pacing and the haphazard provision of utensils and dishes--was very poor). It's hard to complain about a twenty-course meal of generally high-quality ingredients, interesting preparations, consumed in the always-enjoyable company of devoted, knowledgeable and opinionated chowhounds, for the modest sum of $26pp.
My take on the Great Szechuan is that I found the food when the kitchen is not serving a full dining room was better.
The major reason I recommend to Marlon two tables was that I was not sure if the kitchen could handle a full house.
I love the following Pork Kidneys (which a nameless hound next to me got the last four pieces before I could get them), Soup of Red Death(I for one like the richness of a multi item stock they use rather then the fish stock), Steamed Spareribs, Tea Smoked Duck(perfect expect I would have like it a little moister), Cucumbers with Tofu skin (which cooled off the spicy dishes) and the Stir Fried Potatoes.
All the other dishes were fine but not jump up and said eat me.
I think it would be good for smaller groups of hounds to come and order off the menu.
In the CV has always served great food, but I remember the food was better when they were full in the dinning room and when our party was not a lot of tables.
Finally the staff tried hard but did was not good in serving or pacing the meal.
It wasn't mentioned here, but they have this terrific spicy squid dish at Great Szechwan that we always get. I wish I could remember the name, but it had a few types of spicy peppers, szechwan peppercorns, some matchstick cuts of celery, cuts of bell peppers. A while back, we just walked in one day randomly to try things out, and we were hooked pretty fast. Now, I'm really curious about the kidneys.
The kidneys, the kidneys, the kidneys. I only sampled two of them, but I was completely hooked by the perfectly executed texture. Louise and I were saddened at how quickly they disappeared. I would be perfectly happy polishing off an entire plate by myself!
Other standouts for me were the Soup of Red Death, the potato strips, and the bang bang chicken ("Spicy Sauce Szechuan Chicken"), which I thought was flavored well and not just drowned in a pool of chili oil. I also loved the crispness of the cucumbers in the palate-cooling Cucumber and Tofu Skin dish.
The only dish I didn't care for was the Dan Dan Noodles, which struck me as overly salty, but maybe it's because I didn't mix the noodles with the sauce sufficiently.
A huge thank you to Yimster and Marlon for organizing this staggering feast. At $26 a person, it was also an incredible deal.
re: david kaplan
re: david kaplan
OK, I'll go...
In terms of overall consistency of dishes and quality of ma la sauces in particular, I was more impressed with China Village. There was a lot of chili oil and sweetness but not a lot of complexity or ma la (with the exception of the chicken with taro dish , which had a lovely, multidimensional sauce, and good ma la). The soup of Red Death (aka West-Style Fish Soup at China Village) had a chicken broth instead of the delicate fish broth at CV, and the fish tasted muddier.
Dishes that were better at Great Szechuan - spicy pork kidneys (these were great, maybe some of the best kidneys have ever had), steamed spare ribs with rice powder and five-spice (I remember that dish as being unappealingly mushy at China Village - here, the texture of the meat was better, and the five-spice permeated throughout),
I also really liked their scallion pancakes - they were perfectly crisp and greaseless - and the pea shoots.
There were a lot of dishes that sounded interesting that we didn't get around to ordering, including 5 different frog preparations.
My personal favorites were the cucumber with tofu skin and the bright and flavorful veggies - the pea shoots and the green beans. Oh and the fish-fragrant eggplant is one of my favorite dishes that didnot disappoint us here. I also really liked using the green onion pancakes to sop up the red oil sauce from the appetizers. I agree that there was not enough ma la to the sauces except for the chicken with taro - that lovely numbing flavor under the tongue that is addictive. The spare ribs were also a personal favorite - the texture of the soybean with the thick dry gravy and the fall-off the bone meat was excellent with the scallion pancakes again. But then again I am afraid I had some scallion pancakes with all of the gravy dishes!! The dan dan noodles were also good - but I prefer the ones with more of the sauce/ground meat.
The soup of death had great flavor to the broth - (roasted chillis?) and Heidiepie did a masterful job of portioning it out to the hungry hordes at our table. There was also another noodle dish (chow ma noodles?) which was soupy - but I was too full to eat much more than some of the veggies and shrimp from it. There was very sweet and crunchy cabbage in it that I liked.
Linda brought lovely fruits - including bing cherries, apricots and lychees. I am afraid I was rude enough to snag the last lychee in the bowl. A lovely end to a very good meal. Finally I am glad to say we had enormous amounts of food without that unpleasant heaviness that the amount of red oil based sauces would lead one to expect.
Thanks Marlon and yimster for organizing :)
I agree with daveena -- I was overall more impressed with the food at China Village, I remember after the chowdown there I could hardly decide what my favorites were. Here, there were a number of dishes that I thought were just okay, though the ones that I liked, I really liked. My favorite dishes were probably the controversial chicken with (not) taro, the bean curd skin, and the scallion pancakes. All of those I would definitely go back for, I don't think I've ever had scallion pancakes that grease free. I liked the broth for the Red Death soup, but the fish wasn't quite as good as at CV. Oh, and I also really liked the jellyfish.
re: david kaplan
The fish soup at GS had a richer broth -- as Daveena wrote, it must have been meat- or chicken-based. Different from CV's version, but interesting.
Several of us noted that the CV style in the spicy dishes was much more intensely spicy than GS, but not necessarily better to my taste, just different.
I'm a big kidney fan, so I wound up eating a lot of them at our table. They had an odd texture and flavor, more like liver than kidney -- not bad, just different, and not as crunchy as I like.
The scallion pancakes were good, but the sesame bread was tough and chewy.
The braised chicken with arrowroot (or "taros" as described on the menu, #83) was very flavorful but had a lot of liquid -- more like a very rich soup.
The green beans were exceptionally sweet, I thought maybe sugar had been added to the stir-fry. The pea leaves were excellent. Cukes and tofu skin were a good foil to the spicier appetizers.
The noodle soup dish that came near the end was excellent but we were too full to appreciate it. The broth was very rich and the ingredients, though simple, were excellent quality.
They seemed determined to bring all the food at once -- we were able to stop them part way through. I have had the same experience at CV and at many other Chinese places; I prevent that from happening my ordering only half the dinner at first.
Many thanks to Marlon for organizing it and Yimster for ordering.
Melanie brought a very nice 2004 Erdener Treppchen Spatlese (Loosen) which complemented the food. Thanks too for the fresh fruit that someone brought for the end of the meal -- forgot who it was.
Lots of fun to be with the group -- some very knowledgeable people at our table, and lots of laughter..
previous GS post:
1335 Solano Ave, Albany, CA 94706
Great Szechuan (closed
)3288 Pierce St, Richmond, CA
Thanks Joel, I too asked the kitchen to stop the flow of food.
Wanted all those that were not able to join us the reason why.
Great Szechuan is not really set up to handle more than two tables with our request and needs. Marlon and I were able to get the senior chef to prepare all of our dishes. If we expand the tables I could not get the same results. Also the wait staff trying hard did not do a great job, forgetting soup spoon and other things for us. I can live with that but if we overload the kitchen and staff we will not be happy with our meal.
In the past at China Village when we had our last chowdown there Mr. Yeo was in the kitchen watching the staff cook our meal.
Hopefully someone on the wait list will take this menu and run with it.
re: david kaplan
Continuing on the comparison of CV and GS: our usual dishes at CV include Cumin Lamb (#41 on GS menu #122 on CV menu) and Sir-Fried cabbage ((#145 on GS menu, #150 on CV menu). Since these were not in the Chowdown menu I am still unable to make a decision.
Also we usually get A-choy at CV (not on the menu, you have to ask; #153 at GS). However, the two greens we had at GS were outstanding (green beans and pea leaves).
Also, GS is smaller than CV and on occasion when we looked in it was full so we wound up going elsewhere in the Mall. Apparently you have to bring yor own wineglasses at GS. CV provides glasses with an $8 corkage; I don't know what the corkage at GS is.
Thank you Yimster and Marlon for organizing this lovely evening. Great food, wine and companions!
I agree with Marlon regarding the braised chicken w/ taro. I was not expecting the stew that we received, but once I got over myself and stopped grousing, and sampled this dish it turned out to be my favorite for the evening. And, I think it would have been even better if we had tasted it when it came out from the kitchen rather than having been sent back and forth several times! The gravy was a blend of flavors, star anise for such and chiles. So good. I don't know if the "taro" was really taro, but who cares!
Of the appetizers, I really liked the contrast between the heat of the garlic cucumbers and the coolness of the cucumbers and tofu. I also like the potato strips - again cooling to the many other spicy dishes that we sampled this evening.
The soup, as always was such a wonder. My only complaint is that I would like to order other soups that I see on the menu, like the Wintermelon, but I never get past the Soup of Red Death (in caps, no less).
I thought the tea smoked duck was a particularly good version, but would nix the doughy and not in a good way dumplings that accompanied the dish.
I'm a veggie lover, and the pea sprouts were specatuclar. I also enjoyed two servings of the bean dish. Lots of garlic and my family sent me to another room when I came home. That's always a good indication, really.
I am the biggest fan of the GS green onion pancakes. They were not oily and perfectly cripsed. I wasn't as fond of the sesame pancake, maybe just because of that doughy thing again.
Thank you Melanie for the lovely wine and again to all, such a fine and fun family of food loving people.
I've had the braised chicken with taro dish at Great Szechwan before and really enjoyed the taro too! They're like a baby version of taro, also known as 芋艿 ("wu nai" in Cantonese), and seem to have a more mucilaginous texture than regular taro. I like how they are cooked to a soft and almost melt-in-mouth texture, a perfect vehicle for sopping up the gravy of the dish.
Thanks for the report. The pictures are making me drool! :P
Here are the list of the dishes matched to Marlon's pictures.
Crushed Garlic Cucumbers
Spicy Sauce Szechuan Chicken
Jelly Fish in Vinrgar Sauce
Spicy Pork Kindeys
Green Onion Pancakes
Whole Fish with Bean Paste
Spicy Beef Combo
Soup of Red Death named by Chow Fun not listed on there menu but can be made on requrest. Sorry did remember the actual name.
The chilies from the soup
Cucumbers & Tofu Skin
Tea Smoked Duck
Steamed Spareribs Wrapped in Lotus Leaf
Szechuan Dry Cooked Green Beans
Tea Smoked Duck
Dan Dan Noodles
Szechuan Style Potato Strips
Pea Sprouts in Garlic Sace
Chow Ma Noodles
Spicy Garlic Eggplant
Chicken with Arrow Root (we order Chicken with Taro Root)
The following were not pictured
Dessert was a Rice Wine Soup
Cost for the meal was 26 dollars.
There were lot of dishes on the list of things to try which we were not able order. I will let the order chime in before I add my two cents.
WOW I am impressed Marlon posted the pictures last night. I was just happy I could post this morning. Nice to see old hounds and meet new ones.
How is the food compared to Southsea Legend in Milpitas ?
The kidney at SL is legendary I say. It had that awesome bright green sauce and very garlicky IIRC without any hint of kidney smell.
BTW: I found an awesome Husband and Wife pork dish at CHINA TOFU to be one of the most outstanding version anywhere. Their boiled fish is also great.
Yimster: heard from a friend (Szechuan lover) there is a new awesome Szechuan place in South Bay that even trumps SL. Heard of it ?
If they said it is awesome, must be really good.
The food here was much better than SL. The food has more layer flavors. The dancing spices in the mouth thing. SL is good by only just heat, no Disco in the mouth.
The pork kidneys are the second best I have had in a while.
Sunny Shanghai at the moment is number one.
GS is a second for now.
So Han what is the name or location of this new awesome Szechuan place. Have not heard of it. Let me know and I hope to check it out soon.
Some of my favorite dishes at GS were the simplest:
Cucumbers & tofu skin - such delicate, fresh flavor!
Crushed garlic cucumbers - " " to the extent that garlic is delicate
Dry-cooked green beans
I was also really wowed by these:
Red bowl of death - whoa, the broth was much richer than at CV. Different, not necessarily better - and the fish was exquisitely cooked.
Whole Fish with Bean Paste - nicely cooked fish, and delicious sauce, compulsively nibble-able
Spicy Beef Combo - is this "husband & wife"? Very delicious.
Kidneys - I was surprised by how much I liked these. Great texture and flavor, clearly they'd been prepared very carefully.
The eggplant yuxiang was good, but better at China Village.
Tea-smoked duck. I can make this one better, using the recipe in Mrs. Jiang's Szechuan Kitchen.
Spare ribs - um. I actively disliked this.
Noodle dishes were eh.
Wish we'd tried water-boiled something, which they do so well at CV.