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Review of Szechuan Szechuan

The context of this review: I'm from Montreal, where we appreciate extremely rich food - whether it's buttery, greasy, sweet, spicy etc... Also, when I review Szechuan restaurants here in Toronto, it's based on the context of Szechuan restaurants in Montreal i.e.) Crysanthemum, Pappillon de Chine, Village, La Perle, Piment Rouge. Although there are dozens of chinese restaurants on every corner of the GTA, less than 20% make the grade. I tried at least 50 chinese restaurants, and for 40 of them, I would never go back. When it comes to Szechuan food for Westerners, they are supposed to be over-the-top rich, crispy, greasy, saucy etc... That's the point. We eat it in intervals - about three times a month to keep it as a treat. If you like new-aged, health-conscious dining, with no oil, salt or spice, and no taste, please look up topics like "best bread in GTA" or "best cottage-cheese NY cheesecake in TO", go to Bayview Gardens for your szechuan food, and don't read my posts.

We headed down to Vaughn Mills last Thurday to try Szechuan Szechuan, as we have heard a lot about it on the internet. Tried the Wonton Soup, Spring Rolls, Hunan Dumplings, Potstickers, General Tso Chicken, Palace Shrimp, Vegetable Fried Rice.

First off, I found the concept of this place wery unique and wierd at the same time. Fancy decor, lavish dishes and slightly high prices, while seating people in a cafeteria style room. Unless you're in a booth or seated in their nice dining area upstairs, the main floor eating area feels like a food court setting. Also, having people in beach-wear coming from the mall to dine is a bit of a turn-off for my taste. The food also all came together - they brought us all appetizers and entees at the same time, like they wanted us out of there. We enjoy the slow-paced dining experience, and that was not our cup of tea.

Let's get to the food (in order of dining):

1) Spring Rolls: 0 out of 5 stars. Absolutely frozen. You can't convince me otherwise. They tasted like they were taken out of a frozen box, re-fried and served on $40 chinaware plate. The taste was that of re-fried leftover, and the stuffing tasted like it was made for President's Choice. The plum sauce was definitely from an industrial bottle, poured into a $20 cuppette that matched the spring-roll plate.

2) Hunan Dumplings: 2 out of 5 stars. The dumplings were gummy and the peanut sauce was a thick paste. They placed a half teaspoon of peanut paste on each dumpling. They were edible and nothing really that negative about them, but compared to any Montreal Szechuan restaurant, they weren't even close.

3) General Tso Chicken: 5 out of 5 stars. Super-phenomenal. The chicken was 100% pure quality white chicken breast, lightly battered and deep fried to a light crisp. The sauce is different than I had ever tried, but still phenomenal. I call it "sweet spicy asian BBQ" flavoured sauce (with szechuan peppers and spice, of course). The dish is slightly spicy (most TO restaurants don't serve this dish spicy at all - but I've had spicier than this one in Montreal). Some chow-hounders called this dish too candied. I totally disagree. We just had GT Chicken at Asian Legend on Midland 2 weeks ago, and they served us candy. As we bit into the chicken, it felt like biting into the tootsie pop to get to the center. Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking the candied version, but I really have to be prepared for that dish again. Back to the GTC at Szechuan Szechuan - their chicken is 20% as candied or "crispy" as Asian Legend. I'm already addicted. This dish could be served in any Montreal Szechuan restaurant !!!

4) Palace Shrimp: 5 out of 5 stars. Best Szechuan shrimp dish I ever had. Larger than usual shrimps, medium battered, deep fried (to a more candied level than their G.T. Chicken, I'll give you that) - with the most outstanding sweet chili-szechuan sauce slathered all over the shrimp. Absolutely heaven. The waiter expected the dish to be too spicy for us, but we like spicy, so he's probably used to caucasians (or Canadians, as chinese people call us) complaining about the spice. I call it 4/10 on the spicy scale, so it's not too spicy for me (for reference, suicide chicken wings are an 8/10 for me). Already addicted. Better shrimp dish than any I've ever had in Montreal (and that's humongous praise coming from me).

Summary: I will definitely be back. We're already addicted to their chicken and shrimp dishes and I'm also going to try their spicy peanut chicken next time as well (I'll have room for it since I'm cutting two appetizers from my next order). Next time, I'll make sure to be closer to wearing beach clothes than the dinner jacket I was wearing. (Their website makes it seem like "Piment Rouge" downtown Montreal, in the Windsor Hotel).

I'm still looking for the complete package - an upscale szechuan restaurant with a full menu of outrageous dishes where I could be comfortable in a dinner jacket, where they bring the food in an ordered sequence for a complete dining experience - but for now, this place has two outstanding dishes that I'll be back for.

I'm adding the rest of my Szechaun reviews below.

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  1. Thanks for the review... just wondering if you tried the Szechuan Szechuan downtown at First Canadian Place? How does it compare to this one? (I'm assuming it's the same owners).

    1 Reply
    1. re: spades

      I've never been to Vaughan, but I ate at FCP many times over many years. However, I haven't been there for at least five years.

      My experience back then was one of good ingredients and interestingly spiced recipes in a definitely upmarket atmosphere. However, I found much of the food intensely "candied". This included dishes that were not necessarily sweet at Szechuan restaurants in, say, Montreal or New York.

      I found they they were willing to make hot dishes really hot when asked (more accurately, some servers were willing), but they would NEVER honour a request to leave out some or all of the sugar.

    2. Hey montrealer70,
      I love the way you set the context.
      Just a short BTW: there is also a Szechaun Szechaun in 1st Canadian Place downtown, absolutely full of suits at lunch. Unless you demand otherwise, the food and service is cafeteria in style, being that your food will descend upon you, all together in short order. The ginger beef is something to be experienced as well.

      Thanks for the review.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Mila

        Hmmm, guess there's a heavy concentration of Alberta business down there since ginger beef is a Calgary invention. http://chinesefood.about.com/od/dinin...

        1. re: mrbozo

          Oh I know, it is some crazy westerners that introduced me to this wicked treat.
          "food for Westerners" in a more literal sense. ;)

          1. re: Mila

            A crispy crunchy tasty treat for sure. But makes me wonder how authentically Szechuan the resto would be. Just wondering, since I've never eaten there. Doesn't mean the food isn't lip-smacking good, but ...

            1. re: mrbozo

              I haven't been in years, but used to go to the location in FCP at lunch occasionally. I would classify it as generally tasty - definitely not authentic. The only thing I can remember particularly enjoying was the eggplant in a blackbean garlic sauce. Again, haven't been in ages so can't confirm it's still tasty. However tasty it was/is, I'm fairly certain it's not authentically Szechuan.

              1. re: pescatarian

                I would agree. Szechuan Szechuan is definitely not authentic, or even upscale in my opinion. I would describe it more as a chain restaurant that attempts to offer more authentic dishes than canadian/chinese dishes (ie chicken balls, egg rolls, egg foo young) but still caters to north american tastes somewhat. I think their food is decent if you're looking for asian food and your at a local mall, but for the real stuff I would definitely stick to a non-chain restaurant.

                1. re: Chocolatemama

                  Well the OP did mention the kind of Szechuan restaurant he/she is looking for... so authenticity to the original region isn't really being questioned here.

                  1. re: Blueicus

                    You're right, I only mentioned authenticity in respons to mrbozo's post.

        2. re: Mila

          i've also eaten at first canadian place a few times. last time i ate there was less than 2 weeks ago, and i had their szechuan beef which i found to be a bit too salty. i didn't particularly enjoy any of their dishes, they were all okay. i guess it's time to try ginger beef!

          1. re: Mila

            I'm definitely going to try the First Canadian Place location in the near future. Despite a couple of concerns, the main dishes were really outstanding. I'll just make sure to be in Bermuda shorts the next time I go to Vaugn Mills.

          2. Have you tried Cynthia's at Bathurst/Centre? Given the description of what you are looking for, Cynthia's might be fun to check out. I've only been once, a few years back, but I remember the food being wonderful. Don’t recall if they had Palace Shrimp though. The whole experience there is upscale and somewhat over the top (but I guess over the top can be subjective really). Just be prepared to pay -- it's damn pricey and I remember the portions being smallish.

            6 Replies
            1. re: magic

              Cynthia's is about as dumbed-down "Canadianized" Chinese food as it can get - definitely not what montrealer70 is looking for (my understanding from reading the original post).

              1. re: Pizza Lover

                Fair enough. What are examples of Szechuan places that are not dumbed down and Canadianized, that the OP might enjoy?

              2. re: magic

                Yes, I got a recommendation to go to Cynthias over 10 years ago, and we tried it. It's been too long, so I can't accurately place a review of it, but this is what I remember: high scale decor, staff dressed in full sho-gun costume, over the top serving platters and plates (in a good way, I think), very pricy and I remember the food being "good". The atmosphere in the dining room was that of an exclusive country club (which has positives and negatives). I don't remember the food blowing me away. There was nothing negative about the food at all - I just remember thinking "this food isn't worth the price" - To be honest, since then, I've left so many szechuan restaurants with a frown, that maybe I'll try it again and review it. At this point, it's worth it for me to pay extra to leave a restaurant on a high. One other memory of Cynthias is the over the top service. They practically re-filled our water every time we took a sip. We also felt like we had five wait-staff at our beck and call, and all with full smiles. Made us feel like royalty, however, maybe people need a little breathing room when they're dining out. I shouldn't complain about it though - attentive service in Toronto is few and far between.

                1. re: montrealer70

                  I will never go to Cynthia's again. The food was okay and the service definitely attentive. The decor and the staff costumes were a bit much for me and other than the staff, I was the only Asian in the restaurant.

                  1. re: montrealer70

                    Yeah, that's why I recommended it to you. You said you were looking for something upscale and over the top. Cynthia's certainly fits that bill. I was only there once (like 5 years ago) and I remember the food being damn good, better than the other people on this board remember it at any rate. But certainly overpriced yes. If you've tried it once and weren’t thrilled no need to rush back I guess. Unless you feel like giving it another whirl.

                    1. re: magic

                      magic, I've had very good food from Cynthia's also. I've never actually eaten it there though, as I would order delivery. I had the odd dud there, but overall the food was tasty - and yes, I know not authentic, but sometimes simply tasty is good.

                2. Walked by Vaughn Mills location at the East End near the Bus area, looked things over, watched the action of the serving line, checked the varied menu, even Viet Pho, and fairly high prices --- result, have not tried it yet, may not most likely, because I have passed by several times already. Not a fan of Mall eating, even if a separate within restaurant such as Szechuan Szecchuan, however with family, I did once partake of the Food Court Korean Beef Soup With Noodles and found it enjoyable!

                  1. Good review ... I found the food here really salty and the sauces all pretty similar. Remember my wife asked the head waiter if they had any dishes with szechuan peppers and he said he had never heard of them... Overall for the price - I wasn't very impressed. .. I guess I prefer the hole in the wall szechuan places : )

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: JaPe

                      The waitstaff there leaves much to be desired. We had stir-fried Szechuan peppers in our chicken dish!! I like the dives in chinatown too - however, once in a while, I like a more relaxed experience with more savoury dishes at 25% higher prices. For us, it's worth it. We have had plenty of late night excursions to Dundas street for the two lobsters in Black Bean Sauce special, so we enjoy both experiences.