Good news for Montreal chiliheads! Cuisine Szechuan
So my success in baking this week is inversely proportional to my success in finding good Chinese food this week. Whereas all my baking projects have been stymied, I have been exceedingly lucky in getting some good food tips. Hot off the successful "Quest for Ming", I bring you "Lost and Found: The Tapioca The Chef"!
SO I happened to be talking to this lady about Chinese food (it turns out she might be pretty good at cooking Shanghai style cuisine - and I might even have another tip for Shanghai cuisine - but I am still working on that one), when she says "do you like spicy Chinese food?". She then tells me about a new Szechuan resto that has opened up, and mentions that "the female cook left another restaurant recently and opened up this new place". Upon further questioning, she tells me that she thinks the previous resto was Tapioca The! She makes a little map, writes the name of the resto in Chinese, and says "very spicy food".
So I went for lunch. This is a very nice space, very airy, very modern. I was only able to try one dish as I was alone. I had the garlic sauce eggplant with rice. I was told it was only mildly spicy, but I beg to differ, I would call it moderately spicy (very encouraging if you are a spice head!). The eggplant was silky smooth, and swimming in a pool of hot chili oil studded with garlic and chili seeds. At first I was worried about the puddle of oil, and that the dish might be too greasy. But no - the chili oil is glorious with the eggplant, the whole dish is spicy and pungent and belly-warming. I can't wait to taste more dishes!!!
The menu is full of very intriguing items, such as the beloved cumin beef, chili chicken, ma po tofu, lotus saute, and items featuring pig tongue, pig heart, pork ear, braised swamp eel, pork stomach, tripe, etc. A quick perusal of the dishes on other tables revealed large quantities of chili peppers strewn throughout the dishes. They also have the usual suspects like beef with broccoli and General Tao chicken for those of you with less adventurous eating partners.
Prices are a little higher than the usual Chinese resto, with prices ranging from $6 -16 per plate, but the portions seem very generous, so I think you could feed a crowd with less than one dish per person. They also offer a lunch special, $10 for soup, main, rice, tea. They are open 7 days a week, from 11:00 to 23:00 Monday to Friday, and 14:00- 23:00 weekends. I enquired about the chef, and I believe she indeed worked at Tapioca The before (although anyone who speaks the language may want to confirm this fact, I am not so good at communicating in Chinese of any dialect).
I am going to have to go back very soon!!!
2350 Guy ( just south of Sherbrooke)
Great news! I'd more or less resigned myself to a winter of discontent when it comes to spicy Chinese cooking in this post-old Tapioca Thé, post-old Niu Kee city, so this is really encouraging.
Interesting how two of the city's top spicy chefs have both recently resurfaced and been "discovered" by hounds: Moti Mehal a couple of weeks ago and now Cuisine Szechuan. Suddenly winter isn't looking so bad.
well moh, you've done it again. just got back and it was everything i've always wanted! i was solo so I had to take it easy but I had the sliced chicken in spicy sauce. I was warned that my original order, chicken in spicy sauce with cumin, would be too much for me so I settled on the cuminless variation. I must admit, I was quite intimidated when it arrived in an enourmous white bowl. The deep red broth on white porcelain made me wonder what on earth I had gotten myself into. It was loaded with chilis and those peppercorns that got me hooked on (the original) niu kee. Every bite was better than the last! I need to assemble a large posse for next time. What intrigued me most of all was the menu's miscellaneous section with lots of innards. I didn't have the nerve to sample some on my own though. thank you moh, never leave us!
I believe moh has claimed finder's rights to post a full report on our meal, so you'll have to wait for her blow-by-blow account. But my overall take is that, slightly clumpy rice aside (a nitpick), Cuisine Szechuan didn't make a false step, didn't skimp on the spicing, demonstrated absolute mastery of several core techniques. The cooking did strike me as a little more refined, a little less lusty, than at Tapioca Thé during its heyday, but that's just to note a difference, not to lodge a criticism. And the physical space is far superior to Tapioca Thé's. We stuffed ourselves silly for $21 a head, tax and tip included. Truly first-rate and, based on this single visit, likely to take the city's Szechuan crown.
The hours, by the way, are 11:00 to 23:00 Monday to Friday and 14:00 to 23:00 Saturday and Sunday. (We forgot to ask when the chef's day off was.) And, whoa, they do local delivery ($20 minimum and no mention of their delivery radius).
The hubs was delighted to hear this and headed there at lunch time to sample a dish of spicy beef with vegetables. The portion was very generous and he was hard pressed to finish it.
He asked for spicy and while he was breaking out in a bit of a sweat, the waiter came by to ask how it was. Hubs replied it was fine and maybe not as spicy as he'd expected. They'd given him medium. It turns out they tone down the heat a bit for newcomers first, even when they ask for spicy, just in case. Hubs said the heat was good and building incrementally, but next time he wants to go for the full monte.
Me, I'll settle for medium, methinks LOL!
Okaaaay, we finally went together and loved it. They throttled back a bit but I wasn't complaining because he may like it hot but I'm a bit of of a wuss...
First to arrive was the Pork with cabbage (weirdly, this is the vegetable subsection of the menu) - a casserole dish with pork meatballs, a little bit of cabbage (frankly I wanted more) and rice vermicelli. It was a little sweet and medium spicy.
Chicken with tofu flower... this is served in a big squarish bowl of broth and chili oil, dried chiles, big chunks of silken tofu and strips of chicken, along with chopped up peanuts and possibly garlic. That one made me cough at first and I worried I would not be able to eat it. The chef herself brought it (I refrained from acting like a fan girl).
Cumin beef - the first time (and only other) time we had this was at Tapioca Thé and the chef might have been gone already. This time the dish featured less onions and cumin, but lots of peppercorns so it was more 'camphor-y', which I like quite a bit. We got this last, and once it arrived, I was okay with the Chicken tofu flower: the peppercorns were helping with the fire.
Of course, we each had steamed rice on the side.
Overall, quite good and the heat wasn't as high as I expected once I got over the chicken tofu dish, but I sure needed lots of napkins because spicy food makes my nose run! LOL I did get a bit of that endorphin buzz after a while.
We ordered bubble tea (cold. one almond, one lichee) to go and I think either the waitress was clueless (she was sweet but seemed totally inexperienced) or we didn't order right because there were no tapioca bubbles, which was a big disappointment (we only noticed after we'd left). What's the point of bubble tea without bubbles, I ask?
We also felt very sorry for the three ladies who came in after us and ordered General Tao chicken!
One issue: I thought the bathroom was disgusting, but I'm fussy.
That's not fussy, that's a red flag.
One of the first things Anthony Bourdain wrote in Kitchen Confidential is always check the bathroom before eating at a new resto. If they let the customers see it filthy, you don't even wanna imagine the hygiene standards in the kitchen. Having worked in a number restos (large chains and neighbourhood bistros, and a university caf) front and back of house, I know he's absolutely right, too.