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china village - wow, really?

finally made it across the bay for an eagerly anticipated lunch at china village in albany this afternoon. sichuan is our favorite type of chinese food and based on chowhound reports, i was expecting to be blown away. out of the five dishes we ordered, one was so bad as to be inedible. three were disappointing (below average), and only one was anything approaching tasty (not quite there though). i went with my mom, native chinese speaker and major foodie, so i'm pretty sure we ordered appropriately.

the inedible dish was the tea-smoked duck, totally dried out, tasting of neither tea nor smoke, and served with four sad looking sweet buns that nobody touched. the chili fish broth dish that so many tables seemed to be ordering barely had a hint of spiciness and was mostly uninteresting (especially as we've had so many stunning preps of this dish elsewhere). the char-grilled cabbage came doused in a dark and flavorless sauce. my mom pronounced the whole thing seriously underseasoned. they were out of rabbit, so we got some frankly gristly wontons drowning in another disappointingly unspicy hot oil. the only dish we managed to eat most of was the mapo tofu, and then only because it was the best of the bunch (not really a compliment). we asked for an extra helping of ground sichuan peppercorns as the spice quotient was seriously lacking up til then. what was particularly surprising about the relative non-spiciness of the food is how much we reiterated to the waiter that we like our food quite hot. since 2/3 of the table was chinese, i can't imagine why the kitchen would hold back.

i'd been looking forward to china village for ages based on the reviews on this board. to our taste, spices in oakland and sf is significantly better and trend in mountainview also beats this place out. am i just completely missing something here? chowhound has led me so very, very right in the past.

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  1. I love China Village, but, depending on what you order, they usually have a lighter hand with seasoning than most of the Bay Area Sichuan places I've been to, and I can see why you might find the fish soup and the cabbage insufficiently spicy. On the other hand, I think CV's cooks are more skilled at things like bringing out the flavours of the main ingredients, getting good wok breath, and knife work. It's possible that the kitchen had an off day, but it's also possible that you prefer a different style of Sichuan food from China Village, in which case there are numerous other good Sichuan restaurants to try around here.

    2 Replies
    1. re: bradluen

      i don't need all of my food to be explosively spicy. sure, when i go to a sichuan restaurant, that's kind of the expectation, but if there had been fantastic wok hay or sophisticated seasoning, i would have rolled with that too. instead, it was one of the worst chinese food experiences i've had in the bay area, and i've been eating chinese food here for 30 years.

      my main point was not to slam china village. it was more that i was wondering why they get so much love on the ch board when other places that i consider to be far tastier (spices, for example) don't seem to get similar accolades.

      1. re: possumspice

        Maybe the kitchen was having an off day. Sunday lunch on the third day of a three-day weekend might be the "B" team, or even the "C" team.

        I've eaten at Spices!3 a number of times (and will return there), and the food is not as sophisticated or precisely prepared as what I've had at China Village.

    2. I too was greatly disappointed in China Village after having read years of glowing CH reports.

      A few months ago we went for lunch on a Sunday; we ordered the fish soup w/floating chilis, and a dish recommended by the host/manager, which was a stirfry of smoked duck with some chilis and green onions. The soup lacked any special flavor or even heat (especially lacking the mala and deep bean paste flavor we loved in the same prep at the Szechuan place at the Richmond Asian mall), and the smoked duck tasted like leftovers, dry and reheated, and the dish was way too oily.

      The room was shabby and none to clean, with that stale oil/dirty carpet smell, and our table was sticky with oil. I won't be back.

      1 Reply
      1. re: lmarie

        I like China Village, but I am no Chinese food expert. However, I will disagree about the condition of the room. I've never had a table sticky with oil, the place is very clean and the carpet is just fine.

      2. The "west style spicy fish filet (in soup)" is a subtle dish. Definitely not the thing to satisfy a craving for chiles or "ma la." Actually most of my favorite dishes there are not very spicy.

        The one seriously spicy dish I recall having there is the cold "home style" chicken.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          Agree on the fish soup--it is scented with chilies without getting their heat. If one wants hot, the fish soup w/ soft tofu is the way to go.

          Regardless, this report is troubling, esp. the tea smoked duck.

          1. re: lexdevil

            I've never had a good duck dish at China Village. My experience is that the tea smoked duck is as described: dried out.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              For duck, go to Daimo by the Pacific Mall.

              1. re: Sharuf

                Daimo's my favorite for Peking duck, Great China for tea-smoked duck.

            2. re: lexdevil

              I tried the tea-smoked duck once and liked it OK, but never ordered it again since Great China's is better.

          2. The duck at CV is always problematic. I would have told you not to order the duck.

            Did you have any of the dumplings? Any of the specials, whatever they were that day?

            Where do you like the mapo tofu better?

            11 Replies
            1. re: bbulkow

              i have had much better mapo tofu at snazz in london. and (perhaps unfair to mention) in china, as well as at my mom's house. true, this is a dish that has been very hit or miss for me in restaurants (fantastic when well done and horrifying when badly executed), but i would think that the sichuanese restaurant that comes up most often on ch as the "best in the bay area" would be able to do a pretty good version of this signature dish.

              also, between five dishes (and all specialties of the region; we didn't ignorantly order cantonese food in a szechuan restaurant...my mom grew up in taiwan and has visited chengdu on multiple occasions), it seems surprising that we were disappointed with pretty much all of them.

              1. re: possumspice

                It's very different to say "I'm disappointed in the mapo tofu and the whole restaurant" and "I thought it would be better than any restaurant outside of China, but there's one restaurant in London that's better, so I'm disappointed."

                I agree - China Village in its current incarnation would be an average restaurant in China. It's actually come down a bit in the last few years, after the chef change a few years ago. The menu is broad to the point of unwieldy. I don't know of better in the bay area, or, for about 30% of their dishes, in the united states, but I expect there's a restaurant somewhere that does do better, even in the US.

                Part of your misapprehension lies in only ordering sichuan dishes. The place is more quirky and polyglot. The founder, if I remember the story right, was from a high-end restaurant in Beijing, and brought together a number of dishes - classic and his own - from around the country. For example, I was shocked by the "duck in beer sauce", because it's a translation of Li River Snails into the duck domain. i think their translation misses the mark a bit, but it's an interesting dish. And they have their Village Lamb, which is clearly far north - about 300 miles, at a guess. The lamb dumplings are usually a beijing style, although I think two weeks ago it was a lamb XLB instead, which was a bit shocking but rather fun.

                The funny mixed menu is a problem. You can't just pick sichuan because the main cook is sichuan - cooks are clearly from all over, and it's kind of a roulette shot if a given dish is going to be good. I've gotten in the habit of eating a meal there most weeks, and each dish is a learning experience.

                My advice now is to eat the specials board, especially if there's a specials entry that isn't on the menu. That denotes some kind of dish the cook knows and is excited about.

                1. re: bbulkow

                  that wasn't *at all* my point. someone specifically asked where the mapo tofu was better and i named a few instances where i've liked that particular dish with a big caveat that the dish is not always an accurate indicator of whether or not a restaurant is great. as an overall sichuan experience, i named two places right in they bay area that i happen to like better (spices and trend). i'd be willing to wager there are more (i certainly plan to check out this place in el cerrito, golden bowl).

                  we tried 5 dishes (granted, on just one occasion) and based on that experience, i was underwhelmed. i certainly didn't say i'd never go back again. i was mostly wondering why this particular place stands out on the boards as the unquestioned best of the bunch when i think the actual playing field for sichuan food in the bay area is a lot more level.

                  for good chinese food in the u.s., i'd name at least ten places i like significantly better: din tai fung in arcadia, mandarin islamic in rosemead, spices in sf, eastern noodle, or any of the lanzhou hand-pulled noodle shops in nyc, i'm loving beijing restaurant in mission terrace, many dishes at great china in berkeley (especially the duck), the noodles at little beijing in sunset, etc. etc.

                  i fully acknowledge the fact that i may have ordered badly or that the kitchen may have had an off day. but given that i've had consistently good food at all of the above, and that it seems statistically improbable that two food-loving chinese people (plus one easygoing husband) managed to order that many bad dishes in one day...i'd say that it's likely china village is, at the very least, more hit and miss than the reviews on this board would have the casual reader believe.

                  1. re: possumspice

                    Since you are traveling across the bay, I'd wait a few weeks before giving Golden Bowl in El Cerrito a try to let temselves get together and past opening blips.

                    1. re: possumspice

                      I'm not sure which noodle places you have in mind, but I've tried all of the top sichuan places in NYC, and none of them compares to China Village, imo. I think it's pretty clear what happened -- you had back luck. It is not at all "statistically improbable" that you ordered so many bad dishes in one day. Five dishes ordered on a single visit is not a large enough sample size to draw reliable conclusions. In fact, the large number of positive reports by others seems to confirm that you were unlucky.

                      I don't mean to dismiss your experience, which sounds awful and could signify a downhill trend in China Village's cooking. But I think people are giving you a hard time because you're drawing sweeping conclusions from a very small sample size, when there's a much larger data set that suggests your experience was anomalous.

                      1. re: a_and_w

                        That's very odd. I moved here from the East Coast last year and have found Sichuan restaurants in the Bay Area (including CV) generally not as good as the two I used to frequent in Queens. I am not a big fan of Grand Sichuan in Manhattan. Relatively speaking I find the Sichuan place in the RIchmond 99 Ranch Market mall and the one in Cupertino village better than CV.

                        1. re: tvr172

                          Which places did you frequent in Queens? I prefer China Village (and, for that matter, Z&Y) to Spicy & Tasty and Szechuan Gourmet, which were the two best sichuan places I found in Manhattan/Queens. I find the spicing at CV and Z&Y to be more subtle and complex, and the fried foods to be lighter and crispier. Haven't been to the Richmond 99 or Cupertino Village places you mention.

                          1. re: a_and_w

                            In queens you should try some of the food stalls in the basements of the chinese malls. Most of them don't have signs so I can't pass along names.

                            1. re: a_and_w

                              Those are the two I used to go. I find CV to be on the greasy and salty side. Perhaps I favor the "modern" sichuan style. But then, CV seems to hold back on the use of Sichuan peppercorns in some dishes.

                              1. re: tvr172

                                That's a fair point re the peppercorns -- I sometimes wish they'd use more. But greasy? That really surprises me. Have you tried Z&Y in SF? My meal there yesterday was a little too salty but they are more liberal with the peppercorns than CV and not too greasy. (My super picky mom couldn't get over how non-greasy the chicken with explosive peppers was LOL!)

                                Honestly, though, I'm really surprised you prefer the NYC places. I mean, I miss them, too, since I now live in LA where good sichuan is surprisingly hard to come by. But I remember my first meal at CV being a total revelation -- I think I posted something like "Why the hell can't they do this in NYC?" on Chowhound LOL!

                                1. re: a_and_w

                                  That post is now memorialized and displayed on a blow up at CV! LOL. Great dinner last night: marvelous fish soup; meatballs (four huge with complex sauce), special lamb chop in clay pot (off the bone tender and marinated in Sichuan peppercorns; wonderful presentation with chopped cilantro and julliened citrus); charred cabbage (!); chive turnover (not good - greasy and dried shrimp very overpowering to delicate pastry); lettuce wraps (nothing out of the ordinary and don't really like iceberg lettuce, but still workmanlike). Only three of us, so we couldn't really order more although I think we contemplated a noodle dish...Owner came out to say hello, always nice.

                                  Cece

                2. I'm a big fan of CV, but I've noticed consistency issues from the kitchen from visit to visit (weekly), but nothing as bad as you've described. At its worst it's good, at its best it's sublime.

                  1. I eat here alot after moving from NYC in Dec 08. My comparison is to the Grand Sichuan chain in NYC.

                    With respect to spice, I would say any of their "hot" dishes compare favorably to any Szechuan I have had, ie., if its supposed to be hot, it is hot.

                    In terms of quality of ingredients, fresh, non-fatty, etc., I find this place top shelf.

                    On the consistency of dishes, that is where it is hit or miss. I have found a half dozen dishes I liked and stick to those. There have been certain beef, chicken, pork, etc. dishes that are ruined mostly by the preparation. Some are not good because my tastes are different, for example, a beeft dish made with a more fatty cut, dark meat chicken, etc.

                    I do agree that the restaurant is lacking in visual appeal and a little grungy but I ain't eatin off the floor and I would rather that then sparkling surroundings and crummy food.

                    I would say give it another shot but I am not sure if I would travel that far for it.

                    1. I have been to China Village once or twice a year over the past 10 years. The first few times were decent enough, though not inspired. Last month, we attended a large family dinner there which was quite disappointing. This was on a Friday night, where we had a private party of 3 tables, so the kitchen should have been well staffed. We had a number of relatives who were Buddhist, so there were some special vegetarian requests which the host ordered in advance, but the kitchen did not handle well. We had one table full of family elders (all are either excellent cooks or eaters) who thought the kitchen had gone downhill. The only dish that I thought had decent flavor was the spicy pork shank, and yet when the dish arrived at our table, it was still cold in the center and had to be returned to the kitchen for reheating.

                      Despite our experience, the restaurant was full of diners. It seems they are coasting on reputation and need to restore order in the kitchen.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: anli

                        I heard from some friends that a meal last month was the pits. I haven't been back yet to see for myself. Maybe the kitchen is going through another difficult chef change and the new team isn't up to speed yet. Not an excuse, just that I've seen it before.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          well, i am 1. open-minded, and 2. pretty much obsessed with getting good chinese food, so maybe i'll just wait for some more positive reports to start trickling in and give it another shot. :)

                      2. I've been going to CV since 2002, though less often in recent years, but know that it puts out good quality food on a regular basis. The chef in the 2002-2003 period was awesome. However, I also know that this restaurant regularly turns over cooks, and some are much better than others. Many of the former chefs at CV have created their own "China Village Diaspora" in the near Bay Area; it's possible that some of those restaurants are more reliable, though I haven't been to enough of them frequently enough to tell. Frankly, I can believe that they might have a dud chef in right now, and that your meal might not be just an off day, but a more significant, hopefully temporary problem.

                        6 Replies
                          1. re: twocents

                            Hmmm ... Sunday ... and Happy Golden Bowl just opened in El Cerrito. I wonder if any of the staff moved over there

                            1. re: rworange

                              Happy Golden Bowl is reportedly the people who used to have that Sichuan place in the Pacific East Mall.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                The question then becomes why did they move? The business seemed to be going well and it couldn't have been cheap to pack up and leave.

                                1. re: Scrapironchef

                                  The place usually looked pretty empty when I walked by.

                                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  The reports I saw said the same *chef* not the same owners -- these China Village alums are like hired guns. If it is the same owners, maybe the rent was too high at Pacific East Mall, or maybe they found an opportunity to buy instead of lease, or maybe they also owned the previous restaurant and decided to consolidate locations, or, or, or....

                            2. I took some out-of-town friends to lunch there for lunch today, and it was just fine. We got a special from the whiteboard, water-boiled bacon-cut pork belly, and it was really, really delicious. Qongking spicy chicken wings were crunchy and greaseless. The wok-charred cabbage was as richly flavored as ever. Admittedly, we didn't stray from the standard playbook, but nothing else was called for. Sorry your meal didn't wasn't up to par.

                              1. I share your feelings entirely. I haven't been to China Village since its heyday several years ago, but was never impressed by the meals I ate there, including several banquets.

                                This included bringing a friend who had just arrived from Sichuan. The food while somewhat better than your experience above, never resembled the meals I ate with her in and near Chengdu.

                                1. China Village suffers from a problem many places have when the chef is not one of the owners. In it's hey day Chef Liu (hope I spelled it right) headed the kitchen the food was outstanding. But he is long gone and so is the outstanding food. Mr Yeo does his best in getting a first rate kitchen staff but something they have to work out issues. It seems that right now the kitchen is working out any problems. But is good food but not like before. At least three other places are owned or staffed by his old staff.

                                  China Village in my opinion is still good but not great as before. I have traveled at least twice to visit Chef Lau in his new digs and have not been disappointed. His food makes my taste buds dance around my mouth. Need to go again soon.

                                  I like Trends in Mountain View best at the moment since it is closest to me and the old Great Szechuan (has a new name) in Richmond next. Not a big fan of spices.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: yimster

                                    I'll add Sichuan Fortune House to your list (Pleasant Hill). Tried it? I've been maybe a half dozen times and it's always been good, but my last visit was awesome.

                                    1. re: SLRossi

                                      I will give a Sichuan Fortune a try when I in the area next time. Have not been in the East bay lately.

                                  2. Thanks to the OP and everyone else on this thread for a great up to the moment review of Sichuan opportunities around here. We were about to go check out China Village, but will now wait. Three places we like are Little Sichuan in San Mateo, Classic SIchuan in Millbrae, and best of all Spices II.

                                    We have been back to Spices II a couple of times this month and both times were superb. Their ma po tofu is the closest I have found to the one at the Mother Chen's Ma Po Tofu Restaurant we went to two years ago in Chengdu. It is the descendant of Grandmother Chen's original place, but, given the changes in Chengdu, now in a modern building. The ma po tofu was complex (I even detected cinnamon) and fiery hot and lives in my memory as one of the best dishes of a long life (up there with the truffle soup at Paul Bocuse, but considerably cheaper... about $1). The Spices version isn't that fiery hot (so my wife loves it) and the tofu is not as organized in its presentation, but it has the right idea with good tofu and considerable complexity.

                                    Spices II has a rather interesting version of Bon Bon Chi which is also very reminiscent of the one at Chen's in Chengdu. At Spices, the chicken is in boneless pieces but not shredded in the traditional fashion. The sauce is oily and interesting and similar to Chengdu where I also think, but I am not sure, the chicken was not completely shredded.

                                    This month at Spices we discovered (thanks to this list) the Steamed Bacon with Spicy Flour, a real revelation and incredibly sophisticated with pieces of yam that work perfectly. Wow!

                                    After those visits, I spent some time cross-indexing the (very disorganized) menu at Spices II with Fuchsia Dunlop's definitive book of Sichuan recipes ("Land of Plenty") and found nearly 30 items on the menu in the book in some close variant. Given the sometimes bizarre English translations on the menu, this is now inspiring me to try some other dishes at Spices. It also demonstrated that Spices has a reasonably complete representation of Sichuan dishes. Other than Tea Smoked Duck what seems to be mostly missing at Spices are the huge variety of street snacks described in a chapter of Dunlop's book and available to impress visitors to the central shopping street in Chengdu at the Shufeng Snack Restaurant.

                                    Finally a question: what is the name of the former chef of China Village and where is he now?

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: Thomas Nash

                                      TM unfair to just jump in and play where is Waldo, not his real name. Depending on which chef here are a few threads.
                                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/547490
                                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/451001
                                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/524699

                                      1. re: Thomas Nash

                                        His name is Zhongyi Liu and here's his bio.
                                        http://www.thehunanrestaurant.com/543...
                                        Just about everything but the bio is out of date on the restaurant website. His own restaurant is in Fresno and called Hunan. Here's the place record with many linked reports.
                                        http://www.chow.com/places/27920
                                        I missed the spring temperature window for visiting Fresno, so I have not been to his place since October. His skills were a little rusty in the first few meals, but he was soon back in form with some prodding for more elaborate dishes. I hope he hasn't sloughed off since then.

                                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                                          Thanks. I remember these threads now. Will have to figure out how to engineer a stop in Fresno on the way to or from Nevada later this month.

                                      2. The restaurant itself is ok, but their cumin beef dish is phenomenal...worth making the trek out now and then.

                                        8 Replies
                                        1. re: bbbron

                                          Best cumin lamb I have ever had. Ditto for the delicate broth that comes with the 1000 chilies fish soup. Absolutely phenomenal everytime I have gone, IMO.

                                          1. re: bbbron

                                            I love Sichuan food dearly, but not enough for a special trip to Fresno. Fresno???

                                            1. re: Deeg67

                                              Think of it as the gateway to Sequoia National Park.

                                                1. re: wally

                                                  Plus, there's some other interesting chow (Armenian, Hmong, etc.)

                                              1. re: Deeg67

                                                It was enjoyable enough, but the food I had at Hunan in Fresno bore little resemblance to what I ate in several weeks in Sichuan. Chef Liu is not cooking Chongqing chicken or ma po dofu if that's what you're craving. Our banquet included a lot of fish/seafood in delicate sauces.

                                                I find cumin lamb to be significantly better in Muslim Chinese restaurants than in Sichuan restaurants.

                                                1. re: Windy

                                                  We order the Chong Qing chicken on every visit and it's always excellent. Likewise the fish soup covered in chiles.

                                                  1. re: Windy

                                                    The banquets Melanie arranged are not indicative of what's on the regular menu. After one of them we went back and ordered mostly Sichuan dishes off the regular menu and they were excellent. Even the tea-smoked duck.

                                                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/551796

                                              2. Went to china village last night for the first time. Nothing we got was bad but nothing was great either.

                                                We also ordered ma po dofu, tea smoked duck, sauteed potatoes, cumin lamb, cold cucumbers in spicy sauce and hong kong style crispy noodles with sauce.

                                                The Ma Po dofu seemed particularly strange. In the past I've had this it's usually flavored with both some sauted pork and black beans - this version had only the black beans and the depth of flavor offered by the pork was missing.

                                                The tea smoked duck was tasty but expensive at twice the price of the other dishes ($17). However, they mostly put scrap pieces of duck in the dish and you really had to pick around to find any meat at all. If they're running low on duck they should say something rather then giving you some back bones and breast pieces with the meat removed.

                                                The potatoes were very disappointing - I've had this dish in other places (not in the bay area) and it can be sublime, great wok hei with a touch of spiciness. The version at CV was mostly flavorless and without any good wok flavor.

                                                The cumin lamb has potential but the cumin was layered on a little thick so that it was pasty and there was no "zing" in the dish. Needs some acid or maybe some heat. A little garlic would also work.

                                                The sauce on the cold cucumbers was quite tasty and I ate it over some of the rice.

                                                The hong kong style noodles were quite tasty but I didn't have very much since it was ordered for spice averse children at the table.

                                                The review sounds negative but I would consider going back. I would avoid the more expensive dishes since the kitchen doesn't have the skills to make their higher price worthwhile. Someone in the kitchen is also being lazy about getting good wok flavor - several of the dishes would have been improved by better wok technique.

                                                5 Replies
                                                1. re: boris_qd

                                                  I actually prefer mapo tofu without the pork, but it should come with pork by default. That's a really bad sign...

                                                  1. re: a_and_w

                                                    Actually, traditional ma po tofu surprisingly uses beef not pork. (See Fuchsia Dunlop's book, Land of Plenty.)

                                                    Now that I think of it, I am not really sure what places around here, like Spices, use. Next time I will see how it tastes and ask them. But in Chengdu, they definitely used beef.

                                                    1. re: Thomas Nash

                                                      I'm pretty sure I had it made with pork while I was in China (Chengdu even) but don't really want to get into an "authenticity" discussion. Also, how can I really be sure? A quick google for recipes shows that beef, pork or beef, and pork are all commonly listed (pork is more common in much of eastern china then beef but in szechuan they use more beef then in other parts of China).

                                                      I think the more important point is that we agree that some small amount of sauteed ground meat is needed.

                                                      1. re: Thomas Nash

                                                        Interesting! I've actually never had it with beef, but will take your word for it. I really meant that it should come with ground "meat" by default.

                                                        1. re: a_and_w

                                                          China village is one of our favorite restaurants. It has changed the way I think of Chinese food. In the past there have been times where it’s been uneven (to be fair, lots of restaurants have off nights) but it’s almost always delicious. The menu can be challenging to navigate but there are lots of outstanding standbys for us: cold spicy rabbit, XLB (caveat: usually the XLB is great, occasionally not), pork with rice cake, several of the crab dishes. As for the duck, in the past we have gotten the beer braised duck and didn’t like it but we have always loved the teasmoked duck stir fried with chilies. We hadn’t been in a while and went Friday night. It was delicious and very satisfying. Here is what we had:
                                                          Charred jellyfish appetizer- our first time trying this. It was good but not my favorite.
                                                          Stir fried dried string beans- Our first time trying this dish. We recommended this place to friends (they loved it) and they tried this dish and recommended it to us. It was amazing.
                                                          Village lamb- I love lamb and I love cumin so I have always loved this dish. It’s not for everyone though. We brought a friend here who did not share our enthusiasm for it, did not like the grainy texture of the coating. But it’s one of my favorite dishes and I would eat it every night if I could. On Friday it was excellent: Cuminy, salty, spicy. We detected a hint of Sichuan peppercorns which we did not remember before. This dish goes well with the sesame flatbread.

                                                  2. Adding a link since I'm in the process of looking for Albany chow...

                                                    Michael

                                                    -----
                                                    China Village
                                                    1335 Solano Ave, Albany, CA 94706

                                                    1. Tried a couple of new-to-me dishes last night.

                                                      Beer-braised duck was quite good. From the color I expected it to be spicier but it was relatively mild. Nice complex seasoning.

                                                      Hunan smoked pork with string bean was very good though it was more a meat dish than a vegetable dish: the huge quantity of salty pork belly could have seasoned three times as many beans. We took home at least half the meat.

                                                      West style spicy fish filet and dry-fried bamboo shoots were good as always.

                                                      1. I actually had my first real downer of an experience at CV last week. We ordered the spicy pork shoulders, which I adore - like a Sichuan version of Carolina pulled pork. But this one came to the table frozen - literally frozen - in the center. I mean, I know you're not braising it for 8 hours every time someone orders it, but that was a bit much. They took it away and replaced it with a properly cooked one when we brought it to their attention, and it was as sublime as usual. Still - that was a bit disconcerting.

                                                        7 Replies
                                                        1. re: Deeg67

                                                          Unfortunate lunch experience at China Village. (2 PM Sunday 8/30)

                                                          After much positive comment (from some of my favorite people) on Chowhound, decided to try China Village for a late lunch while we were in the East Bay. My original plan was to save these negative comments and not post them until we give it another try, because maybe it was my fault (see below) for a bunch of reasons. But reading the latest on this thread, which I had tried to suppress, i decided maybe it is best to post this. We will still give them another try.

                                                          Excited when we entered to see all the specials on a white board. One was Tea Smoked Duck Braised with Chilis, another was Asparagus with Wild Chilis, another was Lamb Chop in Clay Pot. I stood in front of the sign and tried to copy down some of the options. The headwaiter pointed out a braised tea smoke duck on the regular menu and said it was the same… I asked him if there was another written special menu… No.

                                                          We ordered Bon Bon Chi (spelled Pon Pon, here) as this is a classic Sichuan, and a good test. Ordered the specials asparagus and braised tea smoked duck. Sounded like a perfect combination. Waiter came back and said they were out of asparagus, would we like snow peas instead? Nope. So we went for twice cooked pork "bacon cut" which is also a classic if bacon is used. I confirmed that it was going to be with bacon.

                                                          The Bon Bon chicken was OK, but not fantastic. Small plate with strips of chicken (30%) with lots of cucumber strips (70%). Size was reasonable considering the low price, but I have never seen such a low ratio of chicken. It was cut, not shredded which Bon Bon Chi should be (bon bon is said to come from the sound of hammering the chicken so it can be hand shredded). Not a big deal since few restaurants are hand shredding (though they did when we had it numerous times in Chengdu). Spices II has an unusual version and does not even slice into strips, but just large 1" slices. Spices II's sauce is particularly good and reminiscent of the very best in China. This one was OK -- like a lesser Chengdu place.

                                                          The twice cooked pork was also just OK -- nothing very exciting about the preparation -- the meat was a "bacon cut" but from the very lean part, and rather chewy -- catering to the "round eyes"? Certainly not as good as Spices II or the excellent Sichuan places in Milbrae and San Mateo.

                                                          The braised duck was beautiful in appearance and quite good, but did not appear to be the special version with chilis (it had no chilis). I only realized why this was so bland and not what I ordered when we left and saw the white board again. The dish on the whiteboard was not the same dish as on the menu. In fact it was a very well executed version of the American-style chinese braised duck that appears on so many mall restaurant menus…

                                                          On walking out, I noticed another printed special menu with Chef John's Special Recommendations (or something like that). It looked like there were lots of things I might have gone for. Is this for dinner only?

                                                          We were both quite unsatisfied with the meal.

                                                          Was it my fault? Poor ordering? Bad time of day so no Chef's special recommendation menu? Didn't send back the duck insisting on the special version? Shouldn't order fresh asparagus in late August?

                                                          We'll give it another shot soon but all in all it seemed like an authentically second rate place in Chengdu, not one of the better ones, with which Spices II and Little Sichuan compare. (By the way some people on the Chow board keep saying that Spices is more Taiwanese than Sichuan. For me Spices II dishes bring back Proustian flashbacks of Sichuan meals in Chengdu and Beijing … Maybe it is owned by Taiwanese, but it sure seems real Sichuan to me.)

                                                          1. re: Thomas Nash

                                                            Spices II is much more like the food I ate in Chengdu and surrounding areas than anything I've had from China Village.

                                                            1. re: Thomas Nash

                                                              You didn't order any of the dishes regulars usually recommend here, so in that sense you might say it's poor ordering.

                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                I would really like to like this restaurant. So, we will go back. It is not entirely obvious what is usually recommended here. I have searched the Chow threads and have found the following - (please add and comment):

                                                                Twice cooked pork (was on the 11/4/07 Chow dinner) -- a dish which we had (see below).
                                                                Charred stir fried cabbage (sounds very interesting)
                                                                Cumin Lamb (I am not sure I need to go to the East Bay with 3 outstanding versions in SF -- Spice II, Old Mandarin Islamic, and Beijing Restaurant (my favorite))
                                                                Boiled dumpling with spicy sauce -- not sure if that is #222 "water dumpling..." or #223 "spicy wonton..." Both sound good.
                                                                Chon Qing Style Spicy Chicken Wings #78
                                                                Widow spicy Diced Rabbit #13 (This sounds like a real classic Chengdu dish. I was thinking of ordering it but then went with bon bon chi as a test.
                                                                Spicy Shoestring Potatoes #143
                                                                West Style Spicy Fish Fillet #127
                                                                "Szechuan Spicy Boiled Beef" #11 and fish fillet #132. The Chinese characters say "Water Boiled..." (shui zhu) which is a classic. We should have had this.
                                                                Various of the Crispy Tripe dishes (66,65)
                                                                I am confused about the Ma Po Tofu. It was listed under vegetables (#153) so I was afraid it wouldn't have meat and the other versions are listed under Soft Tofu Special (and don't say Ma Po in Chinese) including Fish and Beef (and apparently sometimes crab). One post said the waiters said this was the same as Ma Po Tofu -- strange... (why wouldn't the menu in Chinese indicate that?) but beef is traditional. Can anyone clarify this?

                                                                I was concerned about poor ordering, which is why I hesitated to post yesterday. But the more I think about it, the more annoyed I am about the meal. The twice cooked pork was 90% lean, tough, slices too large, little fat, not enough leeks, and the preparation was spicy but boring. Earlier posts indicate that this most have been much better. It is one of my favorite dishes so that's why I was annoyed. The bon bon chi was really poor. Never mind quibbles about slicing vs shredding, the sauce was just spicy, no sesame, and genuinely uninteresting. And the Smoked Tea Duck with chilies had no chilies -- it was mentioned as recommended on Chow. So, really 2 of our 3 dishes were on the "recommended list".

                                                                Maybe we just hit a sleepy Sunday afternoon just before siesta time.

                                                                1. re: Thomas Nash

                                                                  I had a simple dinner here about a week and a half ago. The dishes, each of which I had had before, were fine, but I would definitely put them on the low end of the long-term variations I have noted in an earlier post. Also, I would particularly note that there seemed to be a lot of new faces on the wait staff, and they did not particularly inspire confidence.

                                                                  Re- the ma po tofu. Their normal version, listed as you noted in vegetables, has always had ground pork, not beef, but in an othewise typical sichuan preparation, with chile and sichuan pepper ground over it. The beef over soft tofu is a distinct dish; a sauce and seasoning closer to the "water-boiled" preparation than to ma po. The fact that they told you they were the same somehow doesn't surprise me. It just seemed a little off (the service).

                                                                  That said, I wasn't especially disappointed by the meal, as I have lowered my expectations for the place. I certainly understand when people go in expecting a mind blowing experience and don't get it. It seems like it might be on a low ebb just now.

                                                                  1. re: twocents

                                                                    I'll second the first paragraph. My usual order includes the wok charred cabbage and the water boiled beef, and both have been very off the two times I've visited in the past 3 months. The cabbage still had a nice flavor to it, but there wasn't any char on the cabbage and a lot more liquid than usual. The water boiled beef had entirely too much MSG. I don't have a problem with MSG and understand that it is a common ingredient, I'm just sensitive to the taste of it and have never had to mention it at CV.

                                                                    1. re: adrienne156

                                                                      We went on Tuesday night 9/8. I was slightly concerned about some of the recent the negative reports but I am happy to report that our dinner was excellent. Here is what we ate:
                                                                      Pig ear sautéed with jalapenos and onions. This was one of the appetizer specials. The portion was large, more main course sized than appetizer sized. This was actually my first time eating pig ear. The dish was absolutely fantastic. The jalapenos were charred, smoky, intensely fruity and spicy. The pig ear had contrasting textures: chewy and pasta like and slightly crunchy. I thought the combination of flavors and textures in this dish was deeply satisfying.

                                                                      House special shrimp. Excellent. The shrimp were delicious and the dish was redolent with sichuan peppercorns and ginger.

                                                                      Pork with rice cake. Excellent and very satisfying.

                                                                      The portions at CV are huge and it was very difficult to stop eating so we left quite full.