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Aug 3, 2009 12:15 PM

Sichuan Pavilion: a new find in Rockville

I was alerted to the opening of this place by Good Eats on a DR.Com thread. But she only reported a Chinese language review and had not eaten there herself.

410 Hungerford Drive
although it is around back and does not face or can be seen from Hungerford.

Went today for a 1pm lunch to find a sparkly place all bright in yellow and whites. There are two menus given out. the American Chinese menu and the Authentic Chinese Menu. The paper take home menu is filled with items from the Authentic menu. I feasted today:

#21 under small plates: Crispy Fungus & Pickled Peppers Salad. I have had this dish at Hong Kong Palace, Joe's and here int he past few weeks. The clear winner is this version. The wood ears are crispy as advertised and actually have flavor. The pickled peppers are nicely hot without a lot of burn and well vinagered. There is just enough garlic & ginger for flavor interest without too much. Great dish! The dish was noticably hot & spicy.

I ordered #28 small plates (each section is numbered starting at #1) Sichuan Mixed Pickled Vegetables but I think I got Sweet & Sour Spicy Cabbage Salad which is #25. Again, this was a home run! Where most version of this dish emphasize the sweet, here the sweet and sour are in perfect balance with spicy casting the tie breaking vote. WOW! There was a goodly kick of spice.

For an entree I ordered Pork #21: Bacon. sausage and dried bean curd with green peppers. This was a plate to behold: green chiles and green peppercorn, leegs, slivered pieced of pressed dry tofu, very fattty house smoked (at least it tasted like house smoked) bacon, what looked like smoked tongue slices and little sweet and tangy sausages all in a stir fry with just an oily residue at the bottom of the plate. All the flavorings were cook into the ingredients. Oh, lest I forget the final touch, loads of slices of garlic cooked to that perfect point where hot turns to sweet and yet its neither. This is a dish that harkens back to Brandy Ho's and Henry's Hunan of San Francisco at their best and stands tall. The waitress was concerned that it was spicy enough for me so she brought the hot chile flakes in oil that are part of htis dish for extra heat, which I partook of half way thru.

By now, I was pleasantly full but I thought what about my report of this meal? How could I not have a ma la dish to speak of? So strictly in the interest of science and journalistic completeness, I ordered Dan Dan noodles. What I got was a small dish of pretty plain boiled noodles topped with a bit of stir fried pork in a dark mode. The noodles needed white pepper & salt. Then I added a drop or two of white vinegar and mixed the noodles with the oil at the bottom of the bowl. The second bight went from the monochromatic ringtone on a cheap cell phone playing the Ride of the Valkyries to Furtwangler's version with the Viena Philharmonic {look it up on you tube!}. My self sacrifice, not to mention full tummy, are a small price to play for the delight offered by this $3.95 dish! Layers of flavor from a full dose of sichuan peppercorns, the porkyness of the bits of mystery meat, the mashed garlic & ginger in the sauce and thr fire added by either Mime the God of Fire or by a healthy slash of chile flakes fried in oil. The burn is now a pleasant glow nearly an hour after eating. When the bowl was empty, the bowl was characteristic of properly made Sichuan: nothing identifiable as a sauce, just a slick of oil because all the sauce like elements were cook into the ingredients allowing the oil to separate and run off.

Joe's, Hong Kong Palace are both very fine and I have been happy investigating their wondersful menus. But here is a new comer to the scene (open two weeks) that merits further research!

Enough food for two normal appetites was $21.00!

There was an incredible looking/smelling pork #10: pork & crispy rice cake served in sweet & sour sauce that the waitress insisted I try next time! The smell was redolent with vinegar & spice and the burning toastiness of perfectly cooked rice crusts.

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  1. This is Rockville, right? What's in the front of this place that can be seen from the Pike? I gotta know!

    8 Replies
    1. re: flavrmeistr

      It is in th lot where Saigon Taste used to be. Very non descript on the pike side/ Turn in before (South) of the maxim supermarket parking lot and go to the back.

      1. re: deangold

        Excellent. Thanks for the "hot" tip, amigo.

        1. re: deangold

          Sounds like it's right by Bob's? You could have a great chowdown shuttling between the two......

          1. re: Geoff

            Taking advantage of another day off to enjoy another lunch at SP. Saw a Morgan parked out front of the restaruant meaning Eroica38 was most likely inside. And he was. we joined forces and enjoyed the folowing:

            Pork and sizzling rice cakes in sweet & sour sauce: very nicely done. Great sizzling rice cakes, not oily as they can be and very crispy with a nice stir fry of pork in a vinegar laced sauce with lots of ginger, garlic slices and a little heat of chile. Really good dish and a very generous portion.

            Crispy fungus - as good as yesterday

            Broad bean with garlic & scallion sauce - fava bean-like beans, very tasty in a good sauce. Refreshing but then again, I love beans.

            Ma Po Tofu - a huge portion heavy on the ma la elements. Very alrge bowl filled to the brim. I maybe ate 1/3 of it total. Teh sauce on the rice was superb. Very hot and ma la. Wonderful!

            This place is gooooooood!

            1. re: deangold

              It may seem unimportant, or perhaps more likely naive, but what is a Morgan?

              1. re: Pappy

                An old obscure British car that is famous for having a wooden frame. Not only do you need to be sleeping with a mechanic to keep it running but you need a termite inspection every year!

                1. re: deangold

                  A Morgan is indeed a limited production English sports with a wooden frame. The company just celebrated its 100th year of mass production - about 500 units per year. I have had mine for 20 + years and it is quirky but quite reliable.

                  As to Sichuan Pavilion - deangold is spot on. Lunch was a great experience as he so aptly described. Make sure to order your food off the 'Chinese' menu. I shall enjoy munching my way through it.

                  1. re: deangold

                    a morgan is also driven by dr. mallard ("ducky") on ncis.

        2. Wow, thanks Dean. I saw this restaurant recently when at the Rockville Library and felt sort of depressed, as I assumed it was just another mediocre place. SpiceXing and now this as well? Town Center is looking better.

          1. is it related to the Sichuan Pavilion above Farragut West in DC? 'cause that's pretty darn goodb also with 2 menus.

            1 Reply
            1. re: hill food

              I hope not. Reading this, I went to the Farragut location for lunch. Got the Dumplings with Sichuan Sacuce and the Roast Pork with Scallions. Both were a major disappointment. Bordering on awful, the dumplings don't even hint at the real thing, and the pork was chinese-american swill.. I wish there was a Joe's type place downtown, right now real Sichuan remains un-obtainable (please don't mention Great Wall).

            2. Is this related to the Sichuan Pavilion located at 18th and K? That's my go to Chinese food restaurant...took me 5 years to find good Chinese delivery in DC. Actually had it for dinner tonight.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Elyssa

                jeez E it's like twin talk somnetimes. exactly the one I was thinking of.

                I'm a little creeped (heh) but if they are related and I find myself out that way, well...

                1. re: hill food

                  We asked the owner {at least we thought it was the owner} and the language barrier made it impossible to get an exact answer but I think not. If you compare the menus, there are wide price discrepancies on similar dishes, the Chinese characters for the name appear different {and 4 for the Rockville place and only three for the DC one} and the feel of the dish offerings seems quite different. The DC one states on its website its roots with the NYC restaurant of the same name, while the menu is Rockville gives no hint of a heritage related to the other SP's. But this is all only conjecture and direct questioning is impossible for me now as I don't speak Chinese.

              2. Went there on Friday. You're right, they don't give up those Chinese menus without a struggle. I had to go to the counter and get one after the waitress insisted on giving me the "Combination Lunch" menu. I later heard other folks behind me going through the same routine. We had the broad beans in scallion sauce, which were deliciously savory for a cold dish, and the cucumber salad, which was basically diced cucumbers with a little salt. Not a bad thing, but I expected a little more...something. Next, we had the #10 pork w/ sizzling ricecakes. The sauce was a little more on the sweet side than sour, but the rice cakes were the best I ever had, super crispy with a nice toasty flavor. It had wood-ear and shitake mushrooms, which made it an oustanding dish. Last came the spicy shrimp with hot peppers, which looked more promising than it actually was. It had the right ingredients-peppers, shrimp and little dices of pork belly. I really wanted to like it, but it didn't work that well. The shrimps were almost too tiny to fool with. I tried eating them whole and found they had more exoskeleton than meat. The pork belly was more like bacon rind, about the size and texture of pencil erasers. Most disappointing of all, the flavor was just not there in this particular dish. No fire, smokiness or depth. However, there were many tasty-looking dishes coming through the kitchen door and I plan on giving it another shot.