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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.

240-403-7358
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. http://www.gomog.com/movies/ducky%27s...

        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.

                1. 7 of us ate there last night and it was overall pretty damned good. Thee were a couple of dishes that hit odd noted, but even there there was some disagreement amongst us so it was as much as style thing as anything

                  One development is that the Authentic menu and the American style Chinese menu are in the same binder now, just flip the menu over to get from one to the other.

                  The starters:

                  Scallion pancakes were good to mop up sauces but nothing special.

                  Beef Jerky very similar in style to Hong Kong Palace but not as hot. shreds of beef, thick pasty sauce of hot chiles and garlic, scallion & ginger.

                  Beef tendon & trip in hot sauce - fantastic- Nice level of heat, good sauce

                  Bean Jelly in hot sauce marked with tho peppers. Maybe we got the one pepper version but the dish was quite good none the less. The bean jelly is cold cubes of white jello and the sauce vinegar, hot chilies in oil, garlic, scallions & ginger. Refreshing and light

                  Crispy Fungus with pickled peppers - a great dish

                  Bigger dishes included:

                  Tilapia in spicy sauce with bean jelly & pickled peppers was superb even if I am not usually a fan of Tilapia. THis one was ot the typical variety of Tilapia and had mmore flavor and color. The topping was good, the star of the dish witht he fish providing a sauce delivery system more than being a major player.

                  Ma Po Tofu was good but not as good as on my last visit. Tasted like they needed to drain the tofu a little more before final cooking

                  Twice Cooked Pork with fried bread- perfectly spectacular. Large slices of belly, leek greens, loads of garlic, layering of heat elements and wedges of the bread. Truly great.

                  Pork on sizling rice cake with sweet & sour sauce - again, spectacular. the ricecakes are as good as any I have ever had. They remain crisp even after sitting in the sauce for a long time. They are fried to the maximum they can be without burning and become a complex flavor all on their own. This dish can be had with seafood or veggies instead of pork.

                  Beef in fiery soup - the beef equivalent of H20 at Joe's looked spectacular but seeemed to lack a balance of flavors. Lots of heat but maybe some vinegar or something was left out or needed.

                  I am sure I am leaving out something but someone else will ahve to comment. All this, a large tip was $118 total including tip. & folk devoured it and I have a large bag of leftovers!

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: deangold

                    Aren't those rice cakes outstanding? The waitress said they fry them with butter, which may account for retaining that crispiness in the sauce. I'm glad they went to one menu, which shows that they're paying attention. For being open less than a month, I think this place has some real potential. Thanks for the reports on the various dishes. Keep 'em coming!

                    1. re: flavrmeistr

                      Also they have 200+ dishes on the menu, they all can't be great! But so far the bating average is really high.

                      1. re: deangold

                        Just like the Lotto, you gotta play to win. I'm ready to go back.

                  2. Went there Sunday. Thoroughly impressed. Had the Dan-Dan noodles with the vinegar like Dean said. Fantastic. Then had the small dumplings filled w/chicken broth. These might have been the best I have had ever - each dumpling contained a healthy dose of broth, unlike Chinatown Express. A Sichuan restaurant with the best Shanghai Dumplings in the area! Onto the Double-Cooked Pork w/Crispy Bread. In a word - outstanding. The crispy bread adds a great element to the dish, soaking up all the flavors.

                    The owner/hostess was very nice, and actually had to instruct the chef to make my pork authentic. We had a discussion about the whole reason I drove up there was to get the "real" thing. She completely understood. The chefs are hopefully catching on by now. Also, she is going to read all this stuff on Chowhound, was very excited to hear that people are talking about it, so be nice -)

                    This place has immense promise.

                    1. Dinner at Sichuan Pavilion with three dishes we had not tried before:

                      Sichuan Beef Noodle Soup: the noodles are better at A&J but this is a great warming soup loaded with star anise but to to the point where you think there is no flavor other than Anise.

                      Pork with Lotus Root & Pickled Peppers: we did not specify hot and the dish had just a bite. Vinegary sauce, wood ears, a little pepper & red bell pepper in an incredibly balanced rendition.

                      Seaweed salad: good solid cold dish. try the "Lotus Poot" Salad instead.: pickled lotus root which is our favorite cold dish.

                      I think that SP has now pulled clear to me on the Sichuan front of JNH. I still go to both as the cellophane noodle with fish soup and the crisp dry fried beef at JNH are not to be missed. But thee are more interesting dishes with a broader array of flavors at SP

                      The service alone is reason to go. They are genuine folk who really want you to have a good time: a good thing in my mind!

                      1. Finally made it to Sichuan Pavilion last night and really enjoyed it. The place was *packed* and we had to wait maybe 15 minutes for a table, but the staff was extremely apologetic and friendly. And despite the crowds waiting, they didn't exactly rush us out of our table either! We had a leisurely meal. The place was chaotic and full of families and big groups. It was a really fun atmosphere.

                        Onto the food. After careful study of posts here, we ordered:
                        -dan dan noodles (my favorite! lovely heat to it and just so satisfying)
                        -broad beans in scallion and garlic sauce (eh, none of us was wowed by this dish; the waitress told us not to eat the skins, so we had to squeeze the insides out of the beans...)
                        -scallion pancake (delish. I consider this a very good scallion pancake, nice and chewy.)
                        -pork and rice cakes in sweet and sour sauce (this was well liked. I was expecting rice cakes like those thick rice noodle ovals, but instead this was the crackly rice cakes like I've had in Vietnamese places. The texture was fun. I wish there were a little more heat in the sauce, which initially came off too sweet but then grew on me.)
                        -ma po tofu (solid rendition, though my meal mates said this was their least favorite)
                        -double-cooked pork with fried bread (this was tasty when it was super hot right out the kitchen, but after it cooled down it lost some of its zing. The fried bread is kind of like pita chip-esque and very greasy. The waitress was very concerned when I ordered this and made sure that I knew this was "pork berry" - it took me a few seconds to realize she was saying pork belly! The waitress was absolutely adorable and very professional. The service was really great there.)

                        We had a really nice time and I'm looking forward to trying some more items next time. Many of the tables were eating some sort of white steamed buns in which they were sticking pieces of pork (I think). Perhaps this was a special for the New Year?

                        I also saw some seriously spicy-looking chicken or other meat dishes on other tables, covered in sesame seeds. Does anyone know what dish that is?

                        Thanks chowhounds for the tips on this place!

                        11 Replies
                        1. re: hamster

                          Had lunch there today because your report sounded so good. Great meal for $40 with three beers! The place was full at 2pm on a Sunday and the service good and friendly.

                          Fungus with pickled peppers - very tender tree ear mushrooms, ginger & garlic. Heat built nicely.

                          Small fish with peanuts- perfect. Fish crunchy and salty. Peppers added heat. Peanuts crunchy.

                          Tripe & pickled Cabbage soup - brilliant! very sour broth with 5 spice flavored assorted cow parts.

                          Fish fillet in soup - not sure of what it was called but on the bill it was marked #26. Fish fillet, green peppercorns on the twig, lots of red chiles, soupy gravy with a red oil slick on top. Started out nice but became great as the fish cooled and absorbed the sauce. I used a spoon to eat the sauce. Don't know if I am smart or a pig.

                          1. re: fudizgud

                            Yum! I really wanted the small fish with peanuts dish. Next time I'll try it!

                            1. re: fudizgud

                              I went back for lunch last week. Well, more of an early dinner actually. I was one of only a couple patrons in the whole place. Ironically, it took forever to get any server's attention my entire time there - mostly because they were basically on break and were just standing around chatting and not paying attention to the few clients who were present.

                              I ordered the sardines with peanuts and the soup dumplings. The sardines were not what I was expecting - crunchy fried pieces of what looked like noodles but were fishy-tasting, with lots of very nicely crunchy peanuts, garlic, and peppers - but I enjoyed the extremely salty dish. The soup dumplings were not bad at all. I haven't had any soup dumplings in DC but have had some lovely versions in Boston, New York, and San Francisco, and I would say that these would fill a soup dumpling craving but not exactly wow you. The soup and dumpling filling were good, quite fatty as expected; the dough exterior kept its integrity mostly, but wasn't exceptionally good. Overall, not bad at all; I would definitely order them again if I'm back there with a group and it was one of many dishes shared.

                              1. re: hamster

                                Dumplings and wontons here, both soup and otherwise, don' t seem to be a strength of the kitchen. Since China Bistro, Joe's, and A&J are nearby, I don't mind so much. :-)

                                -----
                                China Bistro
                                755 Hungerford Dr, Rockville, MD

                                1. re: DanielK

                                  Yeah, though Tyler Cowen disagrees.
                                  http://www.tylercowensethnicdininggui...

                                  I recently tried China Bistro's dumplings and was blown away. Unfortunately Joe's and A&J are both a bit harder for me to get to, so I thought I'd give Sichuan Pavilion a shot.
                                  Also, do these places even serve soup dumplings?

                                  -----
                                  China Bistro
                                  755 Hungerford Dr, Rockville, MD

                                  1. re: hamster

                                    Tyler Cowen can be wrong. :-)

                                    China Bistro and Joe's do not serve soup dumplings - A&J does, though they're just ok.

                                    China Bistro's dumplings are the best around, IMHO.

                                    A&J's potstickers blow Sichuan Pavilion's away, as do their spicy wontons, though the spicy wontons at Joe's are even better than A&J's.

                                    -----
                                    China Bistro
                                    755 Hungerford Dr, Rockville, MD

                                    1. re: DanielK

                                      Thanks for the breakdown. I will use this whenever I finally get to some of these places!

                                      1. re: DanielK

                                        Agree with Daniel on the breakdown, but I will say that Joe's spicy wontons are still very good.

                                        1. re: Dennis S

                                          Dennis - Maybe I wasn't clear - I think Joe's spicy wontons are the best around.

                                          1. re: DanielK

                                            Doh - reading back through I was confusing wontons and dumplings (though they are close in nature).

                                        2. re: DanielK

                                          Agreed. China Bistro is the dumpling fix. Although on the Chinese New Year, one of the waitresses at Joe's made some special dumplings with leek shoots, pork and shrimp that were just exquisite. And, they were on the house! Too bad it only happens once a year.

                                          -----
                                          China Bistro
                                          755 Hungerford Dr, Rockville, MD

                              2. We've been to SP many times since discovering it a couple months ago. Dishes are truly authentic Sichuan, not surprising since the chef is from Chengdu. I've been to Chengdu 5 or 6 times, but now with SP in the neighborhood there's little reason to go back for the food. If you go for lunch be sure to take advantage of the $20 special (authentic Chinese menu only) - choice of three dishes plus soup. We have yet to taste a bad dish there, and most have been superb. I think SP (behind the Rockville Fire Station on Hungerford) has already stolen a good bit of business from both Bob's 66 and Joe's Noodles. I just learned they make their own Sichuan sausage, but haven't tried yet.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: Bensade

                                  I would say that it is crazy good, but they run out of it so often that all I can say is don't eat it!!

                                  1. re: Bensade

                                    We went for the first time last night, and tried out 6 or 7 dishes.

                                    I did try the homemade Sichuan sausage, and the owner said that it would only be available for one more week this year, because it can only be made in the winter. It had a delicious distinctive taste like nothing I've ever had. Well worth trying.

                                    Also, the Pork with Crispy Rice Cakes might have been one of the best dishes I've had all year. If you're going, this is the one dish you CANNOT CANNOT miss.

                                    I took a lot of pictures, so if there's interest, I can post them later.

                                    1. re: petercoolz

                                      Had a great, great meal there on Saturday, including the sausage (which I was also warned would not be available much longer!); a new noodle dish, untranslated, which seems to be a warm version of a cross between Dan-Dan noodles and sesame noodles; the chicken with basil and ginger; and a spectacular fish dish with crunchy bean sprouts and hot peppers in a sichuan-oil, ma-la sauce (sorry I forgot to note the name of it; I believe it was the second from the bottom in one of the categories), which has now served me well for two further meals at home. The pork with crispy rice cakes is, indeed, very tasty, but the rice cakes make it very, very filling.

                                      1. re: petercoolz

                                        Pictures of the food!

                                        http://www.corystyle.com/blog/2010/04...

                                        This place has been so great that we've made the 30 minute trek twice in a week now.

                                    2. We just went there last night, a Thursday. We ordered:
                                      fried scallion pancakes
                                      sweet and sour seaweed salad
                                      smoked duck
                                      shredded beef with bitter melon
                                      My favourite was certainly the beef with bitter melon; it had a wonderful balance of bitter melon with ginger, garlic and chilies. However, I found there was too much oil in it. This is true of all the dishes we had, except the smoked duck. The food wasn't greasy, but it sat it a pool of oils. Not totally attractive, but the flavour was certainly fantastic.

                                      1. I finally managed to cross the river to Sichuan Pavilion in Rockville today.

                                        For those of you sorely missing Peter Chang, you should get the minced chicken with yat-cai, which is a cousin of the famed Chang dish of cumin minced beef served with steamed buns. You take the minced chicken and slightly pickled vegetables and stuff them into the pocketed steamed buns to make a sandwich. Fantastic!

                                        The meal was stupendous. In addition to the minced chicken, I had the crispy bread with double-cooked pork and the sizzling rice cakes with mixed vegetables. Each of these dishes was a show-stopper.

                                        To begin, I checked out the lotus root salad, the peanuts with 'anchovie,' and the crispy fungus with pickled peppers. All great. I especially loved the little slices of ginger with the peanuts. It's stunning how they can make a powerfully salty dish like this taste so gooood.

                                        Consumer note: After I chatted up the hostess, only then did she ask me if I wanted the pork lean or with fat and skin. So if you want the bacon version, you may have to ask.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: Steve

                                          Yup, been about two dozen times, always terrific. Especially for us Marylanders who can't get to HKP too often, this is a great option. I actually think the crispy bread and sizzling rice dishes are a bit overrated -- good, but the starch ruins your appetite for all the other dishes! (I suppose that's not what you meant by "show-stopper," right, Steve? ;-) ) We should really start to go through the vast menu comprehensively, and post favorites here, kinda like we once did with Joe's . . .

                                          1. re: Marty L.

                                            Ha!

                                            I actually had leftovers from the pork with crispy bread. I spread it out and broiled it. The bread toasted up nicely. I will definitely order the lean version, next time. The bacon is too thick for me ....not that it stopped me.