New Sichuan Restaurant: Hao Sze Chuan in West Haven/Milford CT
My family had gotten wind of this 3-week old restaurant next to the Hong Kong Grocery branch on Route 1 a little down the road from University of New Haven.
The restaurant is still getting on its feet- there are only 2-3 menus available for a 40-seat space. The menu is half-Chinese half-English; between 3 families, we ordered a large variety of dishes. While we had some really spectacular fish stew dishes- the green pickled chili fish pot was really excellent as was the more traditional sichuanese peppercorn fish stew, the beef tendon was a miss for me as it was too chewy, and the kung pao chicken (traditionally oil-crisped on the outside) was over-fried. The vegetables were fresh- we ordered off the menu the Chinese hollow-stemmed greens. The dishes were well-seasoned and balanced; we requested the chef liberally apply chilis/peppercorns to taste (as we are all Hunanese/Sichuanese and very partial to spicy food). For 8 people and 9 dishes and brown rice, the bill came to just about $120. By the way, Yale employees have a 10% discount.
The service was really pleasant and the lady in charge is very friendly. We were given complimentary desserts and encouraged to spread the good word. It's too early to tell how the final version of the restaurant will look, but the chef from Chengdu is one of the better I have had in Southern CT.
An old tip here, updated recently...
...led me to Hao Si Chuan and to this thread with an update. Thanks, as always, to those who point the way to out-of-the-way finds such as this.
I tried my first soup dumplings yesterday. They were quite beautiful, very flavorful. Would have been more fun to share. Mine were pork. They also had a pork and crab variation on the menu.
Then I ate a beef dish with so many hot peppers, I simply couldn't tolerate it--and ate but a quarter of it before abandoning ship. Such a shame. The thought of heating it up the next day and having it be even hotter was more than I could handle. More than an hour later, my lips were still burning. Sincerely.
How is one supposed to properly eat soup dumplings? Mine came with a spoon (which had something on it). I asked for a replacement spoon and the kid serving me said, "Oh, you don't need it!" I wasn't sure if that's how he interpreted my request (that I didn't need one/definite language barrier). Clearly, a spoon would've been nice to have so I didn't lose the soup all over the plate.
If I had to guess, you'd properly cut into the dumpling IN your spoon, then eat it in multiple bites, yes? And the sauce on the side had nice, thinly-cut slices of ginger in it for bite. NOM! But, wait, no...there's a method. A buddy forwarded the following to me. Believe me when I say putting a whole dumpling in your mouth is not the best plan of action:
Can anyone tell me how these stack up to soup dumplings in the city?
Back to the beef dish--matchstick slices of hot green peppers (jalapenos?) in copious amounts...WAY too much heat...no other vegetables to tone it down, merely CRAZY HOT peppers and beef. And salty. Such a shame as the beef was very tender and I did enjoy the soup dumplings, but as a matter of self preservation, I decided to quit while I was ahead rather than completely destroy my gut with all that fire.
I have read elsewhere that this place is the "best" in Connecticut and a good sub when people can't haul all the way to Flushing. I'd need more than one meal there to reach such a conclusion--plus, I'm partial to Lao Sze Chuan in Milford...which, however lacking in its own ambiance, had it ALL OVER this place in terms of cleanliness and decor...plus, I've really enjoyed each meal there (except the pig's ear and stunningly tastebud-deafening ma po dish I had--the one that altered the taste of plain water) at LSC.
I'm posting a pic of the plaza in West Haven as you could blink and miss it...definite hole-in-the-wall location. And I took no pics of the restaurant's interior because it looked like the scene of some sort of food hit-and-run...as if there was a mad rush there before me as evidenced by piles of dirty dishes left in their wake on several tables...so if you don't like the ambiance at LSC, probably steer clear of Hao Si Chuan. I'd try it again and dial the heat back on my entree, but it's about as un-fancy as dining out gets. And did I mention HOT?! Those soup dumplings were damn good, though.
Oooh, you got my mouth watering over those XLB. I'm glad they were so good. I'm finding overall that, since it's a Shanghainese dish, the other cuisines don't always get them right. The picture shows tongs for picking them up which I've never seen. Usually one uses chopsticks to pick one up, dip it in the sauce and place in the soup spoon. I find I take a small nibble off the top, slurp a little soup in, then the rest goes into my mouth. I hate to generalize but my decades of eating in Chinese restaurants has led me to believe that the average Chinese person is better able to daintily get something in their mouths than the average Caucasian :) And it seems I am ALWAYS wearing a white top better to display the dribbles!
I found that their soup dumplings, while decent, fall short of the best ones in the city. It might have been my batch, but mine tasted as if they had sat around a few days before being cooked and served. Not that they were off, mind you, just were missing the elusive "umami" taste that you get in the best soup dumplings. Also, their dipping sauce was a little skimpy on the slivered ginger, and also did not taste like they used the best quality black vinegar. Still good, but not the best.
Wow, I just tried this place for the first time a couple of days before you did katty. I admit I only had the soup dumplings. They were delicious but quite filling. I nibbled a hole in the top of the dumpling and sort of slurped them. It wasn't a delicate approach, but it worked.
I will have to go back and sample some other dishes soon.
ma po dishes are supposed to alter the taste of plain water!
That's the 花椒 (huajiao "flower-pepper" or Sichuan "peppercorn") working its wonderful magic (along with some chilli bean paste that seems to intensify its effect to a degree that even I occasionally find too strong.) If your water tastes tingly, you know you're eating Sichuan food. :D
I'm amused by the straightforward name of this restaurant.
Hao means "good", so this is 好四川 or "Good Sichuan."
agree on how good sichuan alters the flavor of water and anything else not equally assertive. The super numby/spicy/saltiness of these dishes don't leave quickly either. Had that same experience at Lao Sze Chuan in milford as at Wa Jean in manhattan as at Spice Spirit (& others) in Shanghai/Beijing. Stuff is crazy and awesome.