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Top 3 Szechuan

e
EarlyDrive Jan 2, 2010 05:00 AM

I`m looking for those in the know to list their top 3 Szechuan restos in the GTA, to update some older posts.
Thanks, in advance.

  1. j
    juno Jan 2, 2010 10:52 AM

    I'm always game for good Szechuan, and the best I've tasted in the past year is at Ba Shu Ren Jia, on Steeles Ave. East, near Midland). Three visits, and every dish was top notch. The spicy dishes had just enough zing and without scalding the roof of your mouth. I'd go more often, but it's one helluva drive from where I live. With such a huge menu, it helps to have wise counsel when selecting, and I had it from an old Szechuan hand.I noticed that In today's Globe and Mail, restaurant reviewer Joanne Kates picked it as one of the 10 best feeds she had all last year. Seems to me there's another branch of the place in the west end of Toronto.

    When I don't feel like driving too far for Szechuan, I'll go to Hot Spicy Spicy, in an all-Asian plaza at Finch Ave. East and Leslie St. Not in Ba Shu's class, and somewhat up and down, but usually up. Once again, it helps to know what to order - some dishes seem excessively oily - when there are more than 100 or so dishes on offer.

    Szechuan Gourmet, on Steeles Ave. West, just west of Bathurst, is insanely popular - though you don't see Asians in there too often - and the food is usually satisfying, if not great. I'd rate Hot Spicy Spicy as a cut above it, Ba Shu Ren Jia three cuts above. Good service at Szechuan Gourmet, though. But it's frantic in there when it's mobbed, as it often is, so - to preserve my sanity - I don't go there too often. Popular with Indian families and the neighborhood Jewish population.

    Most other Szechuan places I've tried were neither here nor there. Acceptable, but not memorable. One place I haven't tried yet is Lao Cheng Du, on Sheppard Ave. east of Midland, which someone on this site wrote about glowingly many months ago. Indication was that it's a family operation, with a more manageable menu, but precious little English spoken, which makes it difficult to seek out the better-executed dishes without a consigliere along to help navigate the language.

    13 Replies
    1. re: juno
      e
      EarlyDrive Jan 2, 2010 11:18 AM

      Thanks for the reply, juno. I've only tried Hot Spicy Spicy but would like to try Ba Shu.

      1. re: EarlyDrive
        c
        caitlink Jan 2, 2010 12:55 PM

        I like Ba Shu as well. However, you have to go at the right time. The odd time when I went early as soon as it opened to avoid the crowds, the food was only so-so.

        We recently went with friends to another restaurant in the same plaza as 'Perfect' - on Sheppard east of Brimley. I am surprised by the # of northern or szechuan restaurants in the area. This was a northern/Korean restaurant. Very economical and lots of variety.

        1. re: caitlink
          e
          EarlyDrive Jan 2, 2010 12:58 PM

          caitlink, we often go early to avoid crowds as well. Are you thinking after 6ish would be better?

          1. re: EarlyDrive
            Kagemusha Jan 2, 2010 01:18 PM

            Ba Shu Ren Jia apparently has a Mississauga outpost, too. Anybody tried it recently who can compare the two?

            1. re: Kagemusha
              5
              5andman Jan 2, 2010 01:42 PM

              It's sister location (never tried it though):

              Red Chili Sichaun Restaurant
              4559 Hurontario St
              Mississauga, ON L4Z 3L9
              (905) 568-9988

              1. re: 5andman
                Kagemusha Jan 2, 2010 02:05 PM

                Not sure it's the same crew since there's a Ba Shu Ren Jia at Eglinton+Hurontario. Location's not the issue, it's whether it's worth a visit.

      2. re: juno
        sumashi Dec 28, 2010 07:58 AM

        I'm planning to try out Ba Shu Ren Jia with two girlfriends tomorrow, first time there for all of us. Are there any particular dishes you would recommend? I read your rec of lamb hot pot and jlunar's rec of the cold pig ear, although I think we are all pretty easy going with trying out anything, it would be nice to have a couple other suggestions. Thanks!

        1. re: sumashi
          j
          juno Dec 28, 2010 10:50 AM

          Besides the lamb in pot, other dishes I've enjoyed at Ba Shu Ren Jia are: the especially good pork with spicy sauce; the tea shrimp; the Szechuan green beans; and the sauteed pea greens (though this last dish, if I recall, is a tad expensive compared to the other good-value dishes). Other dishes I haven't had, but which others assure me are quite tasty: the chicken hot pot, gung pao chicken; and the ma to fu. The lamb in pot is a substantial soup-stew type of dish. If you order that one, my guess is that the three of you could handle no more than two other dishes, unless you're major noshers and/or plan to take home lots of leftovers. If the A team is on duty in the kitchen, you should have an enjoyable time. But you never know. I've found that many Chinese restos have an inexplicable habit of bouncing up and down in quality of execution. But I've never had a problem with Ba Shu Ren Jia. It has been reasonably consistent.

          1. re: juno
            sumashi Dec 31, 2010 11:44 AM

            Thanks juno!
            We ended up ordering the lamb in hot pot and the ma po tofu. that was more than enough for the three of us. The lamb hot pot was not what I expected based on having that dish at Sam Woo and at Chili Secrets, but they were generous on the amount of meat in it for sure. I was expecting it to be a little thicker or stew-like, but it's a very clear soup. One friend really liked it a lot. The ma po tofu was good and hot. We were all interested in the tea shrimp you mentioned but couldn't find it on the menu!

            -----
            Sam Woo Restaurant
            660 Eglinton Ave W, Mississauga, ON L5R3V2, CA

            Chili Secret
            9021 Leslie, Thornhill, ON L3T7N5, CA

            1. re: sumashi
              j
              juno Jan 1, 2011 11:22 AM

              Thanks for your report. I always appreciate feedback if for no other reason than that it arms me for my next foray into that Steeles and Midland neighborhood. Should you venture into Ba Shu Ren Jia again, the pork with spicy sauce is a Szechuan classic there, and my all-time favorite Szechuan dish. Unlike yourself, I recall the lamb in pot as being somewhat between a soup and a stew, lightly thickened by an assortment of root vegetables (though the only veggie I recall is cabbage). Perhaps they've changed the recipe recently. If so, a pity. And I'm surprised that you couldn't find tea shrimp on the menu. It's one of the resto's more popular and accomplished dishes. Agreed, though, that navigating the often-clumsy English translation of a large Chinese menu is fraught with peril. You often find yourself getting something other than what you thought you ordered. I find, in such places where little English is spoken, that it pays to approach a table of Chinese customers who seem to be regulars - and ask for help. The customers often speak much better English than the wait staff and are usually delighted to come to your rescue, either to explain what they're having or help you track down a dish you're looking for but can't quite articulate. It has worked for me every time.

              1. re: sumashi
                sumashi Jan 1, 2011 08:09 PM

                Just wanted to add a pic of our two dishes for reference. The lamb hot pot did have lots of cabbage and some carrots and radish. I forgot to mention that I also found them a bit too salty for me, so eating them both with rice was definitely required! Personally, I still prefer the hot pot at Sam Woo (although now that I think about it, I think it's goat actually) The meat comes on the bone. They are two very different styles of hot pot. Too bad I don't have a picture to show as a comparison here.

                Next time I go back, I will ask the waitress about the tea shrimp! We were interested, but didn't bother asking because we decided the two would fill us up just fine.

                -----
                Sam Woo Restaurant
                660 Eglinton Ave W, Mississauga, ON L5R3V2, CA

                 
                1. re: sumashi
                  k
                  KitchenVoodoo Jan 1, 2011 09:32 PM

                  Is the lamb greasy?

                  1. re: KitchenVoodoo
                    sumashi Jan 2, 2011 11:44 AM

                    I didn't find the lamb hot pot greasy. The ma po tofu though... half that sauce there was a layer of hot chili oil.

        2. t
          tochowchick Jan 2, 2010 04:29 PM

          Can someone comment Szechuan Legend at Midland and Finch? My chowpal and I have been there a couple of times and enjoyed it very much but I have no idea if it's "authentic" or not...it's been a while so I cannot recall the specific dishes we had...

          Thanks.

          5 Replies
          1. re: tochowchick
            JonasBrand Jan 3, 2010 06:38 PM

            Szechuan Legend is authentic and tops for me... though I still need to try a number of the spots referenced above :)

            -----
            Szechuan Legend
            3280 Midland Ave, Toronto, ON M1V, CA

            1. re: tochowchick
              Royaljelly Jan 4, 2010 09:11 AM

              I believe Szechuan Legend has a Taiwanese owner though it largely employs mainlander staff (Its chinese name Half Acre Garden is the same as a chain of Szechuan restos in Taiwan). From my recollection of the visit I paid to Ba Shu when it first opened (?3 years ago), S. Legend reflects a toned down version of the fiery zing that is all the fave in Mainland China now. Perhaps the owner is Szechuanese in ancestry but hasn't lived there for decades, it harks back to an older time and place - before 1949.

              So the short answer is yeah I think S Legend is authentic, but just a varied style of Szechuan cuisine. In fact I read somewhere that in the southern parts of Szechuan there actually isn't much emphasis on peppercorns and chili, and the food is much more nuanced and flavorful. Time to pay China a visit I guess!

              1. re: Royaljelly
                t
                tochowchick Jan 4, 2010 12:56 PM

                Thanks Royaljelly....as I said, we've enjoyed the food there but weren't knowledgeable enough to know if it was "real" Szechuan or not...appreciate your insights.

                1. re: tochowchick
                  1sweetpea Apr 24, 2011 04:50 PM

                  My husband and I wound up at Ba Shu Ren Jia on Saturday night, after arriving at Konner between 7:15 and 7:30 pm and being greeted with a madhouse atmosphere. People were streaming in in droves and it was utter chaos. We were given a number and patiently waited about 15-20 minutes for a table.

                  We tried to order a super spicy crispy beef from the cold dishes section, but there was no more. We switched to a mixed meats dish that only boasted a 2 chile rating. It was very tasty, but I wanted a more powerful chile and sichuan pepper kick. I'm not sure what meats were represented, but there was definitely some tripe, paper thin sliced beef leg or shank and perhaps a lean brisket type cut. I enjoyed it very much and will have to explore more of the cold dishes on a future visit.

                  Next up was the pea shoots and king mushrooms with garlic. This dish arrived practically on fire it was so hot (temperature). I liked the flavours, and the texture of each vegetable was spot-on, but I found the sauce gluey with way too much cornstarch. It was also either heavy on the salt, MSG, or both.

                  To try to balance the meaty, oily cuisine that is Sichuan food, we ordered another vegetable dish: mustard greens with garlic and preserved eggs in broth. I really enjoyed the garlic and preserved eggs with the mustard, but the broth was again super salty (possibly with a kick of MSG). Our last dish was twice cooked pork in Sichuan sauce. I was expecting a dish similar to one I've had at Cantonese restaurants which is twice cooked pork (somewhat thick slices of belly) with preserved green vegetable. What we received was thin slices of belly that had a bacon-like essence. It was somewhat spicy, though in my opinion deserved a 1 chile rating instead of a 2. It was swimming in pork fat, which was sinfully tasty, but super greasy.

                  We took lots home, along with a pile of steamed rice. I made kimchi fried rice tonight and served all the veggies and the remaining pork (we polished off the cold beef dish at the restaurant) atop, a la bibimbap. It was pretty darn tasty the next day, though not spicy at all. I realize that we could have ordered spicier dishes, but we felt really under the gun to get our order in once we were finally seated. I'd order differently next time, but I'd really like some recommendations for some of the more powerfully spicy dishes on the menu. I'm not big on tripe and offal, but I don't mind if a bit finds its way into a dish. I can always eat around it.

                  I've travelled to Chengdu and experienced some mouth meltingly hot sichuan cuisine. This is what I seek. Has anyone tried the dim sum items there?

                  On another note, I intend to return to Konner another time to try it out. Any recommendations for dishes there, beyond what JLunar has graciously pointed out? I will definitely order #94 as I am a fan of bamboo. The spicier the better, but any great tasting dish will be considered. It really helps when faced with 12 page menus.

                  -----
                  Ba Shu Ren Jia
                  4771 Steeles Ave E, Toronto, ON M1V, CA

                  1. re: 1sweetpea
                    jlunar Apr 25, 2011 08:04 AM

                    If you like spicy, then make sure you tell them that when you order. The last time I had the bamboo, they had cranked down the spicing - because so many non-chinese kept coming in and asking for "that smoky bamboo dish." GAH!

                    Here are my choices at Konner:
                    #94 Youlou sauteed preserved pork with bamboo shoots
                    Finally discovered what that "Smoky bamboo dish" was. Still good. Less spicy than before.

                    #89 Griddle cooked cabbage
                    Also, recently got a cabbage dish was awesome. It gets brought to your table with a hot-plate to boil it, however, I like it better when it's less-cooked, so (I recommend) don't wait to eat it. The crunchy texture of slightly-raw cabbage is awesome.

                    #202 Deep fried pepper with preserved egg (cold dish)
                    Still tasty. Better shared with more than 2 people.

            2. l
              littlelam May 3, 2011 12:05 PM

              Can anyone recommend a serious Szechuan place downtown, or at least one which is accessible via TTC? It would be much appreciated!

              9 Replies
              1. re: littlelam
                s
                szw May 3, 2011 09:20 PM

                In Chinatown, try Sichuan House. I can't remember much about my meal there ( I dont' go downtown often) but at least its real sichuan food. Typically a lot of chinese restaurants will write szechuan on their windows or banner without actually serving the real types of food, and instead just have some spicier versions of westernized chinese food.

                Generally I think a good rule is to avoid restaurants that use szechuan instead of sichuan, unless of course you like that kind of food which is fine

                1. re: szw
                  l
                  littlelam May 5, 2011 06:10 AM

                  Thanks szw. I'll make a note to check it out in the next few weeks and let you know. I found this thread on dishes at Sichuan House: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/682320. Anything in particular you'd recommend I order?

                  1. re: littlelam
                    s
                    smyhal May 19, 2011 11:05 AM

                    I also heavily recommend Sichuan Garden over Sichuan House. Twice Cooked Pork at Sichuan Garden is great. And the staff is really friendly and helpful.

                    Don't have a car so I haven't tried any of the places recommend here, but i'm planning to soon, can't wait to see how they compare.

                    In the mean time I picked up Fuschia dunlop's book "Land of Plenty" on Sichuan cooking and have been making some dishes myself. They've been great and I highly recommend the book for anyone who enjoys cooking and spending a hour or so scouring Chinese grocery store for the proper ingredients. She does a great job explaining what to look for and what to avoid. Her blog is also very interesting.

                    Curious if anyone knows if any of these places use real sichuan dried chilies? They seem to be notoriously hard to find in Toronto, but I have some "facing heaven" sichuan chilies on the way from the UK to try the real thing!

                    -----
                    Sichuan Garden Restaurant
                    359 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5T2G3, CA

                  2. re: szw
                    d
                    doro May 8, 2011 02:01 PM

                    Sichuan Garden, across the street from Sichuan House, is much more consistent. It's no Hot Spicy Spicy, but it'll do for the downtown scene. On our way to try Ba Shu Ren Jia tonight, I think.

                    -----
                    Ba Shu Ren Jia
                    4771 Steeles Ave E, Toronto, ON M1V, CA

                    Sichuan Garden Restaurant
                    359 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5T2G3, CA

                    1. re: doro
                      k
                      KitchenVoodoo May 16, 2011 03:52 PM

                      I tried Sichuan House today - had spicy chicken in paenut sauce. The sauce was good - hot and had Sichuan peppercorns in it as well as chillies, but the chicken was all gross bits from the back and other unidentifiable bits with strange tube like veins in them, and everything including the chunks of celery had been tenderized to death. AVOID!
                      I think I was looking for Sichuan Garden but stumbled into the wrong place.
                      Still looking for really good (1980's style - when it was all the rage here) Sichuan food downtown.

                      -----
                      Sichuan Garden Restaurant
                      359 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5T2G3, CA

                      1. re: KitchenVoodoo
                        a
                        artemis88 May 20, 2011 10:44 AM

                        littlelam, you can also try Spadina Garden it's near the Eaton Centre (Bay & Dundas) Try the Spicy Peanut Chicken, it's excellent.

                        -----
                        Spadina Garden Restaurant
                        116 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M5G1C3, CA

                        1. re: artemis88
                          l
                          littlelam May 24, 2011 06:53 AM

                          Unfortunately I've tried Spadina Garden before and it's not what I'm looking for. The flavours are too weak (or oddly, too sweet, in some cases).

                          -----
                          Spadina Garden Restaurant
                          116 Dundas St W, Toronto, ON M5G1C3, CA

                        2. re: KitchenVoodoo
                          dannyboy May 20, 2011 11:08 AM

                          I went to one of them on Spadina (the one on the west side) about a month ago and i found the same thing. Pure cartilage cuts, gross.... I also ordered what had to be the blandest most meatless utility lobster ever, total crap.
                          Next on my list is Szechuan Szechuan in FCP downtown, i hear that place is quite good, although expensive...

                          1. re: dannyboy
                            k
                            KitchenVoodoo May 21, 2011 03:47 PM

                            Don't get your hopes up about Szechuan Szechuan - I was there a week ago, and to me the food is nowhere near as chilli intensive as it should be. They have a stall in the food court as well as the sit down restuarant - no idea what the difference is in food or price. The restuarant seems to do huge business - it's non threatening Chinese food, fast service, and a decent enough looking room.

                  3. d
                    doro May 21, 2011 08:54 PM

                    Finally made it to Ba Shu Ren Jia tonight, and it was pretty sensational. Lamb hot pot, chicken with chiles, fish in pungent sauce, Sichuan string beans, etc. All spot on. I still love Hot Spicy Spicy and wouldn't say this is necessarily better, but it certainly was at least as good.

                    -----
                    Ba Shu Ren Jia
                    4771 Steeles Ave E, Toronto, ON M1V, CA

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: doro
                      k
                      KitchenVoodoo May 21, 2011 09:04 PM

                      Sounds worth the trek - can I ask if the chicken was dubious back meat and cartilage laden?
                      Not to be a nag on this point, but I'm so sick of eating disgusting ingredients in Chinese restuarants - all that cheap cartilage and chicken back meat.

                      1. re: KitchenVoodoo
                        d
                        doro May 21, 2011 09:12 PM

                        No, no dubious meat in evidence. A mountain of chiles through which you hunt with your chopsticks to find the delicately fried little nuggets of chicken, each about as big as the last joint of your pinky but presumably much tastier.

                        Oh, and gung pao shrimp, which was probably the lightest version of that I've had anywhere.

                        1. re: doro
                          k
                          KitchenVoodoo May 22, 2011 06:59 PM

                          Sounds great - what else did you try?

                      2. re: doro
                        s
                        szw May 21, 2011 09:42 PM

                        IMO BSRJ is on a much higher level than Hot Spicy Spicy.

                        1. re: szw
                          aser May 22, 2011 08:42 PM

                          I love BSRJ but it is an occasional visit for me as it does wonders to your stomach. It is indeed as hot as Sichuan food is supposed to be, not for the meek. There's not a lot of point of going if you're not a fan of spicy food.

                          Not somewhere to go if you plan on going out afterwards. Best to head home in case your stomach hates you for the chilli pleasure/torture that you put it through.

                          1. re: aser
                            s
                            szw May 22, 2011 10:20 PM

                            My stomach is fine that night. Its the next day when I have to always be mindful of where the nearest washrooms are!

                      3. m
                        ManAbout May 23, 2011 09:23 AM

                        There is a place called Szechuan Legend that has opened up at Hwy 7 and Leslie, in the same plaza as Asian Legend.

                        Has anybody tried it?

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: ManAbout
                          s
                          szw May 23, 2011 08:36 PM

                          This is strange because szechuan legend is a restaurant on midland/finch which also has another location which goes by Chile Secret which is located at Hwy 7 and Leslie (a bit north of hwy 7).

                          Different restaurant copying their name?

                          1. re: ManAbout
                            skylineR33 May 23, 2011 09:04 PM

                            I had my worst meal of the year at Chili Secret (Leslie and N. of Hwy 7). The food is so salty to the point that is almost inedible. Service is the worst I have ever seen in recent years. The waitress basically throw the dishes down onto our table, it is like she does not want to work as a waitress. The dish and cup are so dirty we have to ask for exchange a few times. Stay away from this restaurant.

                            1. re: skylineR33
                              s
                              szw May 24, 2011 05:51 AM

                              I've only been there for dim sum. We liked it a lot at first and have gone back many many times. However the last few times we did not enjoy it as much and have been going to other restaurants as our go-to dimsum choice.

                              As for servers throwing dishes onto the table...I can't say I remembered that at Chili Secret, but I am pretty used to it at many chinese restaurants, I don't mind it at all. Maybe its because we eat at 2 or 3 in the morning so I understand everybody is in a bad mood!

                              -----
                              Chili Secret
                              9021 Leslie, Thornhill, ON L3T7N5, CA

                              1. re: szw
                                skylineR33 May 24, 2011 06:48 AM

                                I mean throw the dish at us in a rude way just over the head of my 4 years old son. I have not experienced this kind of service for a long while and this is certainly not the way many Chinese restaurants operates in Toronto from my experience. Well, different expectation and I expect at least better service.

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