La Mei Zi (Spicy Sister) taking over Zen Restaurant.. Gooo!
Authentic Chinese restaurant in Uptown? Yes please! As their website indicates, they now serve Hunan and Szechuan style Chinese food. No more Asian-fusion.
Background: Hunan cuisine is similar to Szechuan as both regions enjoy spicy foods, but Szechuan folks love the oily, numb-spicies (ma-la) while Hunan enjoys a drier , more balanced spice.
We started off with Dan Dan Noodles, al dente noodles in a gorgeous pool of red spices, bits of stir-fried ground pork and sesame paste. Warm and entirely satisfying on a cold night. This is the best I've had, no joke.
Next up a bowl of fish and pickled vegetable soup, flavorful with notes of sourness from the pickled vegetables, tons of garlic, and tender pieces of fish. Again, a winner.
Cilantro stir-fried lamb, tender slices of lamb, tons of cilantro and szechuan red peppers. Andy, the restaurant owner recommended this one and said it everyone's favorite. I enjoyed it too.
We also ordered the Hunan Eggplant to round out our meal. I can't say that was my favorite, but I think it's because I'm not a huge fan of the eggplant texture. The spices/flavors were spot on though.
It's so exciting for Minneapolis to finally get some authentic Chinese cuisine, now if we could get a Northern Chinese style dumpling house....
I want to try every single dish in the Hunan Specialties section and szechuan style hotpots! Chowdown soon?
I'm curious to hear comparisons with Little Szechuan, Tea House etc. I phoned Zen and did my usual routine of asking if they cook with msg, since I am allergic to it. I was told they don't add it (great!!) but that it can be part of some of the things they use there like soy sauce, chicken base, etc. So I guess I would have to try some of the food to see if there was enough in there to have an effect on me.
Tried it last night - delicious! Had Chicken in Hot Szechuan Broth and Shredded Pork with Smoked Bean Curd and both were very good. Certainly compared to LS and Teahouse, but not exactly the same. Nice to see some authentic Hunan in addition to the Szechuan. Plus, they deliver to South Minneapolis!
Went last night with the family and had a mixed, but mostly good experience.
We had Scallion Pancakes, Dan Dan Noodles, Kung Pao Chicken, Chung King Chili Chicken, and Beef in Spicy Szechuan Broth.
The pancakes were limp, greasy and just plain wretched. They looked and tasted like the nasty frozen ones I bought at Dragon Star once. Really, really bad.
The Dan Dan Noodles were nice. They were served in a very large bowl, unlike the smaller ones used at LS, TH, or Grand Szechuan. The sauce was also a little sweeter but not in a bad way and was more watery. The flavor was full and nice and the noodles were nicely firm and not mushy/overcooked.
The Kung Pao was not. At all. In any way shape or form. More like a really bad sweet and sour chicken. We asked if we got the wrong dish and were assured we did not. Big Big Bummer. Let's leave it to say that the chef at Zen and Fuschia Dunlop do not agree at all on what makes Kung Pao Chicken delicious.
The Chung King Chili Chicken was the best I've had in the Twin Cities. Loads of Szechuan pepper corns and chilis and great seasoning on the chicken chunks. Word of caution though: the chicken chunks are prepared and served rather authentically, which is to say they are served bone-in and small little pieces of bone at that. I imagine it won't be long until some enterprising soul has a field day with a choking episode. Taste of the dish was outstanding, though.
The beef in szechuan broth was very good. My favorite version of this dish will remain at Tian Jin, and my least favorite at Little Szechuan. Zen's portion was generous and the flavors very bright. My only complaint on the dish was that it was pretty oily. Not a big deal to me, but other might be put off by the slick.
We tried to order the Mao's Braised Pork but were told they did not have it available last night.
The place was full, the lone server worked his fanny off and while he speaks perfectly decent English, he apparently does not read it, or understand English names for Chinese dishes. For each of our dishes that we ordered, he asked us to show him the Chinese words on the menu for the item we wanted. No big deal, we got the right food (except for the Kung Pao).
In the "that was odd" category, at one point a guest from a large table seated next to ours, got up from her seat and went and got a pitcher of water and came and re-filled all of our water glasses. It was appreciated because our waiter did not do that at any point during the meal. The man could have used some help and hopefully that bit will get straightened out.
We'll definitely go back and try more things.