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Chuan Xiang Ge - An Impromptu Sichuan Mini-down (Richmond BC)

fmed Mar 23, 2010 11:08 AM

We talk much about the term "authenticity" on this forum. It is a common thread in nearly all food forums, actually - and the word is fodder for much heated debate. I am of the belief that many cuisines taste best when the dishes served are exemplary and "authentic" - which to me simply means - the food is prepared in the same manner as in its native locale.

Certain dishes and entire classes of cuisines have evolved outside of this criterion. For example, Ginger Beef, a delicious Calgary invention, is an attempt at a Sichuan-style dish that took on a life of its own and is now part of the canon of "made in Canada" cuisine. Sichuan-Taiwanese and Sichuan-Cantonese food are relatively common off-shoots of Sichuan cuisine that have a large following in North America with large Chinese populations. They are all delicious and familiar to our collective palates. However, when I have a particularly authentic Sichuan meal, I am still struck by its bold, exciting, and un-muted flavours.

Chuan Xiang Ge provides a contrast to our meal at S & W Pepperhouse (Burnaby). Chuan Xiang Ge prepares Sichuan food with a lighter, more refined touch to S & W Pepperhouse. All the diners at the table last night all agreed the food was delicious and authentic - to a degree. But we all also acknowledged that S & W Pepperhouse's more rustic style of Sichuan food was closer to the Sichuan ideal - unabashed, unadulterated flavours and textures.

"Unabashed" and "Unadulterated"? This Chowdown group has been eating a lot of Sichuan food lately. As a group, we can confidently talk about the nuances which make Sichuan food truly authentic. I'll just outline some of the topics that have come up in our round table discussions:

The presence of "ma la" - the numbing sensation caused by Sichuan Peppercorns is the most obvious indicator. The next indicator is "heat" - usually the presence of copious amounts of chili peppers (both pickled and fresh) and fermented bean pastes (where peppers are a key component). The next indicator is the balance of sour and heat. "Sour" typically comes from rice vinegar in certain dishes and pickled vegetables in others.

"Sweet" - Westernized Sichuan food is often characterized by a syrupy sweetness. That isn't what we are discussing here. This type of sweetness is a more nuanced application of sugar - it is the sweetness in the curing of the smoked meats, the selection of vegetables to complement the rest of the dish...that kind of thing.

We have talked about "Cantonizing" of Sichuan food (a common effect here in Vancouver where the Cantonese are the predominant Chinese) through adulterations and preparation styles. "Adulterations" are commonly - starchy thickeners, meat broths, an unbalanced use of soya, etc. We also make note of additions of "foreign" vegetables (broccoli, large white onions, bell peppers, etc).

Then we get into nuances in preparations - the way the vegetables are sliced, the balance of protein to vegetables (too much of one and it becomes "filler", not enough and the dish loses much of its aesthetic appeal).

Are we being picky? No, IMO. The food is delicious at Chuan Xiang Ge, and I recommend it. It is more upscale in terms if ambience and service. The food is certainly delicious.... however when we compared it to the "real deal" at S&W, it was just missing some excitement. The flavours were muted and the textures (due to the use of thickeners) often detracted.

We had the Water-Boiled Fish (the white fish looked like basa, it was nice fresh tasting fish despite that), the Dan Dan Noodles (excellent, chewy noodles in a sesame-chili oil broth topped with ground meat), the excellent Shredded Potatoes in Vinegar (lots of toasty "wok hei" in this dish...very good), the Twice-Cooked Pork (the flash fried pork slices had some nice crispiness, again with lots of wok hei. I personally prefer the softer, whiter pork slices in the supposed "Chengdu" style of preparation), the Pork Slivers on Puffed Rice (this dish was good...but was thickened with starch), and the Pork with Pickled Chilies (again with thickener).

The food, once again, was good despite the compromises - a couple of the dishes were fantastic. For those who want to take baby steps to authentic Sichuan, I recommend this restaurant as an approachable alternative to the more authentic restuarants like S&W.

http://picasaweb.google.ca/gustibus.m...

Chuan Xiang Ge "Mascot Enterprises"
8211 Westminster Highway Richmond
(not in CH database)

 
 
 
 
  1. d
    DylanLK Mar 23, 2010 01:12 PM

    I have to note that the flavor profile of the Chuan Xiang Ge that I ate last night was different from previous trips. I think a place like Chuan Xiang Ge is used to having to offer a wide variety of flavors. I think when you go to a place like S+W, there ain't much movement in the flavor profile of dishes, whether you ask for it mild or crazy hot. At Chuan Xiang Ge, midway through, there was still confusion whether it was ma or la enough. When you go to Chuan Xiang Ge, most the clientele come in and speak to the waitress in Cantonese-accented Mandarin and carefully negotiate the spiciness of the dishes. The exchange with the waitress went like this, "They like authentic spiciness, right?" And I said, "Of course. Tell him to make it like he's cooking for someone from his hometown." But... it wasn't the same as it has been.

    There's an element of Cantonizing dishes, or the idea that dishes have to be cooked in a certain style to appeal to restaurant patrons in Canada, who are used to onions and broccoli in their Chinese food... but the same negotiation takes place if you're at a Sichuan restaurant anywhere outside of Sichuan, even if it's Mainland China, where people routinely ask, "Not so hot, okay?" To me, it's like going to a French restaurant and asking, "Can ya cut down on the butter?" "How long do you want your sashimi cooked?" I sorta hate being asked, "Do you want it spicy?" Just make the food like it's supposed to taste.

    On the authenticity thing, I think it should only come into play if there's a claim to authenticity. If you are Sichuanese and run a Sichuan restaurant and the chef is from Sichuan and you put a classical Sichuan dish on the menu, that's as much a claim as anything that it's the real deal, that it's authentic. So, you need to back it up. The chef is from Sichuan, cook it like it's cooked in Sichuan, unless someone specifically makes a request that it be cooked otherwise. If I'm ordering twice-cooked pork in a Chinese restaurant with an English menu heavy on the pineapple pork and ginger beef and the chef is from Guangdong, well... there's not really a claim to authenticity, is there? But, I mean, Chuan Xiang Ge has the characters 正宗 zhèngzōng, authentic, right on their board, so there's a claim to authenticity, which I think deserves to be backed up (the sign also says 新派 xīnpài, new school, though-- to me, zhèngzōng and xīnpài are almost opposites. I want 老派 lǎopài, old school!).

    I definitely prefer S+W, though. I like the clarity of the flavors, the simplicity of the dishes, the willingness to be over-the-top, even. I like the atmosphere of the place better, Formica tables and a steady buzz of conversation and the sounds from the kitchen. But... if you want to talk about authenticity, even S+W falls down on some tiny details.

    22 Replies
    1. re: DylanLK
      fmed Mar 23, 2010 03:38 PM

      I'm glad you posted DylanLK. You provided excellent perspective - especially validated with your recent extended stay in China.

      S&W definitely did fall down on a few minor details, but not at the expense of Sichuan-ess. I look at authenticity two ways: as some sort of spectrum or some sort of filter.

      In terms of a filter, some places are attempting to appeal to a foreign palate (we have quite a number of those places here). There was definitely some of that going on at CXG. I'm glad that you provided some context for the flavour profile we experienced yesterday. I reinforces my belief that I need to go there once more for dinner and be more explicit with the staff.

      I think you and I talked a bit about how the white onions were square cut, and other such nigglies re: S&W Pepperhouse. That's using the other measure of authenticity, IMO. As you say, the dishes had a clarity of flavour that CXG did not have. There are even differences between the two locations of S&W - the Burnaby location performs better than Richmond in most criteria.

      The negotiation of chili heat, etc is a common thing even within the native locale. I do believe in some sort of baseline for these kinds of things....below which, the measure stops being a mere preference.

      BTW I'm certainly game for a second dinner there.

      1. re: fmed
        d
        DylanLK Mar 23, 2010 06:12 PM

        Negotiation of chili heat is okay, but there needs to be a pretty narrow range for everything to still taste okay.

        Last night, the waitress mentioned that there's a Taiwanese girl that's been there a lot, and has a bunch of pictures on her blog. I checked when I got home and found these:

        A record of four or five visits to Chuan Xiang Ge, with a few notes on possible inconsistencies, but she absolutely raves about a few dishes, like the 口水鸡 kǒushuǐ jī: http://www.wretch.cc/blog/blackrumba/15884546 -- and there's some debate in the comments about Golden Spring (Chinese name: 小四川 Xiǎo Sìchuān) vs. Chuan Xiang Ge.

        Another post about Chuan Xiang Ge, which has some beautiful looking dishes I need to try, like Geleshan-style spicy chicken 歌乐山辣子鸡 Gēlèshān làzijī, and spicy leg of pork 香辣霸王肘 xiānglà bàwáng zhǒu, and "kidney flowers" 火爆腰花 huǒbào yāohuā: http://www.wretch.cc/blog/blackrumba/15747184

        Also, here's her visit to Golden Spring/ 小四川 Xiǎo Sìchuān: http://www.wretch.cc/blog/blackrumba/... ... the comments feature some great gossip!

        1. re: DylanLK
          fmed Mar 23, 2010 06:17 PM

          Those dishes look stunning. Nice photography. I wish I can read it. Can you summarize the Golden Spring vs CXG debate?

          1. re: fmed
            d
            DylanLK Mar 23, 2010 06:49 PM

            From the first post:

            -- 暫停了一陣子再去﹐還是覺得不錯的。而且跟「小四川」相比﹐我們還是覺得「川香閣」好吃多了。 After going back to Chuan Xiang Ge after a break, we thought it was pretty good [she said that on the last visit, there was a lack of freshness]. If you compare it to Golden Spring, we thought Chuan Xiang Ge was way better.

            -- 還有另外一間滿有名的川菜叫小四川, 我很久以前就吃過幾次﹐那時候覺得滿好吃的, 最近又吃一次小四川﹐但是相比之下我們比較川香閣 ^_^ There's another pretty famous Sichuan place called Golden Spring. I went there quite a while ago and thought it was great. But recently, I went back and, now that I could compare it to another place, I found Chuan Xiang Ge was better. :)

            Someone else says: 小四川我很久以前吃過一次 不過後來還是吃回老四川 因為我愛吃孜然羊肉 印象中小四川的炒的太乾了 比較喜歡老四川的 川香閣的也是很好吃 不過我婆婆比較喜歡川香閣 (由其是他那裡播的音樂 哈! 還有沸騰魚啦!) 所以以後應該會比較常去吃川香閣吧 I ate once at Golden Spring before, quite a while ago. But after that, I went back to Golden Szechuan [Chinese name is 老四川 Lǎo Sìchuān-- kinda funny, since it means Big, or Old Sichuan, while the Chinese name of Golden Spring is Little Sichuan]. I loved the cumin lamb there. I found the stirfried dishes at Golden Spring too dry. Golden Szechuan became my first choice. Chuan Xiang Ge is quite good, too, though. But my mother-in-law prefers Chuan Xiang Ge (part of that is the music, though, but the water boiled fish, too). So, I'll probably end up going to Chuan Xiang Ge more in the future.

            Original blogger says: 小四川現在真的還滿不行的 但是生意很好﹐大概是名字做出來了吧﹐位置也不錯川香閣的位置就不好﹐知道的人才會去吃 川香閣的音樂很old school﹐不過我會跟著哼XD Golden Spring has gotten really bad recently. But their business is so good. Basically it's because they've built up their name. Their location is decent, too. Chuan Xiang Ge has terrible location. Anybody who finds it, ends up going there to eat, though. Ha, Chuan Xiang Ge's music really is very old school, but I dig it.

            1. re: DylanLK
              fmed Mar 23, 2010 07:12 PM

              Interesting. Thanks Dylan. I definitely would like to give it another go now.

              PS Golden Szechuan used to be good - then something changed.

              1. re: fmed
                d
                DylanLK Mar 23, 2010 07:26 PM

                This is my slightly abridge translation of her Golden Spring aka Xiao Sichuan review. I bet you know the place she's talking about in Coquitlam, if anybody does.

                The original: http://www.wretch.cc/blog/blackrumba/...

                Translation:

                You could say Golden Spring is the most famous local Sichuan restaurant, right? The first time I went there was a long time ago. Back then, going to Golden Spring was a long drive away, in distant Coquitlam. The place was pretty rundown but we'd heard that it had great food. I remember the woman in charge asking us if we wanted milder dishes or the real thing. I thought I was pretty good at eating spice, so I ordered "normal spicy," but by the end of the meal, I was weeping and sniffling. I guess our conception of level of spiciness is too different from how Sichuanese feel. Even though my mouth was burning, I still thought everything was delicious.

                In the end, Golden Spring opened a branch in Richmond. I went quite a few times. But, again, it was a few years ago. The dishes didn't seem as spicy as in Coquitlam, and they didn't taste as good. I didn't know if it was the chef's fault, or if I was just prejudiced against restaurants that open branches. Oh yeah, I wonder if that Coquitlam branch is still open.

                These days, if I go out to eat Sichuan food, it's usually Chuan Xiang Ge. So, when I go to Golden Spring, it's only natural that I compare it to Chuan Xiang Ge. When you compare the two, we all say that Chuan Xiang Ge is better. I've also heard people say that Golden Spring isn't as good as it used to be.

                Fuqi feipian (husband and wife lung slices) -- The same as before, with more cilantro than meat. The flavor of the dish seemed more pedestrian this time and getting constant mouthfuls of cilantro was really too much.

                Gongbao jiding (kungpao chicken) -- I don't understand how a real Sichuanese opens a Sichuan restaurant and gives us this kind of kungpao chicken. It wasn't spicy. It wasn't numbing. There were almost no peanuts and the few in the dish weren't crispy. The dish was filled with a sourness reminiscent of a jarred chili sauce. This is completely different from the kungpao chicken at Chuan Xiang Ge.

                Huoguo yu (hot pot fish) -- This was sole or flounder with a thick layer of breading [not 100% sure if that's what the sentence means]. I remember that the last time, this dish was quite good, but this time it was nothing special. Is that my problem or the restaurant's problem?

                Suan ni bairou (cold boiled pork with garlic) -- Even if it was carefully presented and beautifully garnished, it didn't taste as good as Chuan Xiang Ge's version.

                Zhangchaya (tea smoked duck) -- Tender meat, fragrant and flavorful. This is food made at high level. This is the best dish we had.

                Yuxiang qiezi (fish flavor eggplant) -- I think the chef must have slipped when he added the vinegar to the dish. I've never tasted fish flavor eggplant that was this sour.

                Chashu gugan shaoji (dried tea tree mushrooms and roast chicken) -- I think this was a chef's recommendation on the menu, or recommended on a sign. The picture on the menu caught my attention. The final outcome was disastrous. First, it looked nothing like the picture. Second, the flavor was simply oppressive, kind of like lazi ji (spicy chicken), where bone-in chicken is dry-fried. But the flavor just wasn't any good. The tea tree mushrooms were very sparse. I wanted to apologize to my dinner companions for ordering this.

                -----

                Someone commented on her post and said: "The Richmond Xiǎo Sìchuān (Golden Spring) isn't a branch. After the husband-and-wife team who ran Xiǎo Sìchuān in Coquitlam divorced, the husband came to Richmond to open his own place. Since he was the cook, the original Xiǎo Sìchuān ended up becoming quite rubbish after he left."

                1. re: DylanLK
                  fmed Mar 23, 2010 07:34 PM

                  I do know about the original place in Coquitlam, though I never had a chance to eat there. Some of my Chinese friends first told me about it a while back and alerted me to its "move" to Richmond.

                  Thanks again for the translation. Great knowledgeable reviews in those posts.

                  1. re: fmed
                    d
                    DylanLK Mar 24, 2010 03:19 AM

                    http://www.westca.com/Forums/viewtopi...

                    More good pictures there, and a review by a real Sichuanese.

                    I had the Beichuan liangfen that some reviews have talked about and it's really, really good. Ice cold bean jelly floating in a puddle of chili oil and ground hua jiao. I also tried the chopped chili fish that he mentions-- except I had fish head.

                    My slightly abridged translation here (I just translated the bits about food):

                    A new Sichuan restaurant and I still haven't gone. With nowhere to go and no one to see, I decided to call up a couple friends and check it out.

                    The restaurant is tucked away in a corner. Not much foot traffic. The entrance is tiny, too. If you aren't paying attention, it's easy to cruise past it. Stepping inside, the first thing you notice is the newness of the decorations, as well as the cleanliness. This is a place with a lot of promise. But it was dinnertime and the place was empty.

                    The waitress and the chef both came out to greet us. They were both originally from Sichuan. We started chatting in thick, local Sichuan dialect. We ordered a few dishes, a couple homestyle dishes and a couple that the chef recommended: fuqi feipian (husband-and-wife lung slices), Beichuan liangfen (northern Sichuan bean jelly), duojiaoyu (chopped chilis fish), mao xue wang (an offal hot pot dish), yuxiang qiezi (fish flavor eggplant), jingjiang rousi (strips of pork with bean paste). When the dishes came to the table, they looked pretty good. Also, each one had its own unique color and hue. Based on this alone, the chef is quite worthy of his title.

                    Fuqi feipian, duojiao yu, shuizhu niurou (water boiled beef), and the mao xue wang weren't bad. Maybe the problem is that the chef is taking into account the tastes of customers that aren't from Sichuan. The flavors tended toward the bland. But on the whole, the dishes were quite polished.

                    Word on the street is that this place also sells marinated rabbit's head. I got excited when I heard that. I remember, back when I was in Chengdu, going driving out to Shuangliu [county town on the outskirts of Chengdu] in my friend's Suzuki Alto to buy rabbit's head. Next time I stop by, I'll definitely pick some up. Nothing better than watching TV while gnawing on rabbit's head.

                    [If anyone else here reads Chinese and notices glaring errors in these translations, feel free to correct me!]

                    1. re: DylanLK
                      fmed Mar 24, 2010 07:42 AM

                      I did see rabbits head on the menu IIRC. I recall reading about rabbit's head in Fuschia Dunlop's book "Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper". She had it the first time in a moment of drunkeness.

                      These reviews are mostly validating our own observations about the food here. The first few reviews you posted were by non-Sichuanese which may explain the differing expectations and experiences about the food.

                      1. re: fmed
                        PolarBear Mar 24, 2010 04:19 PM

                        Fmed, I'm curious. I keep seeing "water boiled fish" mentioned in Sichuan places in both Vancouver and SF. I know the "water boiled" label is a translation that is applied to beef (and other dishes?) and those unfamiliar with the cuisine should not assign a literal meaning to. But I'm wondering if this might be a general description for a white fish soup that we've come to love made by our local gem, Chef Liu at Hunan. We've given it many nicknames, "soup of a thousand deaths", "1,000 chile fish soup", etc. In fact it is not all that hot (unless you let the leftovers marinate) even though it is presented completely covered with red chiles, there is a mild heat and a definite note of ginger (love the little chunks). It is full of delicious white fish filets and glass noodles. Are these two different animals (er pesces?)

                        1. re: PolarBear
                          fmed Mar 24, 2010 05:07 PM

                          "Water boiled" dishes are classic Sichuan preparation and called "shuizhu" (水煮)...."shuizhu yu" 水煮鱼 for water boiled fish. For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar, it is a dish inspired by Sichuan hot pot and often uses a chili and Sichuan peppercorn oil broth with thin tender slices of meat/fish/chicken and vegetables (usually something like shredded cabbage and sprouted soy beans). And as you say, it isn't as spicy as it looks.

                          "1000 chile soup" or "soup of a thousand deaths" sure sounds like a water boiled dish.

                          I have certainly not had all the permutations of this dish, but I can see an interpretation using glass noodles. Whether or not it crosses a boundary and should rightly be a dish with a different name - I don't know. My bible for Sichuan cookery ("Land of Plenty" by Fushchia Dunlop) calls for "fresh and crucnchy" vegetables.

                           
                           
                           
                          1. re: fmed
                            PolarBear Mar 24, 2010 05:13 PM

                            Fmed, thanks so much. The only difference I see in your photos is the complete dominance of red chiles that covers our rendition. These of course are scraped off the top prior to serving (I have them saved to take home and freeze) . What drives me crazy about this dish is how striking and subtle it can be at the same time.

                            1. re: PolarBear
                              fmed Mar 24, 2010 05:19 PM

                              Yes CXG toned it down for us, unfortunately. It should look more like this:

                              (Though the picture you see is a very similar dish - almost an analog of water boiled...called "mao xue wang" - a dish of offal in the same type of chili-oil broth which we had at S&W Pepperhouse in Burnaby)

                               
                              1. re: fmed
                                d
                                DylanLK Mar 24, 2010 06:03 PM

                                Also called 沸腾鱼 fèiténg yú on some menus....

                                Here's a super closeup picture of waterboiled fish with glass noodles (粉丝水煮鱼): http://i7.meishichina.com/Eat/UploadF...

                                1. re: DylanLK
                                  fmed Mar 24, 2010 06:23 PM

                                  The URL does seem to work as linked...let's try this:

                                   
                                2. re: fmed
                                  PolarBear Mar 24, 2010 06:03 PM

                                  Yes, matches the look of the fish soup. Funny, I've ordered the Quong Qing Chicken, covered totally by the red chiiis, so much that you could not determine what was beneath, and chuclkled at the look on peoples faces passing by not comprehending how I (an anglo) could even attempt to eat something that "dangerous" looking.

                                  1. re: fmed
                                    grayelf Mar 24, 2010 06:21 PM

                                    Another great Sichuan eating and learning experience for me and the SO -- thanks guys!

                                    I think I ate 2/3 of the water boiled fish by myself -- it was outstanding to my palate, though it certainly lacked any heat or ma la. No noodles but lots of bean sprouts underneath.

                                    I agree with all of fmed and dylank's observations (the crispy rice dish and the pickled pork did have a bit too much thickener though nowhere near what you get in really "Cantonized" Sichuan restaurants locally -- and BTW I think the crispy rice dish was chicken not pork).

                                    The noodles in the dan dan were lovely but I'm beginning to think I don't love the taste of that much hua jiao (Sichuan peppercorn). Although they were very fresh and citrusy here, I just find the flavour is not my favourite. I do love the ensuing numbness, so I'm not gonna stop eating 'em :-).

                                    The twice cooked pork itself here was my favourite, though I think I like the version at the Burnaby S&W the best, if that makes any sense, particularly the addition of tofu which allowed more of the flavour of the prep to make it into my beak.

                                    The spuds were exemplary but be warned that the serving is ginormous -- we had more than 2/3 left by the end and it wasn't because we didn't like it. This dish would probably serve 6-8.

                                    I was a bit sad that our rice never came, as it would have been nice to have with many of the dishes we ordered. The tea here is very good and we all drank lots of it.

                            2. re: fmed
                              c
                              clutterer Mar 24, 2010 10:43 PM

                              As it turns out, Shanti of "Show Shanti" is doing a posts from Chengdu now. Here's her post on rabbit's head: http://showshanti.com/eating-rabbit-h...

                              1. re: clutterer
                                fmed Mar 25, 2010 07:06 AM

                                Great blog! (Boy - Chengdu looks very different now)

                          2. re: fmed
                            j
                            jcolvin Mar 29, 2010 02:06 AM

                            The "original" location around 506 Cottonwood is still open (it's called the "Spring NEW Szechuan" now) and it is still great, better than the Richmond one IMHO. It's small and looks like a hole-in-the-wall but fabulous (I always get the boiled beef which kicks my ass). Rumor is that what happened was the original was run by a couple who split, one half opened the Richmond location and one half stayed put.

                            1. re: jcolvin
                              fmed Mar 29, 2010 07:31 AM

                              The husband-chef purportedly moved his operation to the Richmond location. Will have to check out Spring New Szechuan...but it's so far. Is it still the same operator? (Didn't it close for while?)

                              1. re: fmed
                                j
                                jcolvin Mar 30, 2010 06:57 PM

                                Still the same AFAIK. It's good stuff.

            2. _
              _js_ Mar 25, 2010 08:58 PM

              fmed,
              Have you tried New Chongqing on W41st (London Drugs)? How does it compare? I'm not an expert in Sichuan cuisine and don't have much experience with it.

              3 Replies
              1. re: _js_
                fmed Mar 25, 2010 09:15 PM

                No I haven't tried it, but a person whose palate I trust gave it a ho-hum review. To summarize - he said that some of the classics were not particularly well executed, and there was some adjusting of flavours to suit local palates....however, that was after only one meal. Neither of this means that the food isn't tasty, of course. His expectations of regional Chinese cuisine are pretty particular -- he lives in China most of each year. (Dave - are you around reading this?) Worth a shot, IMO.

                (BTW - the westside branch of S&W Pepperhouse used to occupy that location.)

                1. re: fmed
                  _
                  _js_ Mar 25, 2010 09:58 PM

                  Thanks. I had occasion to eat there once but ordered just a couple of appetizer dishes (spiced beef, sliced pork belly with chili garlic sauce). Didn't have enough people to order any of the big dishes.

                  It was a temple of chili peppers and smelled very cumin-y inside.

                  1. re: _js_
                    fmed Mar 25, 2010 10:14 PM

                    Thanks for that _js_. It may be worth getting a few people together to give it a fair shake.

              2. d
                DylanLK Mar 27, 2010 12:40 AM

                I went here early Friday night with a friend, who was born in Chengdu. We ordered "Diced Rabbit Meat with Dried Tangerine Peel" 陈皮兔丁-- as soon as we said that, the waitress jogged back to the kitchen and got things going, because she said it takes a while-- and a couple smaller things, 北川凉粉 Northern Sichuan bean jelly, which I should have recommended the night of the Minidown, and some stirfried cabbage. We also got a plate of century egg 皮蛋 and stirfried green pepper (I never know what to call it, it's the long, slightly pale green pepper) on the house.

                I've only eaten rabbit once before in my adult life, a grilled rabbit bought at the famous food market in Kaifeng, Henan Province. So, that's my rabbit history right there. This dish was big ol' chunks of rabbit braised (I think the Chinese word is 焖 mèn and I bet someone here can explain it better than me, but I think it suggests a relatively quick, covered cooking of something, with a lot of liquid-- the next step up would be 炖 dùn, which I think of as straight ahead stewing something) with dried tangerine peel (now, the cool thing is that this restaurant is beside first, an exotic meat place [rabbit], 2, a dried goods/Chinese medicine store [tangerine peel] ), with some anise in there, too, and lots of chili, floating in a brick red gravy shimmery with a milky way of chili oil and grease bubbles. This was good.

                19 Replies
                1. re: DylanLK
                  fmed Mar 27, 2010 01:54 AM

                  I've only had rabbit in European recipes. Eager to try it. Also eager to try their bean jelly (chuan bei liang fen?). The best ones I've had so far was served at Hot Luck in Bby.

                  Doing a Google Translate on 焖 mèn - it means "braise" - so the cooking liquid comes partway up the meat. Whereas 炖 dùn is "stew" - implies to me to have more cooking liquid and thus the meat is fully covered while simmering.

                  1. re: fmed
                    b
                    bdachow Mar 27, 2010 01:05 PM

                    Fmed, "mun" is correct in braising. But "dun" is a little more complex. From whenever my mother "duns" something, it's almost like double boiled. For example, those little black silkie birds, she places in a small ceramic container with goji berries, etc and water and places the entire ceramic pot inside a slow cooker or another pot filled with water which is then placed on the heat.

                    Anyone else can provide insight as to whether this is correct?

                    1. re: bdachow
                      d
                      DylanLK Mar 27, 2010 01:43 PM

                      I know that 炖 dùn can refer to two things. It can be, like you said, putting food in some kind of vessel and then putting it in a pot, like a double boiler. That's called 隔水炖 géshuǐ dùn (separate from water stew), and then there's simply stewing,

                      I never know the specific, 100% strict definition of these words, though, since they're used so loosely most of the time.

                      1. re: DylanLK
                        fmed Mar 27, 2010 04:11 PM

                        To further confuse the issue, I'll paraphrase Fuschia Dunlop (pp 38-39, Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook)

                        qing dun = "clear stewing" = main ingredient is fried in oil and aromatics, then a generous amount of liquid is added (eg water), brought to a boil, then simmer gently till cooked. That sounds like a standard stewing method to me.

                        mun/men = main ingredient is fried in oil and aromatics, add some liquid, then simmer covered till cooked. It sounds like a braise and is often a stage in other cooking methods).

                        wei = (sound more like bdachow's Mom's double-boil method or geshui dun) = main ingredients fried in oil and aromatics, then the food is simmered very slowly in a clay pot with some liquid - meant to simulate the slow, gentle cooking of a farmhouse fire.

                        shao = is what I would call a short braise = fry main ingredients in oil and aromatics, then add a modest amount of liquid. Cooking time is shorter that wei, and final amount of liquid is less than mun. If using a caramel or soya for braising liquid, it is called hong shao or "red-braise" (as in Mao's Red Cooked Pork)

                        1. re: DylanLK
                          b
                          bdachow Mar 28, 2010 10:31 AM

                          Yes, I'd have to agree that my experience with it has probably been pretty loose and fast. Having grown up learning colloquial Cantonese, you're probably correct.

                          This is a very interesting conversation and I'd have to say that I've learned a lot.

                    2. re: DylanLK
                      fmed Mar 28, 2010 05:07 PM

                      I was there for lunch today. As a bit of an experiment, I showed the server this on my iPhone:

                      给我做正宗的川菜。

                      DylanLK provided me with that translation for "Cook authentic Sichuan food for me." - Thanks D!. I augmented that message with some clunky verbiage, and awkward gesticulations. (The server today was not fluent in English and I don't speak a word of Mandarin).

                      It worked. (Later on, the chef popped out of the kitchen and recognized me from previous visits and waved.)

                      I ordered Diced Rabbit Meat (太婆兔丁 - not the one with dried tangerine peel); North Sichuan Bean Jelly (川北涼粉 ); and The Pork Belly on Preserved Vegetables (咸燒白). All executed very well and not a trace of the usual compromises. The flavours overall (in particular the heat) were very well-balance and truly Sichuan. The standout dish was the pork belly - fantastic, melt in your mouth and deliciously pungent from the vegetable pickle. I'm not sure what the pickle was (it could be just the leafy part of ya cai). It reminded me of taro leaf pickle from other cuisines.

                      I was mostly alone in the restaurant. While I was there, a few tables filled up with predominantly Cantonese speaking diners. Most of them ordered definitely un-Sichuan looking chow mein type dishes. It is really no wonder that the chef is a bit shy in serving the real deal right off the bat.

                      Chaun Xiang Ge is a definite keeper.

                       
                       
                       
                       
                      1. re: fmed
                        d
                        DylanLK Mar 28, 2010 11:04 PM

                        Man, that pork belly looks amazing. I love it sliced that way, rather than in cubes.

                        Glad I could help with that! The last time I was there, I did see lots of dishes of coming out of the kitchen that looked like they were coming from another kitchen entirely. I agree that must be part of the issue. If people aren't even ordering Sichuan dishes, you gotta be shy to bust out anything remotely pungent or spicy.

                        1. re: fmed
                          b
                          bdachow Mar 29, 2010 10:14 AM

                          I love my pork belly that way. Just melt in your mouth and with all the fatty bits to savour. A heart attack on a plate but hey, you only live once. Oh yummy, I definitely need to start planning a trip home again.

                          1. re: fmed
                            d
                            DylanLK Apr 17, 2010 11:22 PM

                            I was just thinking about this place.

                            I've decided the menu for the next time I go:

                            Hot and sour pickled long beans with minced pork
                            Sliced pork kidney "flowers"
                            Mapo doufu
                            Pork intestine with green peppers
                            Stewed rabbit with chili

                            1. re: DylanLK
                              grayelf Apr 18, 2010 08:33 AM

                              Another mini-down? Unless you're planing on eating all that yourself -- those portions might be too big even for you, dylan:-).

                              1. re: grayelf
                                fmed Apr 18, 2010 09:17 AM

                                I'm down for a down (depending on the day).

                                1. re: grayelf
                                  r
                                  repartee Apr 18, 2010 09:39 AM

                                  Sounds good to me.

                                2. re: DylanLK
                                  fmed Apr 18, 2010 07:24 PM

                                  Well...grayelf, DylanLK, and I had an impromptu micro-down today here at CXG. We ordered the Sliced Pork Kidney Flowers 火爆腰花, Mapo Tofu 麻婆豆腐, Stewed Rabbit with Chili (太婆兔丁), and the Cold Chicken with Chile (重庆钵钵鸡 ?).

                                  The standout was clearly the Sliced Pork Kidney Flowers (often called "Fire Exploded Kidney " 火爆腰花 huo bao yao hua ). Only a mere hint of "offalyness"...the texture was tender like a perfectly cooked squid, and the sauce was quite nuanced despite the chilies - slightly sweet and oily.

                                  Oddly, I found that the mapo tofu 麻婆豆腐 to be the least successful dish.

                                   
                                   
                                   
                                  1. re: fmed
                                    n
                                    Nancee Swartz Apr 18, 2010 11:46 PM

                                    Original blogger says: 小四川現在真的還滿不行的 但是生意很好﹐大概是名字做出來了吧﹐位置也不錯川香閣的位置就不好﹐知道的人才會去吃 川香閣的音樂很old school﹐不過我會跟著哼XD
                                    I had a decent meal at Golden Spring so I am not sure why they are getting bad reviews. I also really appreciate their quick service, we have been there for casual business meetings.

                                    1. re: Nancee Swartz
                                      fmed Apr 19, 2010 03:12 AM

                                      I've only had good meals there at Golden Spring 小四川 too Nancee. It may be time to pop in again now that CXG has been almost fully covered.

                                    2. re: fmed
                                      d
                                      DylanLK Apr 19, 2010 01:46 AM

                                      Yeah, the kidneys were awesome. Really, really good. If anyone out there is scared of kidneys having a hardcore offal stink on them, try these ones out. I dig kidney but I'm hesitant to order it in restaurants 'cause if you get something that's not fresh, it's inedible.

                                      The cold chicken dish was 口水鸡 kǒushuǐ jī ("saliva chicken"), on the menu as 走地口水鸡 zǒudì kǒushuǐ jī. 走地 zǒudì means "free range." I like the combination of cold and spicy, which is also something you get in the Northern Sichuan-style bean jelly dish. But I prefer this.

                                      Cold cooked chicken is one of those things that puts me off on the first bite, the sliminess of the cold skin, the gelatinous bits hidden in all the nooks and crannies but after getting into it, the weirdness stays there but I dig that and I start to appreciate it. Does that make any sense? I like that there's still something sorta offputting about the texture.

                                      The mapo touf, I dunno... I don't think it's absolutely 100% forbidden to thicken it a bit. Well, hell, it might be, but I've seen it thickened by Sichuan chefs before. A good amount of oil is key, though.

                                      Forget the texture, I think it was lacking in flavor. For me, at least. I like it to be absolutely stinking of Pixian-style bean sauce and full of cockroach-sized fermented broad beans, and hopefully some whole cloves of garlic or garlic shoots in there, too, and it's gotta have a good handful of meat tossed in, too (pork or beef, whatever).

                                      1. re: DylanLK
                                        fmed Apr 19, 2010 02:53 AM

                                        I concede on the texture (though I think that there was way too much thickener here). I was expecting a more robust flavour in the mapo tofu. It was a bit bland. It definitely lacked the fermented bean flavour and saltiness. Some more doubanjiang 辣豆瓣酱 too (the Pixian kind 郫县豆瓣酱 ideally made purely with fava beans instead of soybean/favabean mix.) I like it dressed with ground meat cooked to a crisp too....like you often get with dan dan mian.)

                                        I love cold poached chicken as Hainan chicken rice is one of my favourite dishes. I specifically seek places that serve the chicken with a thick gelatinous layer under the skin.

                                        1. re: fmed
                                          d
                                          DylanLK Apr 19, 2010 10:38 AM

                                          The texture wasn't thrilling me, either. Definitely on the starchy, globby side.

                                          It's actually a dish I make a lot at home, so I've thought about the mechanics of it. I don't bother using any thickener and it has enough body, by itself. Real Pixian doubanjiang is one of my favorite flavors ever-- yeah, no soybeans in there is key, just favas.

                                          I attached a picture of my favorite mapo tofu in the world. It looks pretty whitebread, but a quick stir reveals a ton of fava beans, crushed cloves of garlic, beef. It's a different version from the oil slick one that dominates in the Motherland, and it's not thickened either (or it's thickened with very subtly). The flavor has a definite twang to it, too, from the doubanjiang, and richness from the beef.

                                          Golden Spring, I've still never been, and I need to check it out soon.

                                           
                                           
                                          1. re: DylanLK
                                            fmed Apr 19, 2010 11:30 AM

                                            "Golden Spring, I've still never been, and I need to check it out soon."
                                            PM me.

                              2. d
                                DylanLK Feb 15, 2011 03:19 PM

                                Gone.

                                 
                                4 Replies
                                1. re: DylanLK
                                  m
                                  miss.foodie Feb 15, 2011 04:30 PM

                                  Aw.... so sad! I really enjoyed the spice heads chowdown there last month when I was in town visiting. I really liked their sichuan cold noodles and their mouthwatering chicken.

                                  1. re: DylanLK
                                    fmed Feb 15, 2011 07:22 PM

                                    Alas, the rumours were true.

                                    1. re: DylanLK
                                      chowtimes Feb 15, 2011 09:06 PM

                                      For old time sake ...

                                      http://chowtimes.com/wp-content/uploa...

                                      1. re: DylanLK
                                        oiboy Feb 19, 2011 02:24 PM

                                        Didn't realize they closed till today and called them. It's now a Korean restaurant. Or so says the guy at the end of the phone line. I will miss the cute chilli characters as well as their saliva chicken.

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