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Sichuan in Seattle

lavaca May 15, 2010 07:02 PM

A few years ago, I read Fuchsia Dunlop's book, Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper. I then went out and bought a copy of Land of Plenty. Although Uwajimaya happily sells just about everything you need to cook Sichuan food at home, I quickly realized that my apartment's electric stove was not exactly designed for authentic Chinese cooking methods. As a result, I have had to farm out my Sichuan meals to local restaurants. Here's what I've found so far:

Sichuanese Cuisine (ID): Not very exciting, at least if you don't order hotpot (that's what all of the Asian folks in the restaurant seemed to have done).

Chiang's Gourmet: Surprisingly good, given that Sichuan isn't really the focus. Certain dishes seem a bit pricey (e.g. lamb), and the staff has occasionally tried to talk me out of ordering things like pork belly and offal, but I am almost always happy with the food. The spicy stuff is genuinely spicy, if not tinglingly-so.

Szechuan Chef: Apparently it used to be good, but I can't say that I was very impressed when I ate there.

Spicy Talk: This is where the former owners of Szechuan Chef went. I've been underwhelmed both times I visited, first by the pork with pickled vegetables and secondly by the dan dan mein (I was hoping for ya cai and ma la, but all I got was chicken and sesame seeds).

Szechuan Noodle Bowl: If you ignore the first part of the name, it is pretty good. The dan dan mein is just noodles in sesame paste, but the other things I've eaten there have been tasty.

Bamboo Garden: Probably the best so far, but they were stingy with the Sichuan peppercorns even for supposedly spicy dishes from the "wild side" menu. Still, it's a decent lead.

So far, the only really good Sichuan food I've had in the area was from Utopia Cafe. Despite the fact that I'm a beer-drinking white guy with a beard, they happily gave me full-on spicy food that actually delivered on the promise of Fuchsia Dunlop's recipes. Alas, it has already been replaced by a generic-looking Vietnamese restaurant.

My remaining leads are Spiced, on the far side of Bellevue, and Three Sisters, in Tacoma. Is that really it? Where do you guys go for authentic Sichuan? Do you have any tips for getting places like Bamboo Garden and Spicy Talk not to assume that you're just some sweet-and-sour-pork-eating sissy?

-----
Szechuan Chef
15015 Main St, Bellevue, WA 98007

Bamboo Garden
202 106th Pl NE, Bellevue, WA 98004

Szechuan Noodle Bowl
420 8th Ave S, Seattle, WA 98104

  1. maybelle May 16, 2010 09:36 AM

    I'm reading Shark's Fin and Sichuan Peppers right now! And, coincidentally, we passed by Chiang's Gourmet and decided to give it a go. I'd been once before about a year ago and remember having a really great "casserole" dish. Anyway, we had the Pork Belly in brown sauce and the Ja-jiang mien. The pork belly was good and not too sweet, but not as soft as I would have liked. The noodles were wonderfully garlicky with just a hint of spicy hotness. What else would you recommend there?

    1 Reply
    1. re: maybelle
      lavaca May 16, 2010 09:11 PM

      My three favorite dishes at Chiang's Gourmet:
      -Pork with pickled vegetables
      -Noodles with pork and drybean curd (is that the ja-jiang mien you ordered?)
      -Cold spicy beef

    2. j
      Jeffo405 May 16, 2010 12:13 PM

      What about Seven Stars Pepper Szechuan? I've heard great things but have never been. Also, the last time I went to Sichuanese Cuisine (ID), which admittedly has been a while, it was the closest I'd ever had to the food I had in and around Beijing...

      -----
      Seven Stars Pepper Szechuan Restaurant
      1917 S Jackson St, Seattle, WA

      Sichuanese Cuisine Restaurant
      1048 S Jackson St, Seattle, WA 98104

      1. c
        christy319 May 16, 2010 04:37 PM

        Just become a regular at BG and keep assuring them you like it spicy. I imagine, in that location in downtown Belleuve, they get enough American customers that can't deal with heat, so I think they play it safe if they don't know you. I like BG more than places that are Chowhound favorites in NYC and the SF Bay area.

        I'd love a report on Spiced if you make it there. I'm not sure how 7 Stars is anymore--we defected to BG long ago.

        1. h
          HungWeiLo May 16, 2010 06:12 PM

          I've been interested to try Spicy Talk. Despite what you say, I'll probably still go and give them a spin.

          Spiced is probably more heavy on the spices than Bamboo Garden, but the ingredients used at Spiced is inferior. Everything tasted a bit starchy to me. Although their cold dish selection ($6 to fill a bowl) is pretty nice.

          Szechwan Noodle Bowl doesn't work for me. It tasted like plain noodles and ingredients with spice sauce added on as an afterthought.

          My current fave is Szechwan 99 in Lynnwood. About the same fire level as BG but with even better and fresher ingredients. The handmade tofu in their bean curd fish is pretty hard to beat - silky and almost melts in your mouth amidst the spice and peppercorns. Their spicy beef noodle soup is great for lunch.

          -----
          Bamboo Garden
          202 106th Pl NE, Bellevue, WA 98004

          1 Reply
          1. re: HungWeiLo
            lavaca May 16, 2010 09:03 PM

            To be fair, Spicy Talk is probably a better experience if you don't go in with Sichuan on your mind like I did (and/or if you don't show up at 2 PM on a Saturday). I may give it another shot simply because the prices are reasonable and it's the only reputable Chinese place I know of in downtown Redmond.

          2. s
            seattleviking May 16, 2010 06:17 PM

            I'm a fan of Szechuan 99 in Lynnwood. It's the same chef as the old Szechan Bean Flower. They were better when they were Bean Flower but they are still good. They were just not Americanized when they were Bean Flower but they still do have some great Szechuan dishes. The chef specialties are reliable. The house special bean curd dishes are stand outs. Red Pepper chicken or Szechuan chicken are really good. Seafood delight while not spicy is excellent. Hot braised beef is a good one, too. If you stay away from the dishes that are demanded by the American diner and look for the chef special icon on the menu you can eat really, really, well at 99.

            -----
            Szechuan 99
            6124 200th St SW, Lynnwood, WA 98036

            2 Replies
            1. re: seattleviking
              h
              HungWeiLo May 16, 2010 11:25 PM

              I actually applaud their decision to go Americanized - it keeps them in business longer to do what they're good at. I smile at the diners getting their bigass plates of sweet and sour chicken, secretly thanking them for subsidizing my bean curd beef or fish.

              1. re: HungWeiLo
                ericlutzker May 17, 2010 01:12 PM

                slightly off topic but maybe you guys will know: does the dish i used to get at szechuan restaurants in the 70's as shrimp with chili sauce come under a different name now? i'm talking about the simple orange sauce slightly corn-starchy, heavy on ginger with garlic and chilis, only green onions for vegetable, often a little broccoli for garnish. best with lots of large prawns (though on east coast menus in my youth they were all called shrimp) a couple of restaurants in town that i have found carry it under the name i'm accustomed to (chiang's gourmet and chef liao) but they aren't quite how i remember it. hunan in portland makes a rendition that is spot on though. i know it's probably not authentically szechuan but it seems it used to be a standard on american-chinese menus that purported to specialize in szechuan and now isn't. any information you have to share would be appreciated. thanks.

            2. j
              jenn May 17, 2010 02:23 PM

              We go to Bamboo Garden. Its never failed us and Ming is always quick to tell us what we shouldn't miss. FYI, Bamboo Garden has new live tanks with fish and clams for now but adding frogs and shrimp soon. MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM.

              We tried Sichuanese Cuisine in the ID 2x and it was awful both times. bye-bye. We used to alternative Bamboo Garden with Sichuan 99 until they decided to stop giving us normally spiced food---everything was dumbed down and americanized. And mind you, we weren't order the sweet and sour pork. On the final trip, we explicitly said if they didn't make it the way they would for a Chinese person, it would be the last visit---and we asked for what we wanted in CHINESE both the spicy part and the peppercorn part. No luck. I told my husband and the pups that they could go but I had been disapointed one too many times and the only way I would go again is if we were driving by and starving. And it was soooo frustrating to reach that point because the first time we went it was AWESOME!!!!!!!

              -----
              Bamboo Garden
              202 106th Pl NE, Bellevue, WA 98004

              6 Replies
              1. re: jenn
                lavaca May 17, 2010 06:43 PM

                When I went (last week), they had frogs on the "Alive" section of the menu.

                1. re: lavaca
                  e
                  equinoise May 18, 2010 09:14 PM

                  I just now ate a plate of Bamboo Garden's twice-cooked frog, left over from last night. It was delicious, and my mouth was pleasantly ablaze and my lips abuzz. Attached is a photo of the plate, where you can see large slivers of garlic, squares of fresh ginger, hunks of green chile, a showering of dried red chiles, and whole sichuan peppercorns. I accomplished this order, I think, through the following discussion:

                  Me: ...and, I'll have the twice-cooked frog. (I also had the spicy and sour jellyfish and the bamboo)
                  BG counterman: Spicy?
                  Me: Uh-huh.

                  I wonder whether those who complain that BG is "not spicy enough" or "Americanized" have even attempted a dialogue along these lines, or better, expressly requesting "ma la", or even, "extra ma la". It's not like I speak mandarin at all, I have just found this an effective approach.

                  I am sympathetic for those who have specifically requested and failed, but while I lament on one level that numbing and burning is not the default for every dish at BG, understanding the business realities of catering to a mixed crowd, I applaud them for heeding specific requests to make it good.

                  -----
                  Bamboo Garden
                  202 106th Pl NE, Bellevue, WA 98004

                   
                  1. re: equinoise
                    j
                    jenn May 21, 2010 03:52 PM

                    equinoise, its nothing personal but I hate you......here i sit in my office starving to death and you decide to torment me with photos of lovely 2x cooked frog. . .well, photos of little bits of leftovers of 2x cooked frog. if I knew what you looked like or where to find you, I'd hunt you down and mug you for your leftovers . . . .

                    1. re: equinoise
                      h
                      HungWeiLo Apr 7, 2011 07:50 AM

                      So I was there a few days ago, and one of my items was the bowl of wontons with spicy sauce on it. During previous visits, they would douse it with peppercorns and it would be wonderfully flavorful and spicy. On this last visit, it was just enough chili oil to cover them. So I stopped a waitress and asked for more spice. Then she went on this big spiel about how it's not supposed to be that spicy and it would detract from the flavor, blah blah - I was practically pleading and begging them to do it. I know food prices are going up - are Sichuan peppercorns not immune to the rising costs as well? Why such resistance?

                      1. re: HungWeiLo
                        j
                        jenn Jul 25, 2011 09:09 AM

                        AH-HAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am NOT imagining it. We were just at Bamboo Gardens last night and for the first time, dare I say it, I was <shudder!!!!> disappointed.....the paucity of the Sichuan peppercorns was QUITE noticeable.

                        And where the heck was Ming? The best we could get out of the other waitress who knew us was that Ming wasn't there any more. .....boo hoo!!!

                        Oh Equinoise and HungWeiLo, any leads?????

                        -----
                        Bamboo Garden
                        202 106th Pl NE, Bellevue, WA 98004

                        1. re: jenn
                          c
                          christy319 Jul 25, 2011 11:49 AM

                          We were told Ming is in China for an extended visit, but I do wonder if that's the real story.

                          Food on Friday was great, there was no scarcity of anything. We had the spiciest Swimming Fire Fish ever.

                2. y
                  yummers May 17, 2010 11:37 PM

                  I just had another great meal at Tacoma Szechuan (a.k.a. Three Sisters). I know Tacoma (and west Tacoma at that) is a haul, but, man, the food is really fantastic. They don't skimp on heat, and, if it isn't authentic (which I wouldn't know), it is anything but Americanized. The only drawback is that the dishes tend to be oily. I can't help eating more than I should, and then I'm in a state of extreme lubrication. That's a problem I willingly accept, though.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: yummers
                    l
                    lordkoos Mar 4, 2011 10:14 PM

                    I want to thank this board for hipping me to Three Sisters - I live in Shoreline & would have never stumbled across this place on my own. We tried it on a drive back from Portland, & it was great. Most memorable dish was a house specialty, Sichuan Prawns with green beans (not the exact name of the dish but you get the idea). The deep fried shrimp were excellent, with plenty of Sichuan pepper. The dishes were fairly salty and oily (and hot) -- but that's exactly how they are in China. The other dishes were a lamb stir fry with garlic, peppers and onion, and we also tried a garlic eggplant dish that was very good, but the shrimp & beans were the standout. The prices aren't as cheap as in the ID but the portions are gigantic. We took a lot of food home with us & even the prawns were excellent reheated the next day. Usually deep fried leftovers are pretty bad, but these were great.

                    The only other time in my life I've had deep fried leftovers be any good was catfish from Hammond's in New Orleans, but that's another story. Anyway, I'm looking for an excuse to go to back to Tacoma & repeat the experience.

                  2. p
                    pusherman May 19, 2010 05:00 PM

                    I really appreciate this thread, as I am always looking for Sichuanese food. When I first got to Seattle, I went to Sichuan Cuisine in the ID like once a week...good and cheap, but also very close to the Sichuan restaurants I've been to in Hong Kong and Shanghai (I can't speak for the real deal). Sadly, it seems to have gone downhill, sometimes it's still great, sometimes not good at all.

                    I like 7 Stars for lunch, but for some reason, their dinners always seem inferior. I went to Sichuan Chef under the old management, but not since the change -- I hear consistently that they've gone downhill.

                    I've never understood the big deal about Sz Noodle Bowl -- but maybe I've just mis-ordered. I look forward to trying Bamboo Garden and Chiang's, and Sz 99, although all are geographically unfavorable. Is there a BG in the ID, or am I just mis-remembering?

                    -----
                    Bamboo Garden
                    202 106th Pl NE, Bellevue, WA 98004

                    Hong Kong Restaurant
                    302 N Olympic Ave, Arlington, WA 98223

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: pusherman
                      s
                      seattleviking May 19, 2010 05:25 PM

                      I'm with you on Szechuan Noodle Bowl. I tried the dumplings and soup and neither really stood out for me.

                      -----
                      Szechuan Noodle Bowl
                      420 8th Ave S, Seattle, WA 98104

                      1. re: pusherman
                        c
                        christy319 May 19, 2010 06:29 PM

                        The only Sichuan one is in Bellevue. There's a vegan restaurant with that name by the Seattle Center.

                        1. re: christy319
                          lavaca May 20, 2010 09:56 PM

                          There is also Inchin's Bamboo Garden in Redmond, which is an Indian-Chinese place. These restaurants really seem to have it in for Google.

                      2. lavaca May 22, 2010 03:47 PM

                        Update! I went to Spiced. I didn't have to haggle with the servers for ma la, and the second-guessing of my order wasn't too strong. Although the deep-fried fish under a pile of chiles was good, (if a bit heavy on the ratio of breading to fish), the highlight was clearly the cold bar. Pig ears were more a novelty choice, but I really liked the beef and the sliced potatoes. For $6, it seems like one of the better Chinese deals in Bellevue. Overall, though I definitely agree with HungWeiLo that Bamboo Garden uses better ingredients. It seems Spiced compensates by providing larger portions for the same amount of money, but I would rather pay less.

                        That being said, I still think I'm on the wrong side of a conspiracy against white guys with beards (of course, most Seattle white guys with beards ARE spice wimps). The fish was supposed to be very spicy and very numbing,was merely somewhat spicy and rather numbing. Am I really supposed to eat all of the dried chile peppers in the dry-fried dishes? The fried chicken dish at Chiang's Gourmet seems spicy enough without eating the peppers, so I am genuinely confused here.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: lavaca
                          c
                          christy319 May 23, 2010 12:18 PM

                          Interesting comments about the quality of ingredients. That makes me not very inclined to get seafood there, which is what I really enjoy the most. I even wish BG would ditch the tilapia and go with cod or something else higher quality--my favorite Sichuan in the SF Bay area, China Village in Albany, uses cod as their default fish.

                          -----
                          China Village Restaurant
                          3224 NE 45th St, Seattle, WA 98105

                          1. re: christy319
                            s
                            starshinesMonet Feb 3, 2011 04:26 PM

                            Are you white? Did you ask them to make it spicier? Ask them next time - if you are white they will give you lao wei range of spicy, but if you specify you like things REALLY spicy they will make it that way.

                        2. j
                          jiaotzegirl May 27, 2010 03:06 PM

                          OK you westsiders, come to the eastside, for the best Sichuan food, come to Sichuanese Cuisine (Lao Sichuan) in Redmond, at the back of the Sears shopping center. Try the following: Suan cai yu pian (fish with pickled vegie) shui zhu niu ro (literally boiled beef, but SPICY) Mapo Tofu (ask for extra hot and extra 'ma') chongqing lazi ji (chongqing chicken) or anything on the house specialties menu. Ask the waitress/waiter what is written in Chinese on the white board. PS Land of Plenty is a fantastic book and great recipes too

                          -----
                          Sichuanese Cuisine
                          15005 NE 24th St, Redmond, WA 98052

                          1. c
                            christy319 Jul 4, 2010 12:53 PM

                            If anyone is planning on going to Bamboo Garden this weekend, get the live prawns. We had them last night and they were amazing--more like lobster than prawns, with a soy-vinegar-ginger type dipping sauce. They were really amazing and it's the last of the season! MIng said they won't have them again until next year.

                            -----
                            Bamboo Garden
                            202 106th Pl NE, Bellevue, WA 98004

                            1. c
                              christy319 Dec 18, 2010 07:36 PM

                              We just went to Seven Stars Pepper for the first time in ages--we always go to Bamboo Garden instead--and the crab was not spicy or peppercorny-at at all. The crab itself was good but the flavor was not there. The pickled cabbage dish w/vermacelli was also supposed to be spicy and it was completely bland. So I said something to the waitress and she said, well, sometimes Americans don't like spicy. !!! This never used to be an issue at 7 Stars but I guess if we ever go there again we'll have to make it a point to ask for lots of ma la. Or, we'll just keep going to BG where they know us (and on the rare occasion when we get someone new, they warn us that we're ordering spicy dishes--they don't just assume we can't handle it).

                              On a related note we ordered duck at Li's last week and the waiter said, "Are you sure? You really want duck? Local people don't like duck. I mean American people. You know, white people." Lol.

                              -----
                              Bamboo Garden
                              202 106th Pl NE, Bellevue, WA 98004

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: christy319
                                j
                                jenn Dec 20, 2010 10:32 AM

                                Ah hah! I thought it was less spicy at 7 Stars when we were there last, even though I had the pups asking in Chinese.
                                I suspect you got the duck comment because of fat---I have had lots of chinese people tell me I wouldn't like something because it was fatty and everyone knows white people don't like fat.

                              2. seattledebs Dec 22, 2010 11:45 AM

                                So, it seems the best options are on the Eastside these days. However, I'm doing the traditional Jewish Christmas thing this year and having movies and, I hope, Chinese food with friends. I'm going to plug the idea of ordering Sichuan food, but it would need to be somewhere with delivery to or easy pickup from First Hill, so probably International District ish. Given those parameters, what is my best option? Open to non-Sichuan Chinese food too, but prefer Sichuan.

                                1. s
                                  starshinesMonet Feb 3, 2011 04:23 PM

                                  Go for Spiced. Best sichuan or Chinese in the entire state - period. I eat at A LOT of Chinese restaurant, including home cooking, including Sichuanese home cooking -- Spiced is the best.

                                  My favourite is the #92 (it's twice cooked fish with red chili pepper and sichuanese peppercorns, but they have another name for it), beef rolls (a favourite of my native province, Shangdong), Mao style pork - beautiful take on braised pork belly elsewhere and their green beans - amazing ya zai, I think they make their own, but I'm not certain.

                                  Truthfully, I don't think you can order poorly here, but those are my favourites. This is the ONLY place I will take friends or relatives, including my mother-in-law (a chef, VERY PICKY) when they visit. Try it - you will NOT be disappointed.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: starshinesMonet
                                    c
                                    christy319 Feb 20, 2011 05:29 PM

                                    I finally made it to Spiced. The couple spicy things we ordered, were not actually spicy. We went with a Taiwanese friend, so I don't think it was purely my blond-ness. Everything was good--we got tea smoked duck, fish filets in chili oil, potato/pickled cabbage/cucumber from the cold bar, stir fried celery with tofu, pea vines, and the mushroom rice cakes (I might have the name wrong here). But, nothing wowed me the way my favorite dishes at Bamboo Garden (swimming fire fish, szechuan crab, live prawns, sizzling rice squares) do. I would like to go again to try more things--there's a lot on that menu.

                                    -----
                                    Bamboo Garden
                                    202 106th Pl NE, Bellevue, WA 98004

                                    1. re: christy319
                                      a
                                      AndrewS Feb 20, 2011 06:26 PM

                                      Spiced is, IMO, the best Sichuan in the area and as good as anything in the SGV in LA- comparable to Chung King, which is considered a gem of that scene.

                                      The dry pots are excellent, and the lamb rib preparation- done the same as the traditional beef ribs with ma la- is spectacular, and something I've never seen on another sichuan menu.

                                      -crispy pancake beef roll- Shandong dish, done quite well- braised beef rolled with pulm sauce and cilantro in a green onion pancake
                                      -hot and sour soup is excellent- woody with white pepper
                                      -sichuan style spicy fish fillet (138) is the house take on water-boiled fish- I've never ordered the fillets in chili oil, as I was steered in that direction and have been extremely happy with it
                                      - Ma Po tofu is nicely done- funky and hot

                                      Really, there's little on the menu not to love

                                      Andrew

                                      1. re: AndrewS
                                        c
                                        christy319 Feb 21, 2011 07:26 AM

                                        I'll try #138 next time. I liked #55, and I thought THAT would be something like water boiled fish, but like I said it didn't blow me away the way BG's swimiing fire fish does. Thanks for the ma po rec, I'll get that next time too.

                                        1. re: AndrewS
                                          s
                                          starshinesMonet Mar 1, 2011 05:19 PM

                                          Andrew - You are the first person I've seen on Chow who knew that the 'beef roll' was from Shangdong (my home province) - WELL DONE! :) They do an excellent job of them too - almost as good as my mothers! (Please don't read this, mama!)

                                          My favourite dish is their twice-cooked fish (#92), but it has a different name there. I think it is chili-fried fish or something like that. I also love their Mao-braised pork, but my husband likes their ox-tail best though (Jiangsu-Shanghai boy).

                                          My family and I are also big fans of their lamb dishes, particularly

                                    2. c
                                      christy319 Apr 6, 2011 11:50 AM

                                      I just went to Sichuanese Cuisine for the first time, and while everything was well prepared, it completely lacked any ma la. It's sad to eat Ma Po Tofu without the flavor of Szechuan peppercorns. We got a fried fish filet dish that sounded similar to Bamboo Garden's "Soleful Delight" (which I absolutely love) and it paled in comparison because it completely lacked the peppercorns. I should have said something when I ordered. I think it might have been great had it just been properly seasoned.

                                      -----
                                      Bamboo Garden
                                      202 106th Pl NE, Bellevue, WA 98004

                                      Sichuanese Cuisine Restaurant
                                      1048 S Jackson St, Seattle, WA 98104

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: christy319
                                        e
                                        equinoise Apr 7, 2011 10:43 AM

                                        Is there any significant difference between Sichuanese Cuisine in Redmond and the one in the ID? It seems that the Redmond location gets the occasional very positive review (like "better than SGV" positive) while the ID location is described as tired and not spicy. That was certainly my assessment of the ID location.

                                        Is this like the inverse of the Malay Satay Hut paradox? What gives?

                                        -----
                                        Malay Satay Hut
                                        212 12th Ave S, Seattle, WA

                                        Sichuanese Cuisine
                                        15005 NE 24th St, Redmond, WA 98052

                                        1. re: equinoise
                                          r
                                          roolala Apr 7, 2011 01:20 PM

                                          The decor, for one...the Redmond location is much nicer. I didn't get much ma la flavor from either restaurant, but most of the dishes I tried on my one visit to the ID location were misses.

                                          Has anyone tried Szechuan First in Kent? My parents refer to all of them as "Lao Sichuan" in Chinese so I just assumed they were all under the same ownership. I remember liking their cumin lamb but I don't think I've tried any of their spicy dishes.

                                          -----
                                          Szechuan First
                                          18124 E Valley Hwy, Kent, WA 98032

                                          1. re: roolala
                                            e
                                            equinoise Apr 7, 2011 04:06 PM

                                            I've been to Szechuan First twice ;). I really liked the twice-cooked fish quite a bit. The stir-fried cucumbers were cooked well but had a strange smoky note that tasted a bit off. The other dishes, especially the dan dan, were not memorable and certainly below the level of BG and Spiced. Overall, I liked First significantly less than those two (and the defunct Szechuan Chef in its prime) but more than 7 Stars, Sicuanese Cuisine (ID location) and Szechwan 99. But it's a decent alternative to the IKEA cafe.

                                            -----
                                            Szechuan Chef
                                            15015 Main St, Bellevue, WA 98007

                                            Szechuan First
                                            18124 E Valley Hwy, Kent, WA 98032

                                            1. re: equinoise
                                              r
                                              roolala Apr 7, 2011 08:34 PM

                                              Spiced is usually my go-to, but I'll have to try the twice-cooked fish next time I go to Ranch 99 :) Thanks for the rec~

                                      2. dave_c Apr 8, 2011 12:16 PM

                                        Recently got into Sichuan cooking via Fuchsia Dunlop's "Land of Plenty".
                                        This topic is great since it gives me a chance to look for "authentic" Sichuan food to compare my results.

                                        So far I've tried Szechuan99 and Seven Pepper, both lacked the Sichuan peppercorn flavor when compared to the home cooked recipe... which kind of surprised me. On the upside, I did enjoy the food enjoying Seven Pepper a little more.

                                        My reference dishes I use for comparison are mapo tofu and dan dan noodles.

                                        I'm eager to try Sichuan Cuisine, Bamboo Garden and Three Sisters.

                                        -----
                                        Bamboo Garden
                                        202 106th Pl NE, Bellevue, WA 98004

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: dave_c
                                          c
                                          christy319 Apr 8, 2011 01:10 PM

                                          Make it a point to tell the waitstaff you like it spicy. As I said upthread, when I was a regular at 7 Stars the food was always great but when I got waitstaff recently (I hadn't been in ages) who didn't know me, the food really lacked spice/peppercorn flavor. At Bamboo Garden it's always great but they know us. Once in a while we get someone new and we have to reassure them we can handle it. (One recent trip to BG was funny--we got a new waitress and as soon as we started ordering she said, "Ooohh, you like CHINESE food!" I imagine in downtown Bellevue they get a lot of the chow mein crowd.)

                                          -----
                                          Bamboo Garden
                                          202 106th Pl NE, Bellevue, WA 98004

                                          1. re: christy319
                                            dave_c Apr 11, 2011 09:56 AM

                                            Over the weekend we went to Bamboo Garden, I had the hand shaven noodles dan dan style with no special request. The dish was spicier than the places I've tried and I could taste the sichuan peppercorn. Heat was nice and tingly. The hand shaven noodles were on the thick side and sauce was a little sparse.

                                            Now if I could combine the noodles and the sauciness from 7 pepper with the spice level of Bamboo Garden, that would be a winning dish.

                                            My search continues. :-)

                                            -----
                                            Bamboo Garden
                                            202 106th Pl NE, Bellevue, WA 98004

                                            1. re: dave_c
                                              e
                                              equinoise Apr 11, 2011 12:43 PM

                                              You can get the dan dan w/o hand shaven noodles at BG.

                                              1. re: equinoise
                                                dave_c Apr 11, 2011 02:27 PM

                                                I'm on a hand shaven noodle kick right now so I'm trying to do two things at once.
                                                Find good hand shaven noodles and find tasty dan dan noodles. :-)

                                                1. re: dave_c
                                                  j
                                                  jiaotzegirl Apr 15, 2011 06:06 PM

                                                  Hand shaved barley noodles (not dan dan) at Shanghai Garden Factoria. Don't know if they have this dish at ID.

                                                  -----
                                                  Shanghai Garden Restaurant
                                                  80 Front St N, Issaquah, WA 98027

                                        2. j
                                          jiaotzegirl Apr 15, 2011 06:04 PM

                                          Try the Sichuanese Cuisine in Redmond. Chat up your waiter or waitress, and tell them to make your dishes exactly as they would for someone from Sichuan, "extra numb, extra spice" Jia ma jia la. The restaurant is usually full of Chinese and East Indians getting their spice fix.

                                          -----
                                          Sichuanese Cuisine
                                          15005 NE 24th St, Redmond, WA 98052

                                          18 Replies
                                          1. re: jiaotzegirl
                                            s
                                            SpicyFoodGirl Apr 18, 2011 08:50 AM

                                            Thanks jiaotzegirl! I will look into them now!

                                            1. re: jiaotzegirl
                                              h
                                              HungWeiLo Apr 18, 2011 12:53 PM

                                              Is the Redmond one better than the ID one? I tried the Redmond one time and wasn't too impressed (but not too bad).

                                              On that note - has anyone tried that new place that used to be Maple Garden? (It's next door to Pho Hoa). They don't bother write any English on the storefront advertising and that seems like a good sign...

                                              1. re: HungWeiLo
                                                s
                                                SpicyFoodGirl Apr 18, 2011 12:57 PM

                                                DO you guys know anything about the Swimming Fire Fish at Bamboo Garden? Is it crazy spicy? Is that restaurant good?

                                                -----
                                                Bamboo Garden
                                                202 106th Pl NE, Bellevue, WA 98004

                                                1. re: SpicyFoodGirl
                                                  h
                                                  HungWeiLo Apr 19, 2011 07:20 AM

                                                  Bamboo Garden is pretty much one of the top Szechwan you can get in Seattle. Along with Spiced and Szechwan 99, they're my favorite.

                                                  When the waitstaff doesn't self-censor the food for you, the spice levels are just right.

                                                  -----
                                                  Bamboo Garden
                                                  202 106th Pl NE, Bellevue, WA 98004

                                                  1. re: SpicyFoodGirl
                                                    c
                                                    christy319 Apr 19, 2011 02:33 PM

                                                    Their Swimming Fire Fish is just about my favorite thing ever. I've tried similar dishes (usually called fish in water, boiiled fish, fish in chiii oil, etc) in Szechuan places here and in SF/Oakland and NYC and none even come close. Ming keeps trying to get us to order some other kind of fish (well, we do get Soleful Delight too) but no way. I don't think it's crazy spicy, but I eat a lot of Szechuan. Most of my friends can handle it, though maybe not in large amounts. (It's funny, I think you build up tolerance to certain types of spicy--I can eat spicy Szechuan no problem but find spicy Thai the thing that gets my mouth burning).

                                                    1. re: christy319
                                                      s
                                                      SpicyFoodGirl Apr 19, 2011 02:39 PM

                                                      I spoke with Bamboo Garden and they don't wish to participate in the show. Such a bummer. Might try another Szechuan spot instead.

                                                      -----
                                                      Bamboo Garden
                                                      202 106th Pl NE, Bellevue, WA 98004

                                                      1. re: SpicyFoodGirl
                                                        e
                                                        equinoise Apr 19, 2011 05:20 PM

                                                        Really? Did they understand your proposal? Maybe try and get to the owner through Dietmar Schimmel, if you haven't already.

                                                  2. re: HungWeiLo
                                                    e
                                                    equinoise Apr 18, 2011 01:06 PM

                                                    I investigated this place once when it was still Maple Garden, and from the menu and interior signage it seemed like a Taiwanese in Cantonese-American disguise, sort of like Yea's Wok, but with only a few of the most popular Taiwanese items (e.g. 3 cup chicken) actually visible to non-speakers. It is in close proximity to that supermarket that has a very Taiwanese bent. I actually didn't order anything from Maple Garden since Facing East is also in Bellevue and is not afraid of serving a full, high-quality slate of Taiwanese. Maybe a visit is in order with the new incarnation.

                                                    Minor digression, but why can't we seem to get a new regional Chinese place besides another Sichuan or Taiwanese? I continue to be shocked that a real Shanghainese, Hunan or Richmond-quality Cantonese/Dim Sum hasn't emerged.

                                                    1. re: equinoise
                                                      h
                                                      HungWeiLo Apr 19, 2011 07:33 AM

                                                      It's just simple demographics. Vancouver has almost 500,000 ethnic Chinese living there...compared to 20,000 in Seattle.

                                                      Re: lack of Cantonese cuisine - Mandarin speakers have begun to outnumber Cantonese speakers since the late 80's / early 90's in many Chinese communities in the U.S. due to massive immigration from the Mainland (a lot from places around Fujian and Wenzhou - that explains the lack of "real" Shanghai offerings here) as well as Taiwan. Even the demographics in Vancouver are starting to change - back when I was spending my youth up there, it was very rare to hear any Mandarin spoken in public space and Cantonese was the lingua franca. Now in many parts of Vancouver, this has been reversed.

                                                      Also, I wonder if profit margins figure into some of the business decision to go Szechwan - a lot of Szechwan involves throwing things in lots of chili oil and is basically a lot of rough peasant food. Contrast that with many items in Shanghainese and Cantonese which require much higher levels of finesse in preparation and ingredient selection. Sort of like how Korean restauranteurs always tell me it's much more profitable to sell $6 teriyaki chicken than authentic Korean food which has labor-intensive preparation for a good number of items.

                                                      1. re: HungWeiLo
                                                        e
                                                        equinoise Apr 19, 2011 05:04 PM

                                                        I see your point generally about YVR vis a vis this area, but what about this: while Seattle has a Chinese-American population of over 26,000, perhaps more significantly, Bellevue is 13.8% Chinese-American and 23.9% Asian, which corresponds to another 16,000-plus Chinese/29,000 Asian. Add to that the sizable Asian populations of adjacent Newcastle and Eastgate, which have a significant Chinese/Taiwanese component. As we all know, many of our local favorite/regional Chinese places have emerged on the Eastside, and not Seattle.

                                                        While these numbers are of course way off from Vancouver's they at least suggest a critical mass for one or two authentic/high-quality Shanghainese or Cantonese restaurants on the level of YVR/Richmond, which boasts a dozen or more examples of each.

                                                        I agree with your astute observation about Sichuanese cuisine being mostly rustic peasant's fare with intense chili flavor. Cooking from Dunlop, one sees the same affordable/stable ingredients again and again. Perhaps a closer comparison would be Taiwanese, which is a more subtle, ingredient-specific cuisine influenced by Japanese cooking. In that sense, if the Eastside can support Yea's Wok and Facing East, and now Din Tai Fung, maybe now we can finally welcome in legit Shanghainese and Cantonese.

                                                        One can HOPE.

                                                        [Sources: wikipedia/U.S. Census Bureau]

                                                      2. re: equinoise
                                                        c
                                                        christy319 Apr 19, 2011 02:36 PM

                                                        equinoise, what place are you talking about?

                                                        1. re: christy319
                                                          e
                                                          equinoise Apr 19, 2011 04:08 PM

                                                          The Maple Garden in Bellevue, which is now, according to HWL, something else. Was there another Maple Garden elsewhere?.

                                                          http://www.yelp.com/biz/maple-garden-...

                                                          1. re: equinoise
                                                            h
                                                            HungWeiLo Apr 21, 2011 08:16 PM

                                                            OK, I went and tried it tonight. It's called Little Garden now. Here's the dinner menu:

                                                            http://littlegardenchinese.com/yahoo_...

                                                            They are advertising both Sichuan and Hunan. We tried the cured duck with dried daikon and spareribs in bamboo - just to get an across-the-board trial of their Hunan stuff. Also got some spicy wontons and a pork bun. The spicy wontons and pork bun was pretty pedestrian - nothing special there. The pork bun didn't taste very fresh and was soggy. I don't claim to be an expert in Hunan (because I'm not), but the spareribs in bamboo lacked spice and flavor. There wasn't the dry heat I expected. It literally tasted like Cantonese dimsum spareribs tossed into a bamboo cylinder, steamed, and had a few pieces of pepper tossed on top. Not impressed. The cured duck was much more promising. Good combination of the spices along with the defining texture of the dried daikon.

                                                            So this may be one of those hit-or-miss places depending on what you order.

                                                            1. re: HungWeiLo
                                                              r
                                                              roolala Apr 21, 2011 09:03 PM

                                                              I thought most dishes there were average, with some erring on the overly oily side, but the one standout I liked was the tofu fish soup in clay pot...very light and delicious broth :) My parents are huge fans of the hand-shaven noodles (which is a HUGE portion for the price). I like the soup, egg and tomatoes they put in there but too much noodle to soup ratio for my tastes.

                                                              1. re: HungWeiLo
                                                                e
                                                                equinoise Apr 22, 2011 09:55 AM

                                                                Sounds like a mixed review, but I am quite glad that there is a source for any true Hunan in this area. My knowledge of Hunan cusine comes from Dunlop's book (from which I have cooked many recipes) and other internet sites. The focus tends to be on fresh vegetables, judicious use of meat, often cured or smoked (and tofu), river or lake fish, chili heat without much of the "ma la" flavor of Sichuan, with occasional pickled, preserved and vinegar flavors.

                                                                Looking at the menu you linked, aside from the duck dish you tried, I am most interested in Stir-fried Cured Pork with Pickled Long Beans, Stir-Fried Cured Beef with Leeks, Steam Pork in Lotus Leaf, Hunan Style Stewed Chicken (perhaps this is the same as Dong-an chicken?), Pepper Fish Head, and Stir-fried and Pork Stomach with Dried Bamboo.

                                                                1. re: equinoise
                                                                  e
                                                                  equinoise Apr 28, 2011 11:34 PM

                                                                  Visited for the first time toniight, and ordered from the Hunan section Stir-Fried Cured Pork with Leeks, stewed smoked bamboo, and sizzling tofu hot plate. The pork was the best dish, with house-cured pork belly, sort of like enhanced rustic bacon. The bamboo was intriguing, braised with pork and slivers of what appeared to be mushrooms and offal, but it was difficult to tell since the bamboo was thinly sliced into various shapes and textures, everything was awash in the braising liquid, and the dish was topped with sliced pickled chiles. The tofu was nicely fried but strangely served: underlaid with a mixture of starchy brown sauce and egg that had retreated to opposite sides of the iron plate, and then covered with a previously frozen bag mix of corn, peas and carrots, with a few tiny shrimp. Odd, and reminiscent of the sort of Westernized Cantonese diner food that is served at LA Cafe on Jackson, a cuisine I really don't enjoy in the least. Why this was on the Hunan menu is beyond me.

                                                                  I asked the waitress about what they recommend from the Hunan slate and she called out the duck dishes (smoked in-house), the pork stomach, and the sizzling beef plate. I mentioned the difficulty in finding Hunan cuisine, and she said she had heard of another place near the new Bellevue Uwajimaya and also a place in Everett. I would return for sure.

                                                                  -----
                                                                  Uwajimaya
                                                                  600 5th Ave S, Seattle, WA

                                                                  1. re: equinoise
                                                                    h
                                                                    HungWeiLo Apr 29, 2011 08:23 AM

                                                                    The Bellevue place must be Hunan Garden on 8th. The Everett one must be Hunan Palace.

                                                                    These places, judging by their online menus, are Hunan in name only.

                                                                    They had no idea who they were talking to. :-)

                                                                    -----
                                                                    Hunan Palace
                                                                    2821 Pacific Ave, Everett, WA 98201

                                                        2. re: HungWeiLo
                                                          p
                                                          pmelvoin Oct 9, 2011 05:16 PM

                                                          Excellent.
                                                          Have had several items all appropriately hot and spicy.
                                                          Lamb: exquisite; eggplant in garlic sauce: just succulent; noodles (hand shaved as I remember) top notch.
                                                          Owners/servers are more than happy to help you with the Chinese fresh sheet menu.

                                                          Only place I have had Chairman Mao's braised pork with vegetables.
                                                          Pork belly in a rich red sauce.
                                                          They list both Hunan and Sichuan specialties.
                                                          My very first choice in Bellevue.
                                                          Try to get there before noon--Microsofties have found it out.

                                                      3. p
                                                        PeteSeattle Jul 25, 2011 11:19 AM

                                                        I don't think there's a conspiracy against "white guys with beards" like you suggested. I think that there's a different set of manners about eating in a Chinese restaurant between Chinese people and non-Chinese people that forces the restaurants to behave differently.
                                                        Chinese people almost always show up at a restaurant in a big crowd, sit at a huge table, order giant trays of food and eat from tiny rice bowls.
                                                        Non-Chinese seldom show up in a party of larger than four, and they frequently show up alone.
                                                        The hearts of the Chinese mothers melt for these people, who they must think of as inherently sad.
                                                        They want to cook for them, and make them feel better. (Eat! Eat! It's good for you!)
                                                        This explains the second-guessing, the refusing to serve certain dishes, the difficulty of serving certain dishes. (You're one guy and you want to be served a whole fish? It's like being at a banquet and you're the only one there!)
                                                        I'll tell you about an experience I had recently that gets around some of this. Mind you, I can read some Chinese and speak some, so although I'm white and tall and male, I don't quite count as an uncivilized person.
                                                        I was in the Ranch 99 market in Renton and looking for the ingredients to make Ma Po Tou Fu.
                                                        Rooting around in the ingredients for the spicing, I saw a couple nearby doing pretty much the same thing. They were speaking Mandarin, so I asked them, explaining what I was trying to do.
                                                        They were delighted, and the woman had some very specific ideas about what I should be doing. She turned me onto her favorite spices, including the right kind of Szechuan peppercorns to buy. We talked for something like a half hour.
                                                        She recommended I use a certain instant mix that she uses, in addition to the pure spices I was interested in.
                                                        The packets were in her basket, so I thought she knew what she was talking about.
                                                        When it came to the whole spices, she did, but when I tried the recipe packets she recommended they turned out to be packed, packed PACKED! with MSG and when I tried them it's true they were spicy, and at first made a tasty Ma Po Tou Fu, but after a few bites tasted like a meth lab hidden in a chemical plant. And it had that effect on me, or something like it. Like sniffing glue while drinking coffee or something. (I've not done those kinds of things on purpose, so my words may not quite match)
                                                        The point is that if you ask Szechuan women to BE Szechuan women, they'll take you under their wing and show you how they live their lives and cook their food and be very happy about it, and if you show up at their restaurants like a lonely puppy you're going to be treated like a lonely puppy.
                                                        Now for the electric stove problem: There are several solutions possible.
                                                        1) Get yourself a Coleman. I understand that it's actually cheaper to cook on a coleman than on your electric stove anyway. Landlord might get upse if it explodes, however! Just be careful.
                                                        2) Flat-bottomed wok, anyone? I've got one, use it for some things, but not too often.
                                                        3) Big-honking cast-iron skillet. Perhaps ultimately the best solution.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: PeteSeattle
                                                          h
                                                          HungWeiLo Jul 25, 2011 02:13 PM

                                                          Lesson to learn - whether one's Chinese or not - just as many Chinese as non-Chinese are willfully ignorant as to what is "good food" in the CH sense. Heck, if you ask the random person on the streets of CH mecca cities like Hong Kong or Vancouver, chances are you'd be sent to a chain or something average at best. If it takes time to figure out the people on these boards whose tastes more closely match yours (as it did for me), so I certainly won't bother asking random people on the streets anywhere about their recommendations.

                                                          Re: motherliness of Chinese waitresses - while I can't deny there's a component in that, it may be a bit overstated. I eat out quite a bit, and I witness at least once a month the upset "duped" non-Chinese customers who start a big yelling tantrum about how they weren't warned that their dish was supposed to be spicy/salty/sweet/non-vegetarian. 200 years of regular verbal abuse from this customer base has trained the average Chinese restauranteur to be very conservative and that they ultimately profit from prejudging their customers based on looks. The same thing is happening to pho places - despite the King County "you'll get sick from raw food" warnings all over the menu, there will be that one person who'll be very vocal about the not-all-the-way-cooked beef. Result? I don't remember the last time I see raw meat in my soup bowl the way I've seen them on the streets of Saigon. You're always forced to cater to your mass consumer base.

                                                          1. re: HungWeiLo
                                                            p
                                                            PeteSeattle Jul 26, 2011 02:32 PM

                                                            Go to my pho place: Pho Van at the corner of Rainier and Henderson. Speak to them, and I"m sure they'll accommodate you.
                                                            The trick is that it's simply not possible to drop raw beef into boiling stock and take it to the table and not have it be just rare: if that's what you want I suspect if you asked they'd be able to serve the beef on the side and let you do what you want with it. (Just don't throw it at other diners, please!) Anyhow, I've never had trouble getting rare beef in my pho from them except when they're super busy.

                                                            Another Chinese Mother story: one of these motherly waitresses coached me in how to explain that I am hearing impaired in Mandarin, (Wo3 Bu4 Neng2 Ting1-shuo1 yi1-jiang4 hua4) and one time when trying to order in another restaurant I said the phrase, which by that time was getting pretty damn old (because I wish I didn't need it!) and a busboy was so stunned he dropped his tray!

                                                            -----
                                                            Pho Van
                                                            9150 Rainier Ave S, Seattle, WA 98118

                                                        2. c
                                                          christy319 Oct 6, 2011 01:18 PM

                                                          We finally made it to Spicy Talk and I was impressed. The menu didn't have as much interesting stuff on it as you'd find at Spiced or BG, but what we got was done well. They definitely make the best House Special Pancake around. I told the waitress I love the Szechual dish called things like "water boiled fish" and she pointed me toward their fish in hot and spicy gravy. And it was spicy! They did not dumb it down, as some places do for Euro-Americans. I still do like BG's Swimming Fire Fish best in this category. The Szechuan tofu was quite good too. I was anxious to see what others ordered, but most everyone else just got the $6.95 lunch special.

                                                          But oy, that Saturday afternoon traffic on Redmond Way was a killer. We combined this visit with a trip to the Marymoor dog park, so I'm sure at some point we'll be back, but the location is definitely off putting to us Seattlites. Bamboo Garden is SO much easier.

                                                          -----
                                                          Bamboo Garden
                                                          202 106th Pl NE, Bellevue, WA 98004

                                                          1. j
                                                            jiaotzegirl Oct 6, 2011 02:55 PM

                                                            Try Sichuanese Cuisine in Redmond. It is the sister of the one in ID. Try the Chongqing Chicken; Water Boiled Beef (Xiu Zhu Niu Ro) or Water Boiled Fish (xiu Zhu Yu); Fish Slices with Pickled Peppers (Suan Cai Yu Pian); Mapo Tofu (ask for extra hot (jia la) and extra peppercorns (jia ma)); Dry fried green beans (gan bien siji do); and Knight somebody's Lamb with cumin and coriander. The items off the first page of the menu are specialties...avoid the generic Chinese restaurant selections. If you read the reviews on YELP, you will see that the generics don't get rave reviews, but the specialty things do. This is one of my absolute favorite places, and the quality has stayed great, for years.

                                                            -----
                                                            Sichuanese Cuisine
                                                            15005 NE 24th St, Redmond, WA 98052

                                                            1. c
                                                              christy319 Sep 11, 2012 03:53 PM

                                                              Did everyone else see this Seattle Weekly article that says Bamboo Garden, Spiced and Szechuan Chef have all expanded to Beaverton/Portland? It seems kind of funny they kept an eye on each other and all opened there, especially for the two that opened in Beaverton:

                                                              http://www.seattleweekly.com/2012-09-...

                                                              And I wonder if THAT'S where Ming went!

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