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Sichuan in Brookline: Garden or Gourmet?

Have an opportunity to visit one of these this weekend. I was all for Sichuan Gourmet (I have not been to the suburban locations BTW) but some confusion over the name revealed the existence of Sichuan Garden, which I see on this board has in the past been rated highly.

The recent Sichuan Gourmet: Lucky Brookline thread has some people rating Garden more highly.

For a first visit we would probably be going for dan dan noodles, ma po tofu, whatever the variant of dry fried chicken with chili peppers is called (e.g. Chongqing), some green vegetables. Pretty mainstream I guess, though we are cooking a lot from the Fuchsia Dunlop book right now and getting new perspectives on these dishes (beyond even Zoe's which I rate highly and eat from often).

What do you reckon would be our best choice for a full-on experience?

Thanks.

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Sichuan Garden
295 Washington St, Brookline, MA 02445

Sichuan Gourmet
1004 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02446

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  1. For those things, try Gourmet.

    I prefer their dan dan noodles and ma po tofu (haven't had the dry fried chicken with chili in both places, so I can't do a comparison, but Gourmet does that dish well).

    I prefer the soups at Garden, where they do a nice version of beef soup with noodles, and (when the chef is on, at least.....) the vinaigrette that they use on their tendon and dumpling appetizers (the dumplings themselves have better flavored and textured filling and wrappers at Gourmet, though).

    1 Reply
    1. re: gorboduc

      gourmet has very nice noodles (cold szechuan noodles with a chili peanut sauce are quite good) - garden has fabulous rabbit in chili. stay away from alll things not szechuanese at both: their americanized chinese food is not at all good.

    2. I had the Chongqing chicken at Garden yesterday - its on the special menu (don't get the Chengdu chicken on the regular menu). Amazing stuff.

      2 Replies
      1. re: drb

        Haven't been to Gourmet yet, but the Chongqing chicken at Garden is the best thing that they make -- a wave of ma la among an otherwise ordinary collection of dishes.

        1. re: dsmoxie

          You have to get the Sichuan menu at Garden to get the good stuff. There are quite a few insanely ma la dishes. The cauldron of spicy fish nearly was the death of me once in a good way.

      2. I like them both, but I don't think Garden's Brookline location is quite as good as their Woburn one. Gourmet stacks up nicely against its excellent brethren in Framingham and Billerica. In most cases, I prefer Gourmet.

        http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

        1. Our Chowcrew went to Sichuan Garden last Saturday (third week of Sichuan in a row at Galangatron's insistence!). Amazingly, it was the first time I had ever been there (I've been to the Woburn location once or twice several years ago and thought it was decent).

          Maybe it was what we ordered (don't really remember exactly...fuqi feipian, some duck, rabbit, shrimp, a couple of other things...the best thing was the special flavored peanuts, which I could pop all day), but personally I was pretty bored with the meal. Surprised, given it has a good reputation. I didn't find anything terribly spicy (the fuqi feipian was pretty mild, despite asking for everything mala). Now I don't really feel a need to go back anytime soon. But maybe I should give them a second chance and order differently.

          Had much better Sichuan meals recently at Thailand Cafe in Central Square (seriously!) and the new Brookline location for Sichuan Gourmet (although too mild).

          But Sichuan Gourmet in Billerica or Natick still win hands down. If I were near Sichuan Garden in Woburn, I'd probably drive out of my way to Billerica. If I were in town, I'd probably go to Thailand Cafe (a surprising conclusion, given its reputation for terrible Thai food, although admittedly I've only been there once).

          Someone should tell Thailand Cafe they need a new name! Although maybe they think the Thai name helps them attract unadventurous MIT students. Come for the name, stay for the Sichuan if you can handle their seriously mala fuqi feipian...

          I had actually promised to bring some Fuqi Feipian from Billerica to Sichuan Garden for comparative purposes, and actually bought it the night before. Of course then I forgot it in my fridge (unintentionally I assure you!). But greatly enjoyed it for dinner, and can attest to the fact that it is way better then the Sichuan Garden version.

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          Sichuan Gourmet
          502 Boston Rd, Billerica, MA 01821

          Sichuan Garden
          295 Washington St, Brookline, MA 02445

          2 Replies
          1. re: Tir_na_nOg

            Let me know about this chowcrew, maybe I'd like to join in! Pics! How do I message people on this hot mess of website?

            1. re: tatsu

              I'd have to ask the others if we have room... E-mail me at montebello248 at yahoo dot com

          2. My taste buds are in the minority on this site. We went to Sichuan Gourmet, where Chef Chang's used to be, and I'm giving it a big "Huh?" The hot & sour soup was weirdly flavored. The cold noodles weren't with a peanut sauce. And, after all the raves here about the twice cooked bacon, I thought it was a big nothing. The place was empty. We'll give them another try, for sure, but I'm not optimistic. People here were v. against Chef Chang's. We went there for the Peking Duck, and it was always good. And they would make me beef chow fun with spicy black bean sauce, a dish not on the menu.

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            Sichuan Gourmet
            502 Boston Rd, Billerica, MA 01821

            6 Replies
            1. re: CookieLee

              Nothing wrong with having different taste buds than others! The idea that there is only one definition of good "chow" is about as antithetical to the avowed goals of this site anything could be (so why do we have these endless discussions about the best burgers/steaks?).

              Given how many people have good things to say about the Peking duck at Changs, I wish I had tried it.

              That said, I don't think I've ever had hot & sour soup at Sichuan Gourmet. I go to get the spiciest Sichuan cuisine around (at least at the 2 original locations). Very few restaurants do everything really well across the board (the good Sichauan and supposedly terrible Thai at Thailand Cafe is a good example!).

              Remains to be seen how the Brookline location stands the test of time (having only been there once). But I don't see any reason why they shouldn't live up to their other locations.

              Can anyone think of any reason that the average palate in Brookline would differ from that of Billerica or Framingham? Are their more Chinese immigrants in those suburbs? Just curious... I suppose there are more college students in Brookline, but I don't know if that would correlate with anything (it would in my day, but I suspect college students are more adventuresome these days).

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              Sichuan Gourmet
              1004 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02446

              1. re: Tir_na_nOg

                fwiw, the clientele at the billerica location breaks down to 60-70%chinese, mostly mandarin speaking, 20% indian, 10-20%other. That location definitely caters to the engineers/tech workers in the rte 3/128/495 triangle.

              2. re: CookieLee

                I thought the peking duck was good at Chef Chang's when I had it probably 10yrs ago...nice that they come and cut it in front of you too.

                As for the other dishes, don't order what you're used to at Chef Chang's. Go back to the other long thread about Sichuan Gourmet where we talking about ordering chinese food in Milan (wow, that was a mistake, but it was vacation season and that was the only thing open)-:
                hot&sour soup is cantonese IIRC. No clue what cold noodles in peanut sauce is but anything w/ peanut sauce doesn't sound sichuan...

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                Sichuan Gourmet
                502 Boston Rd, Billerica, MA 01821

                1. re: Spike

                  Well, as I said, we did order the double cooked bacon, which was to us not v. good. I think it was cold sesame noodle we had, but it wasn't the peanut based sauce. Chef Chang's was always full of Asians, both students and families. It was of a concern to me that only one table were there Asians. I like the Taiwanese restaurant on California St. and the Belmont restaurant, is that Shangri La? So it's not like I don't have experience with the cuisine. I will most certainly reference the other thread before we go again. Thanks for bringing to my attention.

                  1. re: CookieLee

                    Many traditional Sichuan versions of dan-dan noodle have a sauce that is not peanut-based. I generally take the lack of peanut or sesame paste as a good sign. Hot and sour soup is generally identified with Beijing cuisine, though some sources call it a Sichuan dish; I expect there are versions in both cuisines that have little in common with the one we're used to in American-Chinese restaurants.

                    I don't have a problem with anyone preferring one version over another, but I think many dishes at more traditional Sichuan restaurants like Gourmet and Garden will confound the expectations of customers accustomed to, say, Mary Chung's renditions.

                    http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

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                    Mary Chung Restaurant
                    460 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

                    1. re: CookieLee

                      I was surprised in Shanghai when dan dan noodles (ordered for me by a colleague) had not a peanut in sight. I liked them, but they weren't what I was expecting. I like both versions.

                      I took this same colleague to Sichuan Gourmet when he was here (coals to Newcastle, but he was sick of dealing with forks and knives). He claimed to enjoy it (and I loved the cumin beef), but was confounded by the fortune cookies.

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                      Sichuan Gourmet
                      502 Boston Rd, Billerica, MA 01821