HOME > Chowhound > Greater Boston Area >
What's your latest food project?
TELL US

Sichuan in Brookline: Garden or Gourmet?

chickendhansak Jun 4, 2010 08:50 AM

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.

-----
Sichuan Garden
295 Washington St, Brookline, MA 02445

Sichuan Gourmet
1004 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02446

  1. c
    Cachetes Jan 3, 2011 09:35 AM

    On New Years Eve, husband, child and I ate at Sichuan Garden, our first stop there since moving to Brookline. I'll add that this was my first time having Sichuan (I was raised in an area of the country where chinese food consisted of gloopy sweet n sour sauce and insipid chow mein, so I've only just begun to discover better chinese food since our relatively recent move here).

    First, Sichuan food is great - the mix of spices in the dan dan noodles was new to me, so from that angle alone, it was a worthy trip. The highlights were the dan dan noodles, the rabbit with roasted chile vinaigrette, and my husband's seafood dish (I can't remember which it was, but it was heavy on scallops, and not terribly spicy). The reason I am writing now is that the one thing I noticed was that some of the food was incredibly salty, especially the shredded camphur tea smoked duck. Is this normal for this dish? It was so salty that I couldn't even take more than a bite of it the next day.

    We liked the meal, and will go back, though I'm eager to try some of the other places you all have been debating on this thread!

    -----
    Sichuan Garden
    295 Washington St, Brookline, MA 02445

    17 Replies
    1. re: Cachetes
      c
      cambridgedoctpr Jan 3, 2011 11:28 AM

      try the dan dan noodles at sichuan gourmet; it might my fun to compare.

      1. re: cambridgedoctpr
        c
        Cachetes Jan 5, 2011 09:51 AM

        I like that idea - will do, and I'll check back in!

        1. re: Cachetes
          r
          rozziegirl Sep 29, 2011 10:58 AM

          I'm planning on getting takeout on Friday night for the first time. Two people. What are some not to be missed dishes? Definitely want a noodle rec included. Dan dan?
          Thanks!

          1. re: rozziegirl
            c
            cbcpapa Sep 29, 2011 11:07 AM

            Four Sichuan Gourmet do not miss the wontons in chili oil and the dan dan noodles.

            -----
            Sichuan Gourmet
            1004 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02446

            1. re: cbcpapa
              r
              rozziegirl Sep 29, 2011 01:44 PM

              Great thanks! Any other recs for first-time Sichuan Gourmet-er?

              1. re: rozziegirl
                justbeingpolite Sep 29, 2011 02:24 PM

                Bamboo shoots with spicy wonder sauce.
                Fish fillets (flounder) with spicy chili sauce
                Old Sichuan Chicken a nice variation of the dry fried chicken
                Shredded pork with fresh bamboo shoots, if you'd like something non spicy.

                1. re: justbeingpolite
                  C. Hamster Sep 30, 2011 08:13 AM

                  We found the bamboo shoots in spicy wonder sauce to be totally underwhelming ...

                  1. re: C. Hamster
                    justbeingpolite Sep 30, 2011 08:40 AM

                    Not me. I was totally whelmed by them.

                    1. re: justbeingpolite
                      C. Hamster Sep 30, 2011 09:21 AM

                      I wanted very much to be whelmed by them but everyone thought they were pretty bland.

                      I'll try them again sometime, though.

                      1. re: C. Hamster
                        justbeingpolite Sep 30, 2011 12:20 PM

                        Where'd you have 'em. I'll stick to my guns that the shoots with spicy wonder sauce at the Billerica SG are completely whelming. Though perhaps even there they can have an off day.

                        1. re: justbeingpolite
                          C. Hamster Sep 30, 2011 12:24 PM

                          Brookline. Perhaps that expains it ...

                          1. re: C. Hamster
                            Trumpetguy Sep 30, 2011 01:04 PM

                            Anyone try the Sharon location of SG? I wonder if they make spicy wonder sauce, etc...

                            1. re: Trumpetguy
                              tatsu Sep 30, 2011 01:41 PM

                              The last time I ate at Gourmet in Brookline, the manager told me the head chef was working mostly in the new Sharon outlet. He was quick to tell me that the quality is consistent throughout the chain however. I don't know where the chef is working right now however, perhaps he rotates. I would certainly like to dine in when he's at the helm.

                              But for my money, I prefer Sichuan Garden in Woburn, in the mansion. The Jin Gu was terrific as well as the other dishes.

                              Top Garden, a lipoff find, was stunningly good however. I have to go back.

                              -----
                              Sichuan Garden
                              295 Washington St, Brookline, MA 02445

                              Top Garden
                              1921 Main St Ste 1, Tewksbury, MA 01876

                              1. re: tatsu
                                KWagle Oct 1, 2011 12:27 AM

                                Last I heard, the head chef (master chef as he introduces himself) was in Sharon weekdays and Framingham Fri/Sat. Since I heard it from the chef himself I think it's probably accurate. He's a nice guy and if it happens to be slow at the FOH, he seems quite willing to discuss the food. Brookline seems to have its own friendly and knowledgeable crew; the other owner (John?) has been there most of the time, at least during the week.

                                1. re: KWagle
                                  Trumpetguy Oct 1, 2011 08:21 AM

                                  Thanks for that info--Will stop in on a weekday and see if I can get some heat :)

                                2. re: tatsu
                                  o
                                  Ora Moose Oct 1, 2011 03:04 PM

                                  I have been to the Sharon location multiple times and Lijun the master chef is usually at the front of the house. I don't think the food would be any different whether he is there or not because he isn't in the kitchen, he formulated the dishes and has others cooking them to his specs. Occasionally the other owner is there at the same position, I think his name is Peter. The advantage to going when either of them are there, is that if you ask they will make recommendations that are usually outstanding.

                                  1. re: Ora Moose
                                    KWagle Oct 1, 2011 04:37 PM

                                    I stop by the Framingham store occasionally and he's there on weekends. He says that he and Peter swap stores--Peter is in Framingham on weekends. Liu does seem to spend a fair amount of time supervising the kitchen, at least in Framingham.

                                    The Brookline crew is also pretty good with recommendations. I've never been as fond of the original location--while it may be hotter, I think the food is overall less intricately spiced and not as well prepared.

      2. t
        tamerlanenj Aug 5, 2010 05:35 AM

        Man, I get really confused reading this thread. GOURMET is the one in the former Chef Chang's by St. Mary's, right? And GARDEN is Brookline Village? *scratching head*

        8 Replies
        1. re: tamerlanenj
          c
          cambridgedoctpr Aug 5, 2010 12:33 PM

          for people who like hot food: you have to request it to be extra hot at the Brookline location. There is nothing wrong with the food, in my opinion, but the chef has calibrated that his clientele is not ready for hot food. You have to pipe up if you want something hot.

          1. re: cambridgedoctpr
            q
            qianning Aug 5, 2010 01:49 PM

            is there a significant difference from the food in billerica?

            1. re: qianning
              c
              cambridgedoctpr Aug 6, 2010 07:38 AM

              i think that for the new costumer, the food is less spicy, but otherwise very similar.

              1. re: qianning
                MC Slim JB Jan 3, 2011 10:29 AM

                I find that I have to lobby the Brookline staff for heat a bit, but there's never a question in Billerica (haven't been out to the Framingham one in years). Billerica definitely attracts many more Chinese ex-pat and Chinese-American customers, which may be a factor. And yet you still see a lot of white patrons in Billerica eating off that stupid American-Chinese lunch menu!

                http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

              2. re: cambridgedoctpr
                galangatron Aug 6, 2010 10:08 AM

                a large group of us had lunch at the brookline location when it first opened. we requested most of the sichuan dishes to be prepared "extra extra spicy" and they were only mildly spicy

                1. re: galangatron
                  q
                  qianning Aug 9, 2010 01:01 PM

                  do you think there is a significant re-calibration compared to sichuan gourmet's billerica location?

                  1. re: galangatron
                    b
                    Blumie Aug 9, 2010 06:05 PM

                    I went to Brookline for the first time last night. The chendgdu spicy lamb was as spice as I get in Framingham. Everything was delicious.

                2. re: tamerlanenj
                  galangatron Aug 6, 2010 10:06 AM

                  sichuan gourmet is in the old chef chang's location on beacon street in brookline. they also have a location on route 9 in framingham and another one on boston road in billerica

                  sichuan garden is next to the brookline familiy restaurant on washington street in brookline village. they also have another location in a converted mansion on alfred street in woburn

                3. StriperGuy Aug 3, 2010 01:20 PM

                  I just had lunch at Gourmet on Beacon. The lunch plate with the spicy 2X cooked bacon was insane. Hot and sour soup was good with a nice funky taste to it.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: StriperGuy
                    b
                    Blumie Aug 3, 2010 01:34 PM

                    Insanely good or insanely spicy or both?

                    1. re: Blumie
                      StriperGuy Aug 3, 2010 01:57 PM

                      Insanely good, very spicy.

                      1. re: StriperGuy
                        n
                        nasilemak Aug 5, 2010 10:00 AM

                        Tried the same double cooked bacon yesterday. Liked the flavorings but it was just somewhat spicy and the portion i had was a bit more fatty than i had expected.

                        1. re: nasilemak
                          StriperGuy Aug 5, 2010 01:22 PM

                          They asked me if I wanted it HOT and I said yes. I guess the fatty is sort of what I expect with Chinese bacon dishes.

                          1. re: StriperGuy
                            n
                            nasilemak Aug 5, 2010 01:49 PM

                            yes, i expected it to be fatty but not like 85 percent fat. oh well, i'm sure i'll discover other dishes that would suit me better.

                            1. re: nasilemak
                              g
                              Gordough Jan 3, 2011 11:35 AM

                              I love nearly all types of bacon and most Sichuan food (and have no aversion to a bit of fat on meat) but I also find the double cooked bacon at Sichuan Gourmet to be too fatty for my tastes.

                              -----
                              Sichuan Gourmet
                              1004 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02446

                  2. chickendhansak Jun 9, 2010 06:05 AM

                    Thanks for all the responses.

                    We went to Sichuan Gourmet and ordered dan dan noodles (excellent), dry fried green beans (also excellent) and ma po tofu and the dry fried chicken with chili sauce, which seemed to be the closest thing to what I was looking for, unless I missed something.

                    The ma po tofu and the chicken were disappointing. Only mild heat and (in the case of the chicken) pretty bland. We were warned about the ma po tofu being hot and tried to convey that this was not a problem. Not a hint of the ma la action were were hoping for. Very few red chiles in the chicken, and odd to bill it as "in chili sauce" because it was the completely dry rendition, which I have seen before (e.g. at Qingdao Garden).

                    The ma po tofu came without any meat in it, which we didn't expect.

                    Not a bad experience exactly -- started very well, would go again but will probably try Sichuan Garden next and look for a trip to the suburban Gourmets too.

                    -----
                    Sichuan Gourmet
                    502 Boston Rd, Billerica, MA 01821

                    Qingdao Garden Restaurant
                    2382 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02140

                    Sichuan Garden
                    295 Washington St, Brookline, MA 02445

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: chickendhansak
                      c
                      cbcpapa Aug 4, 2010 06:41 AM

                      I had that chicken dish there and didn't love it. I would go with Old Sichuan Chicken next time. That was much spicier and probably what you were looking for.

                      1. re: cbcpapa
                        q
                        qianning Aug 4, 2010 07:48 AM

                        agreed, Old Sichuan Chicken was more likely a dish you would have enjoyed.

                        1. re: qianning
                          chickendhansak Aug 4, 2010 07:55 AM

                          Thanks for the tip. Will try it. (Haven't been back yet.)

                      2. re: chickendhansak
                        chickendhansak Aug 23, 2010 10:21 AM

                        So eventually made it over to Sichuan Garden. For scientific purposes of course, we ordered essentially the same things. The dan dan noodles and string beans both forced compulsive eating. I'd read somewhere to order the chongqing chicken from the special Sichuan menu -- it was good, sitting on a layer of crushed chiles and Sichuan peppercorns in addition to the usual whole red chiles, giving a pleasant tingle but not intensely spicy, somehow. Ma po tofu disappoints yet again, though.

                        As a whole, we found this a much more satisfying eating experience than the Brookline Sichuan Gourmet -- flavours in more depth, more heat / ma la where we hoped for it, and no need to specially plead for it. Good stuff.

                        -----
                        Sichuan Garden
                        295 Washington St, Brookline, MA 02445

                        Sichuan Gourmet
                        1004 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02446

                        1. re: chickendhansak
                          KWagle Jan 5, 2011 01:21 PM

                          I've been to the Woburn location of Sichuan Garden several times and the Brookline location twice. I concur with the general consensus that Woburn is significantly better. However, on my most recent visit to the Brookline location I was planning to get the "Sichuan flavor chicken/beef" but they only have that at Woburn. That, btw, remains one of my favorite Sichuan flavored dishes *ever*, though Lan Sheng's Chongqing chicken and Lao Sichuan's dry fish fillets are certainly also in contention. Instead I had the Chongqing chicken (which I've also had in Woburn) and it came with an absurd amount of the crushed pepper-huajiao mix, enough to completely cover the chicken. My DC Andy Tannenbaum, whom some of you met at Golden Garden, described it as "mud." Delicious mud, both 麻 and 辣 in exactly the right proportion.

                          Andy and I both think someone in the kitchen was having a joke at our expense, but there our opinions diverge. Andy thought it was ridiculously over the top; I think the joke backfired, and I *finally* got a dish the way I wanted it--both hot and numbing, in the right proportions, and just hot enough that you could just keep on eating it forever without overwhelming your poor mouth and tongue. I on the other hand felt it was like getting an ice cream sundae with far too much chocolate sauce--it might be out of balance but you still get ridiculous amounts of yummy topping.

                          In fact, there was enough of the spice mixture to take home (hopefully with no bits of chicken left behind!) which is exactly what I did, and it's still in my 'fridge being a yummy seasoning for barbecue and pizza. While I still give the nod to Woburn overall--their kitchen just seems to be better, and their staff works harder to be helpful, if you want something seriously hot and numbing and can get the Brookline kitchen to make your Chongqing chicken the way they made ours, you'll be enjoying yourself for days afterwards.

                          -----
                          Sichuan Garden
                          295 Washington St, Brookline, MA 02445

                          Golden Garden
                          63 Concord Ave, Belmont, MA 02478

                      3. c
                        CookieLee Jun 6, 2010 09:04 AM

                        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.

                        -----
                        Sichuan Gourmet
                        502 Boston Rd, Billerica, MA 01821

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: CookieLee
                          Tir_na_nOg Jun 6, 2010 02:16 PM

                          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).

                          -----
                          Sichuan Gourmet
                          1004 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02446

                          1. re: Tir_na_nOg
                            q
                            qianning Aug 3, 2010 01:15 PM

                            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
                            s
                            Spike Jun 7, 2010 06:34 AM

                            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...

                            -----
                            Sichuan Gourmet
                            502 Boston Rd, Billerica, MA 01821

                            1. re: Spike
                              c
                              CookieLee Jun 7, 2010 12:43 PM

                              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
                                MC Slim JB Jun 7, 2010 01:03 PM

                                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/

                                -----
                                Mary Chung Restaurant
                                460 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

                                1. re: CookieLee
                                  c
                                  cmd Jun 8, 2010 06:06 PM

                                  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.

                                  -----
                                  Sichuan Gourmet
                                  502 Boston Rd, Billerica, MA 01821

                            2. Tir_na_nOg Jun 5, 2010 07:42 AM

                              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.

                              -----
                              Sichuan Gourmet
                              502 Boston Rd, Billerica, MA 01821

                              Sichuan Garden
                              295 Washington St, Brookline, MA 02445

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Tir_na_nOg
                                tatsu Jun 5, 2010 09:01 AM

                                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
                                  Tir_na_nOg Jun 5, 2010 10:51 AM

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

                              2. MC Slim JB Jun 4, 2010 11:51 AM

                                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. d
                                  drb Jun 4, 2010 09:31 AM

                                  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
                                    d
                                    dsmoxie Jun 4, 2010 10:56 AM

                                    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
                                      StriperGuy Jun 4, 2010 11:05 AM

                                      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. g
                                    gorboduc Jun 4, 2010 09:14 AM

                                    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
                                      t
                                      teezeetoo Jun 4, 2010 09:18 AM

                                      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.

                                    Show Hidden Posts