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Nadeau review of Sichuan Gourmet

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FoonFan Aug 14, 2010 10:53 AM

Nadeau gives Sichuan Gourmet (review headline says Sichuan Garden but that's another story) in Brookline 4 stars, yet disses their non-authentic menu offerings. I love their authentic dishes. However, I quibble with 4 stars for a restaurant that has stuff on the menu that it doesn't execute well. I ate here with family members who don't like spicy food. They ordered mainstream items such as chicken with peapods and lo mein. It was bad. There is no excuse - if it's on the menu, it should be well executed, or no 4 stars. Period.

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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. s
    Spike RE: FoonFan Aug 14, 2010 11:11 AM

    I don't think I've ever tried a place that fit this bill "if it's on the menu, it should be well executed" except for the smallish bistro type places and even then, they have their ups and downs...

    the goal as a foodie IMHO is to try to identify the best dishes at a place...

    1. StriperGuy RE: FoonFan Aug 14, 2010 11:50 AM

      Yah, I have to agree with Spike, If you don't like spicy, don't go to a Sichuan restaurant. And if you don't really like Chinese, (chicken with peapods, seriously) stick with PF Changs.

      1 Reply
      1. re: StriperGuy
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        cambridgedoctpr RE: StriperGuy Aug 14, 2010 12:01 PM

        I have to admit that there is plenty on the menu that is not very good even though the best is worthy of 4 stars. I do not think that Nadeau made that clear in his review, and i would be disappointed if I read this review without the caveats.

        That being said, I was a regular in Bilerica and am now a regular in Brookline. Some of my favorite dishes in Boston are being served at SG.

      2. h
        hargau RE: FoonFan Aug 14, 2010 02:27 PM

        I agree with the others and i will add that there are plenty of authentic non-spicy dishes on the menu that are excellent. So not liking spicy food is not really a reason to order the subpar americanized la-choy fare.

        Some examples:
        Steamed jumbo shrimp with fresh garlic
        fresh whole fish with scallion
        meat ball sichuan style (lions head)
        shredded pork with fresh bamboo shoots
        fresh bamboo shoots with sesamee oil
        scallops with black pepper sauce
        shredded duck with ginger
        chicken with asperagus w/ chengdu special sauce

        23 Replies
        1. re: hargau
          justbeingpolite RE: hargau Aug 14, 2010 02:54 PM

          Love the shredded pork with bamboo shoots, when I can tear myself away from the spicy stuff!!

          1. re: hargau
            StriperGuy RE: hargau Aug 14, 2010 03:27 PM

            In all fairness, my original post was a bit over the top, but I mean seriously, chicken with peapods, I don't even know that that is, but if you order it you really are better off at PF Changs.

            1. re: StriperGuy
              barleywino RE: StriperGuy Aug 14, 2010 07:14 PM

              Hey its nontrivial to execute a good chicken w/ peapods, don't knock it... just because a dish doesn't involve obscure animal organs or szechuan peppercorns doesn't mean it is not worth executing well...an example is the fish filet w/ vegetables at New Shanghai... a simple sounding dish, not spicy or exotic, but even other "authentic" places like Shanghai Gate and Jo Jo Taipei don't always get it right

              1. re: barleywino
                tatsu RE: barleywino Aug 14, 2010 08:44 PM

                Or the pan-fried tofu at Taiwan Cafe, literally a thin slab of pan seared tofu with a soy-based broth on it, looks like a child could make it, but I know deep down it'd take me a year to figure out how to execute it that well on my own.

                It is funny how we are all shiznuts for mala nowadays.

                1. re: tatsu
                  Nab RE: tatsu Aug 15, 2010 07:43 AM

                  "It is funny how we are all shiznuts for mala nowadays."

                  To a fault, sometimes. The nuances of Sichuan cuisine have been lost on many people simply looking for the most amount of peppercorns and chilis. It's not just about how mala can you ga.

                2. re: barleywino
                  StriperGuy RE: barleywino Aug 15, 2010 01:27 AM

                  Sorry I just plain disagree. It don't have to be funky, it don't have to be crazy, it don't have to be spicy, or ma la or have animal organs in it to be good, that I totally agree. Some of the milder, understated dishes can be wonderful, YES.

                  But chicken with pea pods is the baked haddock of Chinese cooking imho. Order baked haddock in almost any place and you are going to get a boring piece of fish, OVER-COOKED, swimming in butter with crappy bread crumbs on top.

                  Even in a decent place the chef will probably assume it's for grandma and that's how she wants it. If he served the fish a little moist and heaven forbid not REALLY cooked through, a bit rare inside, it would get sent back 95% of the time. Any place that has it on the menu does so because THEY FEEL THEY HAVE TO. It's just not going to get much respect in prep as the cuisine that the resto is really about. Whether it's the meatloaf, or the mignonette.

                  If you are going to judge a place on the baked haddock you are missing the point. And the same is true for chicken with pea pods. The line at PF Changs get's longer every year.

                  1. re: StriperGuy
                    Infomaniac RE: StriperGuy Aug 15, 2010 04:40 AM

                    Can't speak for the chicken and peapods dishes, never had any, but I have to disagree about how you think baked haddock is served. I've had some really good baked haddock dishes not even close to your impression. With crabmeat or lobster meat stuffing, spinach, tomato and garlic, lemon pepper, all cooked perfect in not very creative places too.

                    1. re: Infomaniac
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                      cambridgedoctpr RE: Infomaniac Aug 15, 2010 05:17 AM

                      the point is that there is mediocre stuff on SG menu, and a review should point that out.

                      It is hard to go wrong at say, Le Bernadin, in NYC where amything off the menu is wonderful, and that is not possible at SG.

                      How you handle that in a review is a quetion? That saying, I go to SG often and consider it a great bargain.

                      1. re: Infomaniac
                        StriperGuy RE: Infomaniac Aug 15, 2010 06:31 AM

                        OF COURSE SOME PLACES make it very well. It is not inherently a bad dish. But my point is many places have it on the menu because they feel they have to, and it is a risky dish to order for that reason.

                        1. re: StriperGuy
                          barleywino RE: StriperGuy Aug 15, 2010 06:51 AM

                          this is true. i think it is those risky "obligatory" dishes that separate the good chefs from the great chefs, the great chefs can make even the simplest, potentially most boring dishes sing. (for that reason, i never order chicken unless i'm at a restaurant that has the potential to knock it out of the ballpark.)

                          1. re: barleywino
                            Nab RE: barleywino Aug 15, 2010 07:37 AM

                            Agree with much of what is being said, but will just add that there are certain scenarios which, at least for me, call for a somewhat more cautious and/or calculated approach, the first example coming to mind that of "kung pao chicken." Ubiquitous, obligatory chicken dish on literally every single Chinese restaurant menu in the history of the entire universe. But you could be at the Wok'n'Roll restaurant in Verona, North Dakota one day and come to find out the Sichuan cook in back has spent a lifetime mastering the dish, elevating it to unimaginable levels of sublimity. I realize y'all are not talking about these outliers, but just saying I am always on the lookout for them. You never know when that General Tsos will take you to nirvana.

                            1. re: Nab
                              StriperGuy RE: Nab Aug 15, 2010 07:51 AM

                              Ah yes, but when you are in that place in ND, there will be 3 or 4 or 5 hints that a serious hound will pick up on (what they are eating at the staff meal, some birds nests proudly displayed in a case, that indescribable vibe) which might just indicate that there is more then meets the eye.

                              This all started when the OP condemned SG cause of it's lousy chicken with pea pods. And my point is that if you are going to rule out a resto base on how they prepare the crappiest of standard dishes, shrimp cocktail anyone, you are going to miss a lot of excellent food.

                              Anywhere short of Le Bernardin (is that still around) it pays to do a little detective work, find out where the chef's heart really lies (particularly in ND) and order that.

                              If you stick with the chicken with pea pods, baked haddock, or the shrimp cocktail, it's going to be a long boring meal (life).

                              1. re: StriperGuy
                                tatsu RE: StriperGuy Aug 15, 2010 09:22 AM

                                Well my dad used to order tamago on the menu first. If it was bad, he would skip. Similarly, Jacques Pepin would order a boiled egg, and if it had green rings, he would judge it bad right then and there.

                                Fair? Harsh? Maybe. Maybe not.

                                1. re: tatsu
                                  StriperGuy RE: tatsu Aug 15, 2010 09:42 AM

                                  Who cares about fair or not. You're going to miss a LOT of good food with a silly, narrowly focused, totally arbitrary TEST lacking all context.

                                  Honestly I think it belies a lost in time, old school, narrrow minded approach that is far more likely to leave you at the two or three restos that PASS the silly test, possibly to the utter lack of any creativity, then being ANY useful gauge of good food. It is a GREAT way to eliminate 80% of the restos in the universe and stick to the 3-4 places in a particular person's comfort zone.

                                  A boiled egg, or Tamago is ONLY a test of how good they boil an egg or make Tamago. What does it have anything to do with anything else in the food universe? Seriously?

                                  Who the heck serves boiled eggs? And do you really think every Japanese resto gives a hoot about their Tamago? Your Dad, and Jacques may care, but that is a pretty small universe for dismissing a resto outright.

                                  I can order a boiled egg at the Deluxe Town Diner in Watertown, which they might very well botch, and miss the best pancakes and breafasts in Boston. I can give you a hundred other similar, comparable, arbitrary tests, which in the larger chowniverse tell you next to nothing.

                                  It's about the chow. Try the menu, see if there are good things to eat. Eat them, don't eat the bad things. It's really not that complicated.

                                  -----
                                  Deluxe Town Diner
                                  627 Mt Auburn St, Watertown, MA 02472

                                  1. re: StriperGuy
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                                    cambridgedoctpr RE: StriperGuy Aug 15, 2010 09:51 AM

                                    If Jacques Pepin or your father used that test on SG, they would miss a lot of good eating.

                                    This test might well work for certain restaurants but not for a sichuan restaurant.

                                    Why should not Pepin walk into a french restaurant, demand gung bao ji ding, and the walk out if it is not well prepared.

                                    In the context of a sichuan restaurant, this sort of test does not make sense.

                                    1. re: StriperGuy
                                      t
                                      trueblu RE: StriperGuy Aug 15, 2010 10:10 AM

                                      I agree up to a point. However, I do believe that chefs that take pride in their craft should be able to execute any dish on the _menu_ with a fair degree of excellence. The problem lies in the fact that in most ethnic restaurants, the chef is not the owner, and probably (I'm guessing here) has little say in the total menu outlay.

                                      Problems arise because the owner may want to cover all the bases and, knowing that a certain percentage of diners will order 'safe' or 'familiar' dishes (e.g. pea-pod/chicken example), but the chef has no real idea how to cook those items, and does them poorly. This might not be the chef's fault, but it does reflect badly on the restaurant as a whole, imo. Imagine if this wasn't sichuan gourment, but L'Espalier, and fully one third of the menu was terrible or practically inedible, including say a classic dish such as a lamb chop or whatever. It might still be an excellent restaurant, with some outstanding dishes, but a) if you order the lamb and it's awful, would you defend the chef if he holds his hands up and says he actually doesn't know how to cook it, so it's not his fault and b) if it got a 4-star review, how up in arms would everyone be, especially if there weren't qualifiers?

                                      Not everyone reads CH, nor should they. But if a respected food critic gives an outstanding review of a restaurant, they should (knowing the general readership) at least hint that one should only order the sichuan dishes from the menu. Otherwise, the 'bottom line' 4-star review, does, suggest, at least to the non-initiant (who has most to gain from said review) that almost anything on the menu will be v. good or excellent.

                                      tb

                                      1. re: trueblu
                                        c
                                        cambridgedoctpr RE: trueblu Aug 15, 2010 10:48 AM

                                        I agree with you that in an ideal world, the chef would stick to his knitting and only do sichuanese food. And, sorry to repeat myself, Nadeau should have warned new comers that the non-sichuanese part of the menu is not very good. And yes, this americanized chinese food does not show SG in the best light.

                                        So, what i would say is that SG is a 3.5 star sichuanese restaurant and a 1/2 star amerianized chinese restaurant.

                                        I brought a friend from LA - which has no shortage of good chinese grub - over to SG, ordered correctly, and he thought that the food was better than anything he had in LA or in China. That outbalances the weakness in the menu for me.

                                        1. re: cambridgedoctpr
                                          StriperGuy RE: cambridgedoctpr Aug 15, 2010 11:12 AM

                                          Well said!

                                      2. re: StriperGuy
                                        tatsu RE: StriperGuy Aug 15, 2010 11:42 AM

                                        I don't 100% ascribe to these tests myself, but for sushi, I will "markdown" for bad tamago, certainly. Pepin wouldn't eat eggs at SG but the point is that eggs are a good test, if you can't cook eggs you can't cook anything is basically his thinking, no excuses. I think there are a few ways to think about food myself and context is important, I never suggested applying these tests to SG I was simply playing devil's advocate and it's nothing to get excited about.

                                        If we made an analogy to music, I suppose my dad and Pepin would say if you can't play perfect scales you have no business making music. This is of course, applies to classical music more than pop and no one is bashing "The Edge" from U2 despite not being able to read music or having any training. (I find his guitar pretty boring tho.)

                                        Flashes of brillance and good chow is very important to us as consumers but there is something to be said for "the old ways", sticking to the basics and being traditionally trained.

                                        1. re: tatsu
                                          barleywino RE: tatsu Aug 15, 2010 11:53 AM

                                          i would mark down Osushi in Copley for such a test. I asked them whether they had otoro and the chef said no. then i saw that it was listed on their daily specials list and asked them about it and the same chef said yes, they had it, and pointed to something that was definitely not otoro. very odd. either they don't know, or dont care.

                                          1. re: tatsu
                                            Nab RE: tatsu Aug 15, 2010 12:21 PM

                                            I've essentially given up on ordering tamago in town since so few places have an acceptable version. tatsu, where are you enjoying tamago these days ? I seem to recall Douzo having a legit tamago but it has been a long while since I last ordered it.

                                            Also, is this how you make your tamago ? ;)

                                            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWU7Fv...

                                            Wow.

                                            -----
                                            Douzo
                                            131 Dartmouth St, Boston, MA 02116

                                            1. re: Nab
                                              tatsu RE: Nab Aug 15, 2010 04:37 PM

                                              well most of us have a little square tamago skillet but that is the basic idea. the best tamago i had is in NYC, it's a semi-secret dining place but if you go there, msg me and i'll tell ya where to go. the tamago there is actually one of the best things i've ever seen with eggs. pillowy but still firm and moist. it was very very "tall" for a tamago, maybe 5-6 cm high. i just didn't think it was possible

                                    2. re: Nab
                                      barleywino RE: Nab Aug 15, 2010 09:51 AM

                                      i agree. i used to go to one place in NYC just for their exceptional mapo tofu, it wasn't red, it wasn't spicy, but had an incredible subtle white pepper/scallion/ginger/garlic sauce. another place just for perfect al dente shrimp wontons, etc. you come back a month later and the chef has moved on and the dish is gone, like that. the melt in your mouth fish filet in wine sauce at CK Shanghai in wellesley, no longer the same dish as a few years ago, even if the same chef. chicken with peapods might be tender with egg white/cornstarch one time, the next time it might be dry and boring. its like dipping your toe into the stream, you can never dip into the same spot twice.

                      2. L2k RE: FoonFan Aug 15, 2010 05:09 PM

                        Took the wife here last night last night before the concert. Got there at 5:30 or so, place was empty. We had late lunch, so ordered the Sichaun String Beans (which we get everywhere, so it was a good test) and the Pan Fried noodles with seafood (which I've had dozens of places).

                        The beans were very well cooked, although not at all spicy (as advertised). The seafood noodles just didn't hit me like they should. The noodles were very dry. When we put the seafood (4 shrimp, a bunch of white fish, a few scallops, no squid, which I noticed later they just don't serve) on the noodles, they absorbed some of the moisture and taste of the seafood, otherwise they reminded us of ramen. Good ramen, but ramen nevertheless.

                        Will definitely go back, before a ballgame or something, but we'll stick with CK Shanghai for our suburban Chinese.

                        17 Replies
                        1. re: L2k
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                          BJK RE: L2k Aug 15, 2010 06:02 PM

                          Forgive me for belaboring what seems to have become the point of this thread, but it should be no surprise that the Sichuan dish that you ordered at Sichuan Gourmet is the one you enjoyed, and the Hong-Kong style Cantonese pan-fried noodles came up short. Short of serving family style with rice and chopsticks, the two cuisines couldn't be more different.

                          For what it's worth, I also don't generally go to Sichuan Gourmet for dim sum, xiao long bao, wontons, chow fun, chow mein, lo mein, Shanghai style noodles, roast pork, roast duck, salt and pepper fried anything, or shaved ice, but I suspect CK Shanghai might be a good bet for any one of those dishes.

                          1. re: BJK
                            L2k RE: BJK Aug 16, 2010 06:08 AM

                            I have no problem with the belaboring. We went on the spur of the moment (she's not a big fan of Chinese), and I didn't have a chance to study to figure out which dishes are Sichuan and which aren't, so I could order more appropriately.

                            Although maybe, that's the point. Unless the dishes are categorized as such, how is the average diner to know what is worth ordering and what isn't?

                            1. re: L2k
                              StriperGuy RE: L2k Aug 16, 2010 06:33 AM

                              Ahhhh, but this is chowhound. The average diner most certainly will NOT know. That's what chowhound is all about.

                              1. re: StriperGuy
                                L2k RE: StriperGuy Aug 16, 2010 07:52 AM

                                Darn it, but ain't you right!

                                Forgot to mention, the place was still mostly empty when we left at 6PM on Saturday. I know, I know, too early for Chowhounds. I imagine it must have been bursting at the seams by 7:30-8PM when the real aficionados were ready to dine.

                                1. re: L2k
                                  ScubaSteve RE: L2k Aug 17, 2010 07:09 PM

                                  i would prefer dining at 5-5:30, especially on a Saturday night. come to think of it, i hardly ever dine out on fridays or saturdays anymore.

                          2. re: L2k
                            h
                            hargau RE: L2k Aug 15, 2010 06:04 PM

                            I have had the pan fried noodles at S.G framingham and wouldnt recommend them. Again, not what they are known for or do well. It's a cantonese / americanized dish.. Stick with the Sichuan dishes. The Sichuan Style String beans have 0 peppers for hotness on their menu http://www.laosichuan.com/en/menu.php...
                            So i wouldnt have expected them to be spicy at all.

                            1. re: hargau
                              c
                              cambridgedoctpr RE: hargau Aug 15, 2010 06:19 PM

                              i took a friend from chicago to CK Shanghai where i had some great Shanghai food including shanghai style shrimp and dusch - which were not on the menu. He wanted to lure CK to Chicago which is a good place for Chinese food, if not LA or SF.

                              Even at Le Bernadin in NYC there is surf and turf on the menu. Even the best restaurants offer dishes for customer who do not have a clue what they should be ordering.

                              1. re: cambridgedoctpr
                                v
                                VivreManger RE: cambridgedoctpr Aug 15, 2010 06:34 PM

                                Perhaps I missed it but in all of this discussion there seems to be no link to Nadeau's actual review. So here it is:

                                http://thephoenix.com/Boston/food/106...

                                I have now read it.

                                Its central point is that SG is middling to lousy for everything but real Sichuan cooking. The reports have confirmed that. The argument is whether or not a restaurant a large part of whose menu is middling to lousy should get 4 stars.

                                I have not seen the hard copy of the menu, but if a quarter to a half consists of such inferior items then SG does not deserve 4 stars. I suspect given American resto tastes the inferior items probably represent a substantial part of the text.

                                At best Nadeau should have given two ratings, four stars for Sichuan and a big zero for everything else. His text actually offers that, but his capsule star rating does not. That is the fault of the format in which he was working. And it is his fault for failing to adjust the format.

                                1. re: VivreManger
                                  h
                                  hargau RE: VivreManger Aug 15, 2010 06:53 PM

                                  It is not 1/4 or 1/2 , it is a very small portion of the menu. I have had many of those dishes too because sometimes we go out with large groups where someone orders one. I have not had anything that I would call nonedible but to me it was typical of a strip-mall chinese takeout joint. Nothing special... People ordering it when i have had them have liked the Lo-Mein, etc just fine.

                                  Oddly enough the "chicken with peapods" that started this all, doesnt even show on their menu! Was this a "special request"??? http://www.laosichuan.com/en/menu.php...

                                  We went to the Billerica location last night and it was all excellent as usual. One of our new favorites is Zha Jiang Noodle Soup with Pork & Spicy Sauce
                                  Excellent!

                                  1. re: VivreManger
                                    StriperGuy RE: VivreManger Aug 16, 2010 06:33 AM

                                    Stick to your truly 4 Star worthy restaurants and leave the good stuff for the rest of us.

                                    1. re: StriperGuy
                                      f
                                      FoonFan RE: StriperGuy Aug 16, 2010 07:54 AM

                                      This is the OP jumping back in. Very interesting and worthwhile discussion. Here's my takeaway: I love the authentic dishes at SG. I would give them close to 4 stars. My mother loves chicken with snow peas. The dish she got at SG was worthy of a fast food stand at a shopping mall. I still maintain that if a restaurant doesn't prepare what's on its menu up to an excellent standard for that dish, then it does not deserve to be a 4 star restaurant.

                                      1. re: FoonFan
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                                        LeRique RE: FoonFan Aug 16, 2010 08:13 AM

                                        As to Nadeaus review. He never used to use stars in the old days. And I always thought that he was such a good writer that he didn't need them . I still like his style and I think the whole star thing can be misleading. I think forgetting the star controversy his review was pretty clear as to what to avoid. and quite informative as to the dishes,that shine. After all thats why we read the reviews.

                                        1. re: LeRique
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                                          cambridgedoctpr RE: LeRique Aug 16, 2010 08:48 AM

                                          i am not sure that i have been to a restaurant without weaknesses in the menu though, say Le Bernadin, the holes are not quite so deep. But, boy, i get the same pleasure from a great meal at SG as at LB, and pay 15% as much.

                                          And the reason to read and write at chowhound is to ferret out the highs and the best deals.

                                          1. re: cambridgedoctpr
                                            l
                                            LeRique RE: cambridgedoctpr Aug 16, 2010 10:16 AM

                                            Couldn't agree more! And Nadeau I think is pretty good at doing that. His knowledge of the Boston Chinese scene is pretty on point.

                                            1. re: LeRique
                                              KWagle RE: LeRique Sep 1, 2010 11:04 AM

                                              I've just read the Nadeau review, and have been roused from my somnolescent torpor to post to Chowhound. Based on what he chose to order at Lao Sichuan, as well as his reviews of other "Chinese" restaurants, I have to dispute the claim that "his knowledge of the Boston Chinese scene is pretty on point."

                                              Inspired by some vague 20-year-old memory of the claims of Joyce Chen (who BTW was from Beijing and left China in 1949, so I'd be very surprised if she knew much about Sichuan cooking) from 20 years ago, he goes to a Sichuan restaurant and orders tangerine beef, for crying out loud. (In fact, he spends a lot of time ordering things he knows to be nontraditional.) And I'm willing to bet he wasn't expecting a "cold" (room-temperature) dish loaded with dry beef, dried peppers and huajiao, and only a hint of tangerine.

                                              And he *admits* "this fiasco was my own fault." Then he comes to Chowhound to do his homework, research he should have done *before* he ever darkened their door, and, hopefully chastened, returns to try to order an actual Sichuan meal, and gets an argument from the waiter.

                                              Nadeau's other reviews only serve to cement my contempt He doesn't seem to know much about the dishes he's ordering nor the ingredients that comprise them. For example, he "hoped Szechwan crispy beef would be made with the same technique used for twice-fried pork." Um, no. He complains about a 辣鹽 dish that "all the spice was in a dribble of chili flakes and scallions applied on top". Yes, that's what the dish IS that you ordered, you blithering illiterate--though to be fair, it should have bits of small fresh hot peppers, not chili flakes.

                                              On top of everything else, he "[views] it as immoral to offer dishes that the kitchen doesn’t at least try to execute well." But make no mistake, Robert Nadeau is the enemy--HE is the person that motivates the behavior he deplores, the person who orders the dishes he disses. Or can he really be so delusional as to believe the cooks who work 12-hour days in those kitchens *want* to make swill for the white trade?

                                              And just what the heck is "Mandarin-Szechuan" food anyway? Apparently part of "the old Cambridge M-S tradition", whatever that is. This isn't a mere Kliman-esque "famous ma la peppercorn" misunderstanding, Nadeau's is the kind of deep ignorance and stupidity that leads otherwise friendly Chinese people to refuse to serve "his kind" (meaning people like me and probably you) the food we actually want to eat. Four stars is the *least* he can give to a place like Lao Sichuan.

                                              1. re: KWagle
                                                c
                                                cambridgedoctpr RE: KWagle Feb 2, 2011 07:28 AM

                                                mandarin refers to the ruling class in china. every province had its mandarin class, and perhaps the upper class food of each province could be considered the food of the local mandarins.

                                                once you get to know the people at the restaurant, you will not have problems. the servers are being cautious when serving to the white devils.

                                          2. re: LeRique
                                            MC Slim JB RE: LeRique Aug 20, 2010 07:52 AM

                                            I made the same point about Sichuan vs. non- in my late-May Boston Phoenix On the Cheap review of Sichuan Gourmet, Brookline (and it's equally true at the other two locations).

                                            I can state authoritatively that no professional reviewer, Nadeau first among them, likes assigning star ratings, for reasons many and obvious. I'm really glad I don't have to do them in my two paid gigs. They are idiotically, unfairly simplistic.

                                            http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

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

                              2. k
                                Kinopio RE: FoonFan Aug 16, 2010 11:47 AM

                                I'm moving at the end of this month to an apartment 2 blocks away from SG in Brookline, and am very excited to check it out. As a pescatarian who really enjoys dishes with heat, what should I be ordering?

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: Kinopio
                                  h
                                  hargau RE: Kinopio Aug 16, 2010 12:20 PM

                                  We like these 3...
                                  Fish fillets with spicy chili sauce - this is in a large bowl over cabbage. (they offer this same dish with chicken,pork, etc but we like the fish the best)
                                  Xiang la dry fish fillet. - This one is lightly coated and dry fried with lots of chili peppers
                                  Jin Gu Fish Fillets - This is their hottest dish. Its a large bowl with lots of brothy sauce over brocoli.

                                  Make sure to let them know you like it spicy.

                                  1. re: hargau
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                                    lexpatti RE: hargau Aug 17, 2010 04:16 PM

                                    Ditta, what hargau says - we love love love th xiang la fish fillet but we dine in billerica where everything is always AWESOME and spicy!!

                                    I love shrimp but haven't found a good spicy shrimp dish.

                                    1. re: hargau
                                      v
                                      VivreManger RE: hargau Aug 19, 2010 04:48 AM

                                      Is the fish in each of these dishes, tilapia? In my experience that has become the standard issue US Chinese resto fish. I don't find it that tasty.

                                      1. re: VivreManger
                                        q
                                        qianning RE: VivreManger Aug 19, 2010 05:27 AM

                                        i don't know in brookline, but at sichuan gourmet in billerica, in the fish filet dishes they use flounder filets, in the whole fish dishes they use tilapia.

                                        1. re: qianning
                                          h
                                          hargau RE: qianning Aug 19, 2010 05:38 AM

                                          Correct. This is what the brookline menu says as well.

                                        2. re: VivreManger
                                          b
                                          bear RE: VivreManger Aug 19, 2010 07:10 AM

                                          VM, Formosa-Taipei in Lexington (mostly take-out) makes a delicious spicy flounder filet (under the Chef's Specials menu). I'm not a fan of tilapia, and often shy away from ordering fish dishes in Chinese restaurants because that tends to be what is used. This is definitely well-prepared flounder in a delicious sauce.

                                      2. re: Kinopio
                                        StriperGuy RE: Kinopio Aug 16, 2010 02:02 PM

                                        Szechuan Village also does a killer whole fish in a bowl with plenty of heat.

                                      3. Jolyon Helterman RE: FoonFan Aug 16, 2010 05:52 PM

                                        In agreement with the OP. For a four star rating, the kitchen needs to execute the menu well across the board, with only minor hiccups. A restaurant has to make a choice: a pared-down menu of just its specialty, or a crowd-pleasing, profit-minded menu riddled with moments of mediocrity. Either way, a four-star rating should be a careful critic's seal of approval for the entire dining experience, regardless of what you order, and should be doled out sparingly.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Jolyon Helterman
                                          StriperGuy RE: Jolyon Helterman Aug 16, 2010 06:00 PM

                                          That is certainly a thoughtful and definitive response to the above thread.

                                        2. Aromatherapy RE: FoonFan Aug 19, 2010 06:03 AM

                                          Having finally read the Nadeau review--the dishes he didn't like were, as he said, dishes that during the first wave of Szechuanese restaurants in the 70s, were indeed good choices. What he received were the post-food court versions. Now you could argue that those dishes should have been taken back to origin (which might alienate customers expecting the gloppy versions) but this wasn't a case of ordering Cantonese. More about how certain bastardized Sichuan dishes have become default "Chinese" for many who've never had the real thing.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Aromatherapy
                                            KWagle RE: Aromatherapy Sep 1, 2010 07:32 AM

                                            Did this alleged first wave of Szechuan restaurants actually serve what we (or Fuchsia Dunlop) would recognize as Sichuan food, or were they Sichuan in name only?

                                            1. re: KWagle
                                              9
                                              9lives RE: KWagle Sep 1, 2010 10:18 AM

                                              http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/28/nyr...

                                              David Keh is generally credited with bringing Szechuan food to "non Chinatown" NY. My memory and past knowledge isn't good enough to say it was authentic but it attracted many people from the region. I just knew I llike it hot and spicy and had to convince them of my desires.

                                              I'm sure they also served Cantonese dishes, Mr K was a a smart enough man that I'm sure he tried to accomodate his Western clientele with wonton soup and egg rolls. He was able to charm my grandmother; no easy task..:

                                              )

                                              Peking ravioli were a real eye opener..:)

                                              As to "star ratings," IMO a 4* place should provide it all. Great food, service and decor. I love the food at places like Floating Rock or Mulan, etc and really don't think the same grading should be applied to them vs a Mento or L'Espalier. 2 extremes but they're both trying to accomplish a diffferent thing.

                                              -----
                                              L'Espalier
                                              774 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02199

                                              Floating Rock
                                              485 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA

                                          2. lipoff RE: FoonFan Aug 19, 2010 07:44 AM

                                            I agree with Nadeau's star rating for the same reasons StriperGuy cites as principles of Chowishness, but also think he pointed out very explicitly in the review what not to order.

                                            I think the "rules" for how we review some ethnic restaurants ought to be a little different. I know that we're in America, but I think something is lost if you only give four stars to restaurants like L'Espalier, which are the total package --- food, service, decor, etc.

                                            In particular, the Chinese conception of a restaurant is a bit different. The same establishment can do a $6.95 lunch special in the afternoon, and then set up for a $250/person private wedding banquet in the evening, complete with white table cloths and rare ingredients. At Fuloon, for example, you may get an ordinary teapot at an ordinary table, but if you have a party in the private room, they'll break out the ornate pots and use rare tea.

                                            Speaking particularly of Sichuan Gourmet in Brookline, they occupy a particular economic and cultural niche. Chef Chang's did a large business for many years selling mediocre Americanized Chinese food and take out, along with the occasional Chinese family or Chowhound coming in for a Peking Duck feast. Not everyone is a chili-head (peppercorn-head?) and I think Sichuan Gourmet wants to capture the large market that Chef Chang's served, while also catering towards those who love authentic Sichuan cuisine. This seems like a fine situation, since the presence of things I don't want to order on the menu doesn't bother me.

                                            My only objection is that while Fuloon's gracious hostess will help non-Chinese customers navigate the authentic portion of the menu and encourages them to try something new, it seems like at Sichuan Gourmet in Brookline you have to argue for authenticity. When I ordered fu1 qi1 fei4 pian4 (Sliced Roast Beef & Tendon w. Chili Sauce) (and in Chinese!) I was asked if I still wanted it since it's a cold dish. Really? Then I also had to insist that our table really liked spicy food (again in Chinese). Even so, some dishes came out properly spicy and others were markedly toned down from what I recall in Billerica or Framingham.

                                            When the Billerica restaurant first opened, it was a small little place that catered almost exclusively to local Chinese, and maybe some local corporate lunch business. When the occasional Chowhound make the trek out there, we didn't have to contend with any assumptions that we didn't want the "real" thing. But Brookline is different, and maybe rightfully so. Sometimes I think Chinese restaurants imagine that Americans don't want real Chinese food, when most people do. But sometimes, surely, people do send dishes back (or just don't come back) if they're too spicy, are cold when they expected them to be hot, or include offal. I don't run a restaurant, so I can't say with certainty, but it does seem to me many Chinese restaurants are too risk adverse when Western customers want authentic food.

                                            I think other ethnic restaurants are different still --- few Americans are as familiar with Cambodian food as they are with Americanized Chinese food. The authentic Cambodian restaurants don't see a large clientele of non-Cambodians for lunch or for take-out, an so while their restaurants can be more "pure" they are also largely restricted to specific areas with large populations of Cambodians, and operate on extremely thin margins. Because Chinese restaurants can appeal to a wider group, they can be found in Brookline as well as Billerica, and can often afford higher quality products, stay open later, and have more variety in their menus. All this seems like a pretty good thing to me.

                                            -----
                                            L'Espalier
                                            774 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02199

                                            Sichuan Gourmet
                                            1004 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02446

                                            46 Replies
                                            1. re: lipoff
                                              StriperGuy RE: lipoff Aug 19, 2010 07:55 AM

                                              Nice discussion.

                                              While I think the chowishness and adventurousness of the overall American palate is growing by leaps and bounds, there are still, for better or worse, MANY, MANY people who essentially freak out if dragged out of their food comfort zone.

                                              Can't tell you how many non-hound friends who would not even try spicy cold tendon (tastes like crunchy noodles I swear) or Squab at Best Little Restaurant (seriously it's like Peking Duck only better). I could go on and on. Heck I have friends who won't even deal with head-on shrimp... "eeew that's weird, I like it better without the shell and when they devein them..."

                                              So while I think we in the U.S. have come a LONG way from won ton soup and Egg Foo Young, I think many Chinese restaurants still struggle with balancing the authentic, and staying in business. It's the nature of the beast if you are in the business of serving "Chinese Food" in the U.S.

                                              1. re: StriperGuy
                                                b
                                                BJK RE: StriperGuy Aug 19, 2010 08:38 AM

                                                Agreed wholeheartedly. I took two coworkers to Taiwan Cafe, and they suggested I just order for the table, and the three of us ate like kings.

                                                A few weeks later, on their suggestion that we go back to Chinatown, I brought them to King Fung Garden, where they once again suggested I just order for the table, and we once again ate like kings. But this time they insisted on adding chicken fingers to our order.

                                                So be it.

                                                -----
                                                King Fung Garden
                                                74 Kneeland St, Boston, MA 02111

                                                1. re: BJK
                                                  s
                                                  Spike RE: BJK Aug 19, 2010 10:40 AM

                                                  LOL...great story. So how were the chicken fingers? :-)

                                                  I think StriperGuy pretty much hit it on the head.
                                                  The reason why all that mediocre crap is on the menu is when the average person goes to a chinese restaurant, they *expect* all that crap...beef w/ broccoli...general gau's chicken...orange chicken.....chicken fingers...LOL.
                                                  It seems that chinese (even the "malaysian" ones in chinatown like Penang and the other one I tried that was ehhh) restaurants insist on having a crazy gigantic menu rather than just focusing on the dishes they do well.

                                                  Doesn't matter that the restaurant specializes in Sicilian seafood and someone wants to order lasagna...same thing...or spaghetti and meatballs...ugh :-P

                                                  1. re: Spike
                                                    b
                                                    BJK RE: Spike Aug 19, 2010 12:57 PM

                                                    With all of the scallion pies, dumplings, and Shanghai chow mein on the table, I somehow managed not to eat any chicken fingers.

                                                    I have no problem with Americanized Chinese food, even chicken fingers, I just don't waste time, effort, or calories on it when in Chinatown. To me, it's roughly equivalent to having a Big Mac in Paris. I'm not opposed to the food item per se, there are just better things to eat in both circumstances.

                                                  2. re: BJK
                                                    KWagle RE: BJK Sep 1, 2010 07:35 AM

                                                    My friends loved King Fung Garden in the distant past when it was known (to them) as Brezhnev's. My one carryout order from there was mediocre. So can you recommend anything in particular?

                                                    -----
                                                    King Fung Garden
                                                    74 Kneeland St, Boston, MA 02111

                                                    1. re: KWagle
                                                      b
                                                      BJK RE: KWagle Sep 1, 2010 08:18 AM

                                                      I used to go for Peking Duck before it changed hands. No idea if it's still good. But, the scallion pies, dumplings (both boiled and pan fried) and Shanghai chow mein are all still excellent.

                                                  3. re: StriperGuy
                                                    lipoff RE: StriperGuy Aug 19, 2010 01:13 PM

                                                    You have non-hound friends?!? ;) jk

                                                    No, sure, I know what you mean. I have a co-worker who when we go out to lunch always asks me several times for "nothing weird, like sushi."

                                                    And I do recall vividly sitting at the late-great New Taste of Asia in Brookline with my parents, for whom I had ordered a grand feast of authentic items. My mom squeamish until she tasted the food, which she really loved. But she definitely wouldn't have ordered all that without my prodding. But during that same meal, a lone diner came in, and started chatting with us, and asked what some of the dishes we had ordered were. I told him, and he ordered a very spicy chicken dish. He took one bite and called for the waitress and harangued her about it --- he said that it was too spicy, and they can't possibly serve Americans this dish and they needed to take it back and serve him something else. I died a little inside.

                                                    But I've also seen the exact opposite. I can just as vividly recall sitting in Vinh Sun with a friend, happily munching on roast meats when a lone young man came in, Red Sox cap firmly slung over his head. He looked at the menu for a few minutes and when the waiter came to take his order, he asked if they had any specials that day. The waiter suggested General Gau's Chicken. He said that he really wanted "real" Chinese food, maybe a seafood special? The waiter suggested Shrimp Lo Mein. It was so obvious to me that this man really wanted to try authentic Chinese food, which is why he came to Chinatown. He either didn't know enough to find it on the menu himself, or wanted the waiter's recommendation for that secret special dish. But he didn't get it, and that's a shame, because both customer and restaurant lost out.

                                                    I think Chinese restaurants are maybe a little too afraid of people sending back something they don't like because its unfamiliar, and instead serve food that's boring. People won't send back blandness, but they may not return again (or at least not as often). I think some of this is due to business reasons (it hurts immediately to re-make food, but it's difficult to measure returning customers), but some of it is for cultural reasons --- many Chinese think that real Chinese food is precisely that stuff that Westerners can't appreciate.

                                                    -----
                                                    New Taste of Asia
                                                    1393 Beacon St, Brookline, MA

                                                    Vinh Sun
                                                    58 Beach St, Boston, MA 02111

                                                    1. re: lipoff
                                                      StriperGuy RE: lipoff Aug 19, 2010 01:28 PM

                                                      Sob, New Taste of Asia...

                                                      Prompted somewhat by this thread I hit SG today for lunch and had the smokey hot chicken from the lunch menu. I asked for it HOT. And it was blazing, with lots of fresh poblano and dried chillies too. Not my favorite dish though. Nowhere near as good as the double cooked bacon.

                                                      Also the hot and sour was different this time, a hair better. But I would say hot and sour is not their strongest suit. Shangri-La's is way better.

                                                      Really need to hit this place again with a crowd and do some real damage...

                                                      -----
                                                      Shangri-La
                                                      149 Belmont St, Belmont, MA 02478

                                                      New Taste of Asia
                                                      1393 Beacon St, Brookline, MA

                                                      1. re: StriperGuy
                                                        b
                                                        BJK RE: StriperGuy Aug 19, 2010 05:53 PM

                                                        So sad. I lived about 100 yards away from New Taste of Asia. With it and Rod Dee both right outside my front door, I ate pretty darn well for my 2 years in Coolidge Corner. Now they're both gone. Perhaps further evidence that focusing on serving authentic ethnic foods is a tough way to make a living despite the passionate support of a niche community like us.

                                                        -----
                                                        New Taste of Asia
                                                        1393 Beacon St, Brookline, MA

                                                        1. re: BJK
                                                          c
                                                          cbcpapa RE: BJK Aug 20, 2010 06:23 AM

                                                          Rod Dee closed because they lost their lease not because they were doing poorly. I tried the one up the street after the Coolidge Corner location closed and it was insanely busy. They said that they will try to reopen somewhere else in CC. Hopefully it is sooner rather than later.

                                                          1. re: cbcpapa
                                                            b
                                                            BJK RE: cbcpapa Aug 20, 2010 07:21 AM

                                                            Good to know re: Rod Dee. I so love that place. Must have eaten there at least once a week for the 2 years I lived nearby!

                                                            1. re: BJK
                                                              c
                                                              cbcpapa RE: BJK Aug 20, 2010 07:37 AM

                                                              They are also opening a new location in Porter Square. Not sure when it's happening but they advertised it at the old CC location.

                                                              1. re: cbcpapa
                                                                b
                                                                BJK RE: cbcpapa Aug 20, 2010 08:00 AM

                                                                True! It figures that as soon as I move out to the boonies Rod Dee opened a new outpost within spitting distance of my former home. :-/

                                                      2. re: lipoff
                                                        Infomaniac RE: lipoff Aug 19, 2010 06:40 PM

                                                        A good chowhound would have helped the dude in the Red Sox cap out with ordering. Next time you or anyone reading this sees something like that, don't be afraid to step up and help a fellow hound out.
                                                        Afterall, most of us hounds who want the real thing and search for the best are still in the minority. Thats why places in C-Town still serve chicken wings, General Gau's Chicken, and Shrimp Lo Mein.

                                                        1. re: lipoff
                                                          l
                                                          lergnom RE: lipoff Aug 19, 2010 07:29 PM

                                                          I live close to Sichuan Garden (Brookline Village) and I think their food has become more consistent since Sichuan Gourmet opened. The ma pa tofu is more astringent. The Chengdu dry hot chicken, my daughter's fav, was so good tonight you'd say out loud "this is so good" with every bite. S. Garden has always been competent though somewhat inconsistent but they do a better job of the sort of Americanized fare than S. Gourmet. By "sort of" I mean the stuff that's not Sichuanese but is either real or closely related to real Chinese food as opposed to the gooey, sweet, almost always deep fried with big batter really Americanized stuff that isn't found in China. Or as the Fujianese couple that runs the place near my mother in Osprey, FL says in regard to actual Chinese food, "They don't like that here!"

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

                                                          Sichuan Gourmet
                                                          1004 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02446

                                                          1. re: lipoff
                                                            m
                                                            mwk RE: lipoff Feb 2, 2011 07:14 AM

                                                            I find this one of the most frustrating things about eating in Chinese restaurants around here, whether it be in Chinatown, or in Quincy near my house. My husband and I happen to love the beef cilantro soup that is on some menus (it goes by different names, so I don't know what the "official" name is). But, the first few times I called in a take out order to my local go to Chinese place and tried to order it, I had to fight with the owner..."but that for Chinese people...you should try Hot and Sour Soup, very good..." I basically had to swear on my mother's grave that I wouldn't hold it against him if I didn't like it.

                                                            We also had a similar "fight" at New Shanghai in Chinatown when we tried to order the Crispy duck with Taro. The hostess desperately tried to change our minds, insisting that we would hate it. But, we like that dish and wanted to try their version. She finally relented and served it to us, and I could see her almost cowering behind the hostess stand watching while we ate. It makes me wonder what kind of angry customers they must get, that they are so determined not to share the "good stuff" with Americans.

                                                            -----
                                                            New Shanghai Restaurant
                                                            21 Hudson St, Boston, MA 02111

                                                            1. re: mwk
                                                              StriperGuy RE: mwk Feb 2, 2011 07:32 AM

                                                              This topic has been discussed for a VERY long time on chowhound. It is one of the central memes of the website/culture.

                                                              When you get an American who orders say stinky tofu, freaks out upon tasting it, sends it back, and doesn't pay for it (obviously an extreme example) the restauranteur gets a bit gun shy when a Gweilo (slightly derogatory term for foreign devil ;-)) orders traditional Chinese fare that may be a bit challenging to the Western palate.

                                                              Slog on through. INSIST! And if you don't like it, for god's sake please don't fuss (though sounds like you wouldn't) you'll just make it that much harder for the rest of us.

                                                              1. re: StriperGuy
                                                                Trumpetguy RE: StriperGuy Feb 2, 2011 08:43 AM

                                                                Every time I go to my fave Chinese restaurant in San Francisco, Spices, I ask the young pretty waitresses which stinky tofu she would recommend? The waitress always says I wouldn't recommend the stinky tofu, because she hates it! :)

                                                                1. re: Trumpetguy
                                                                  StriperGuy RE: Trumpetguy Feb 2, 2011 08:52 AM

                                                                  I personally don't care for the stuff myself, the one time I had it was at Taiwan Cafe here in Boston. Didn't hate it, liked the texture for sure, but it IS stinky.

                                                                  One of my closest work associates is Chinese, her whole family won't touch the stuff. There was a place famous for making stinky tofu near where she grew up, and when the restaurant was preparing it, her family would walk on the other side of the street in order to avoid the smell.

                                                              2. re: mwk
                                                                MC Slim JB RE: mwk Feb 2, 2011 07:32 AM

                                                                I imagine this attitude comes from hard-won experience. Most of the time, they're right, and the customer blames them for it anyway. Pretty common to run into at many traditional restaurants where chilies and other strong flavors figure prominently, notably Thai, Khmer, Malaysian and Indian places as well as Sichuan.

                                                                http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                                1. re: mwk
                                                                  galangatron RE: mwk Feb 2, 2011 07:52 AM

                                                                  that's weird. a group of us ordered the crispy duck with taro at new shanghai a few weeks ago and the prep was pretty simple. chopped pieces of braised duck and long slices of taro in a brown sauce lightly studded with sichuan peppercorns

                                                                  1. re: mwk
                                                                    j
                                                                    Jenny Ondioline RE: mwk Feb 5, 2011 10:45 PM

                                                                    I keep hearing about people having this experience, but in decades of eating in Asian restaurants in various parts of North America, I can't think of a single time I've ever had a server attempt to steer me away from any of the more advanced dishes. If anything, I've had the opposite experience: once at Jo Jo Taipei, we ordered the Country Style Spicy Chicken Chunks along with some of our other usual orders there--three cups tofu, eggplant with basil, soup dumplings, beef and leek pancake--and the waitress paused and said "You guys know that's basically just General Gau, right?"

                                                                    At one of the Korean places on Harvard Ave--possibly Color, possibly the one that was collateral damage when Grecian Yearning burned down, I forget--I once ordered something that's honestly just absolutely basic Korean food, something on the level of beef bulgogi or bibimbap, and when the waitress came back with the banchan, she asked "How do you know about [whatever it was I'd ordered]?," as if I was the first white person who had ever ordered this dish in this restaurant. I just remember thinking it was like a white waitress asking a Korean diner "Wow, how do you know about cheeseburgers?"

                                                                    -----
                                                                    JoJo Tai Pei Restaurant
                                                                    103 Brighton Ave, Boston, MA 02134

                                                                    1. re: Jenny Ondioline
                                                                      MC Slim JB RE: Jenny Ondioline Feb 5, 2011 11:20 PM

                                                                      I feel like I have to lobby for traditional dishes all the time.

                                                                      For example, I have been to S&I Thai at least twenty times, but it's the same drill every visit. "Yes, I know that's really hot. Yes, I know that's got pork rind. Yes, I like those flavors. Yes, I've had that one before, since back when I regularly traveled to Thailand."

                                                                      Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the only people I've ever seen eating in the dining room speak Thai, and the stream of white people coming in for takeout are all getting pad Thai. Anyway, I've learned it's worth being politely adamant about getting the traditional dishes, and not to take offense when they don't seem to remember me at all from one visit to the next.

                                                                      http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                              3. re: lipoff
                                                                c
                                                                cavaluv RE: lipoff Aug 20, 2010 09:28 AM

                                                                I couldn't agree more w/ lipoff. You can't really apply the same rules to low cost, ethnic restaurants. I'm pretty sure Pepin was using his egg test in $25 per entree and up places. If I'm paying boat loads of money at a restaurant, then yeah, everything on the menu better be amazing. These are trained, high paid chefs. Ethnic joints are usually places opened by families with non-CIA trained cooks that are trying to produce dishes that they miss from home and want to share with Americans. I wish that they didn't feel the need to make giant menus with bad Americanized versions of their cuisine but, alas, they all do this. Most of us have learned how to navigate their menus because it's been like this as long as I can remember. Its not just SG. If I go to a sushi place I usually stay away from their kitchen entrees. If I go to a Korean place that serves sushi, I stay away from the sushi. All this changes when the price point starts going up. I guess what I'm saying is that I agree with the 4 stars for SG because I would never even think of ordering the Americanized stuff but at the same time I understand that to the uninitiated, average Joe that rating would be misconstrued as across the board praise.

                                                                1. re: cavaluv
                                                                  Jolyon Helterman RE: cavaluv Aug 20, 2010 11:54 AM

                                                                  I still disagree. I'm a pretty sophisticated diner and I expect the stars to cover the whole menu. That's why, until recently—to some degree, thanks to the power of Chowhound—higher-priced restaurants were reviewed by newspaper critics, while lower-priced places, especially ethnic, were saved for their own sections. Hence, the current crisis, editorially speaking.

                                                                  I'm not arguing that the level of food needs to be the same between FuLoon and Menton—only that there has to be consistency within the menu itself, and then that evaluation is grafted onto a comparative calibration between similar styles/types of restaurants.

                                                                  Why, for instance, didn't Nadeau give Bina (in its original incarnation, with Konefal in the kitchen) the full four stars, with a caveat of "just stay away from the crappy desserts"? We all would have gone ballistic! Instead, they got three stars—thanks to the desserts, it's not hard to argue. Shouldn't a savvy diner know how to navigate that menu? No, I'm arguing; the reviewer should offer a clue to the inconsistencies, in the rating itself.

                                                                  1. re: Jolyon Helterman
                                                                    lipoff RE: Jolyon Helterman Aug 20, 2010 02:04 PM

                                                                    I'm certainly glad that Nadeau described the idiosyncrasies of Sichuan Gourmet's menu in his review, I think a reviewer owes his readers that courtesy. But I think we would live in an impoverished world if only certain types of cuisines could ever get "four stars" in the US.

                                                                    Let me put in another way. Would it make sense for me to downgrade my rating of Menton because their tea was poor, tea cups were too large, they didn't have enough cold appetizers, the food wasn't spicy enough, they didn't have chopsticks, and they didn't have any huang jiu, bai jiu, gouqi jiu, or even Tsingdao beer on the menu? No, because it would be judging that restaurant against a standard it's not trying to meet, and customers don't expect. Those same standards might be appropriate to judge a Chinese restaurant by, even in the US.

                                                                    As as aside, I was outraged when Devra First of the Globe gave Fuloon 2.5/4 stars in her review. Considering almost every sentence she wrote was either very positive or positively glowing, I am at a loss to understand why the comparatively low rating. Because she can't stomach the chili? Because she found the sauce on the Wok Baked Beef uninteresting? Or was it because egg rolls and chicken fingers weren't so great? Because they don't have a wine list? Because the water goblets are plastic?

                                                                    I don't expect Fuloon to have a wine list or beautiful stem ware. But a rating of 2.5 stars totally undervalues what is at least the best overall Chinese food in the Boston area. It has the same rating that she gives to Basho, Stoddards and Lucca to new a few. More disturbing, East by Northeast and Ginger Park, also get the same rating as Fuloon. That a middling menu of Asian Fusion served in upscale surroundings could get the same rating as a knockout such as Fuloon only serves to remind me why I read Chowhound and not the Boston Globe.

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

                                                                    Lucca Restaurant
                                                                    226 Hanover St., Boston, MA 02113

                                                                    East by Northeast
                                                                    1128 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

                                                                    Menton
                                                                    354 Congress St, Boston, MA 02210

                                                                    1. re: lipoff
                                                                      StriperGuy RE: lipoff Aug 20, 2010 02:11 PM

                                                                      WELL SAID.

                                                                      1. re: StriperGuy
                                                                        l
                                                                        LeRique RE: StriperGuy Aug 21, 2010 12:05 AM

                                                                        Stars are so arbitrary.Give me a well written review that acurately describes the dining experience,hold the stars please.

                                                                      2. re: lipoff
                                                                        s
                                                                        Spike RE: lipoff Aug 22, 2010 02:03 PM

                                                                        Hate to say it, but I'm not that impressed w/ Fuloon...hit it 3 times now hoping we missed on something, but I prefer sichuan garden/gourmet more...

                                                                      3. re: Jolyon Helterman
                                                                        s
                                                                        Spike RE: Jolyon Helterman Aug 22, 2010 02:03 PM

                                                                        Name a 4 star restaurant in Boston you think deserves 4 stars...I'm sure we'd still find parts of the menu we'd hate... :-)

                                                                        1. re: Spike
                                                                          Jolyon Helterman RE: Spike Aug 22, 2010 03:07 PM

                                                                          Lipoff: Very thoughtful response, but I'm not saying that I expect every restaurant to offer every possible thing one might expect at a restaurant. Only that if it's on the menu, it should reach a certain standard.

                                                                          As far as whether there are (what I consider) four-star restaurants that have either missteps or items I think miss the mark, of course there are. But like a letter grade in a college course, an A doesn't mean perfect, just that a certain percentage (or above) of your work in it is excellent. I'd say that, if executing two-thirds of your coursework at a C level should not earn you an A for the entire coursem regardless of the tradition.

                                                                          1. re: Jolyon Helterman
                                                                            s
                                                                            Spike RE: Jolyon Helterman Aug 22, 2010 04:24 PM

                                                                            I think the college grade analogy is exactly the kind of analogy that shows the Star rating system is flawed and people need to read reviews and know what a restaurant really is about. I knew people w/ photographic memory who could regurgitate what they were taught and get straight A's but couldn't apply what they learned.

                                                                            At any rate, I'm still curious what four star restaurant you think executes all their dishes at an A or B level...

                                                                            1. re: Spike
                                                                              Jolyon Helterman RE: Spike Aug 22, 2010 05:37 PM

                                                                              Well, yes, I'd agree that the star-rating system shouldn't be used as your only "tool" for choosing where to eat. But it should be a guide and, frankly, an honor.

                                                                              * * *

                                                                              Ones that have been *given* four stars by a newspaper critic (for the Globe, at least, it's only one by the current critic), or ones that I think are worthy of four stars?

                                                                              My own list of restaurants that I think consistently execute their entire menu at an A or A-minus level, taking into account the context of both their ambition as a restaurant and their success vis-à-vis their direct competitors:

                                                                              (in no particular order; also note, not all of these are my favorites—some of which have flawed dishes but sometimes moments of transcendence not all of these ever reach)

                                                                              Hungry Mother
                                                                              Coppa
                                                                              Toro
                                                                              Hamersley's
                                                                              Ten Tables
                                                                              Sofra
                                                                              Myers & Chang
                                                                              Rocca (current incarnation, under Tiffani Faison)
                                                                              Metropolis Cafe
                                                                              Grill 23
                                                                              O Ya
                                                                              Mistral
                                                                              Rendezvous

                                                                              -----
                                                                              O Ya
                                                                              9 East Street, Boston, MA 02111

                                                                              Toro
                                                                              1704 Washington St, Boston, MA 02118

                                                                              Grill 23 & Bar
                                                                              161 Berkeley Street, Boston, MA 02116

                                                                              Hungry Mother
                                                                              Cambridge, MA, Cambridge, MA

                                                                              Myers + Chang
                                                                              1145 Washington St, Boston, MA 02118

                                                                              Sofra
                                                                              1 Belmont St, Cambridge, MA 02138

                                                                              Ten Tables
                                                                              5 Craigie Circle, Cambridge, MA 02138

                                                                              Coppa
                                                                              253 Shawmut Ave, Boston, MA 02118

                                                                              1. re: Jolyon Helterman
                                                                                s
                                                                                Spike RE: Jolyon Helterman Aug 23, 2010 06:48 PM

                                                                                Ones you think are worthy of four stars. Thanks for the list.

                                                                                I'd have to disagree w/ Coppa and Myers/Chang (you can probably find my recent review of Coppa).

                                                                                One thing that should is pretty obvious from that list is they all have a smallish menu. We'd have to go back over how just about all "chinese" restaurants have everything under the sun, and how it seems expected of them by the average diner :-P
                                                                                It's probably easiest if you go to a chinese restaurant and look under the "specialties" section and order only from there. That would give you the biggest simulation of the other restaurants in your list IMHO...

                                                                                -----
                                                                                Coppa
                                                                                253 Shawmut Ave, Boston, MA 02118

                                                                                1. re: Spike
                                                                                  StriperGuy RE: Spike Aug 24, 2010 03:23 AM

                                                                                  Nevermind that they are all owned by Westerner's even Oya. Nothing ethnic, or honestly in my book anything particularly interesting, or chowish on the entire list.

                                                                                  1. re: StriperGuy
                                                                                    q
                                                                                    qianning RE: StriperGuy Aug 24, 2010 04:34 AM

                                                                                    Joanne Chang might take exception, Striper. But actually I generally agree with your larger point, and would add that the list covers restaurants at a price point where it is pretty difficult to make any excuses. I mean should a restaurant like Sichuan Gourmet, where it is possible to have an excellent meal, and imho the best Sichuan food in the area, for two for $50 or less, really be judged against O Ya?

                                                                                    -----
                                                                                    O Ya
                                                                                    9 East Street, Boston, MA 02111

                                                                                    Sichuan Gourmet
                                                                                    1004 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02446

                                                                                    1. re: StriperGuy
                                                                                      MC Slim JB RE: StriperGuy Aug 24, 2010 04:53 AM

                                                                                      I don't know. Owned by Westerners? Inarguably, though there's some first-generation-American content in there, so that's an imperfect criticism. Growing up on your mom's and aunts' native-born cooking is different from coming to the cuisine as a carpetbagger.

                                                                                      Interesting? Not to everyone, obviously.

                                                                                      Not chowish? I'll have to disagree here: many of those places have some real soul in the cooking. Several show a longstanding commitment to local sourcing that really does something for the food beyond the marketing blather. Some are pretty original within the fine dining idiom.

                                                                                      And even though they hit a mid-high to high price point, I think most are solid values -- with the exception of Mistral, which I think has long been overpriced to the point of absurdity, but I'd happily sub Sorellina there.

                                                                                      They're mostly very consistent, too, a virtue that many places in their category miss, and the toughest thing for a good restaurant to achieve, in my book. Yes, at those prices, they should all be good, but I think we all know that remarkably few hit that mark reliably.

                                                                                      So yeah, most of us take more pride in ferreting out inexpensive, very traditional restaurants with native-born chefs and hard-to-decipher menus in remote locations or down hidden alleys, places where the odious self-styled "foodies" never dare set foot. Jolyon's list is comparatively expensive and hardly to be talked about in the same breath as a Fuloon, Floating Rock, or Angela's. But even folks with less adventurous tastes need delicious places to eat, and sometimes the company or the occasion calls for white tablecloths and a nice wine list. I think that list is very solid on that score.

                                                                                      I think it does point to the folly of star rating systems, though. Four-star on this board clearly doesn't have to include fine stemware or formal service, and the same scale has no business being applied to both L'Espalier and Ken's Ramen.

                                                                                      http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                                                      -----
                                                                                      Floating Rock
                                                                                      485 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA

                                                                                      Sorellina
                                                                                      1 Huntington Ave, Boston, MA 02116

                                                                                      1. re: MC Slim JB
                                                                                        tatsu RE: MC Slim JB Aug 24, 2010 05:54 AM

                                                                                        I haven't been very clear on what is Chowish or not, but I do like several of those places myself. One could argue Hungry Mother is pretty ethnic. I have never been very comfortable with the term "ethnic food". It is not out of political correctness, but out of accuracy. Ethnic is often contrasted with Fine Dining and I don't think they are mutually exclusive, although we don't have to many "ethnic fine dining" places in Boston. Ethnic as a word has become slightly exoticized as well.

                                                                                        While in Thailand, I took delight in seeing non-Thai food as "International Food" on menus. It seems like a slightly better term.

                                                                                        I particularly dislike seeing the "ethnic food" aisle in conventional grocery stores. It feels like a little ghetto for foreign staples. Cans of beans that say "Goya" are soooo ethnic, right? Meanwhile in the rest of the store all the food was grown in Mexico anyway.

                                                                                        1. re: tatsu
                                                                                          MC Slim JB RE: tatsu Aug 24, 2010 06:02 AM

                                                                                          Agreed, Tatsu. I've taken a page from Jonathan Gold there, eschewing the term "ethnic" in favor of "traditional". I doubt most people who use it mean it in any pejorative sense, but "ethnic" has always made me a little queasy.

                                                                                          http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                                                          1. re: tatsu
                                                                                            StriperGuy RE: tatsu Aug 24, 2010 07:01 AM

                                                                                            Hmmmm well said to you and MC Slim JB on the use of "ethnic" I am not particularly comfortable with it myself. I do like "International" for the list above and "Traditional" for well, traditional cuisines, but not sure it is as clear.

                                                                                          2. re: MC Slim JB
                                                                                            q
                                                                                            qianning RE: MC Slim JB Aug 24, 2010 06:48 AM

                                                                                            "the same scale has no business being applied to both L'Espalier and Ken's Ramen" this is where I totally agree with you.

                                                                                            -----
                                                                                            L'Espalier
                                                                                            774 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02199

                                                                                            1. re: qianning
                                                                                              barleywino RE: qianning Aug 24, 2010 07:48 AM

                                                                                              speaking of Kens Ramen, they seem to have gone downhill. Broth is more bland than before, miniscule amounts of pork (which is relatively dry and tasteless) and other condiments. Perhaps they are trying to boost their margins. probably won't be going back, will go to Sapporo ramen instead.

                                                                                          3. re: StriperGuy
                                                                                            c
                                                                                            cambridgedoctpr RE: StriperGuy Aug 24, 2010 09:48 AM

                                                                                            even homer sometimes nods; while i agree with your general point, and i would not have created that list, but Toro is spanish, Coppa is Italian, O Ya is Japanese. That counts as ethnic for me though i eat far more often at Sichuan Gourmet than any 3 restaurants on the list. I think that Coppa and O Ya are defintely interesting restaurants.

                                                                                            -----
                                                                                            O Ya
                                                                                            9 East Street, Boston, MA 02111

                                                                                            Toro
                                                                                            1704 Washington St, Boston, MA 02118

                                                                                            Sichuan Gourmet
                                                                                            502 Boston Rd, Billerica, MA 01821

                                                                                            Coppa
                                                                                            253 Shawmut Ave, Boston, MA 02118

                                                                                            1. re: cambridgedoctpr
                                                                                              StriperGuy RE: cambridgedoctpr Aug 24, 2010 11:30 AM

                                                                                              All are internationalized restaurants, not really serving traditional fair. None would really fit in in their country of origin and feel like they were really local.

                                                                                              Toro is Spanish-inspired, and very good, but not at all authentically Spanish.

                                                                                              O Ya is Japanese inspired... etc. etc.

                                                                                        2. re: Jolyon Helterman
                                                                                          lipoff RE: Jolyon Helterman Aug 24, 2010 11:36 AM

                                                                                          I agree with many of your choices, and most of the ones I might dispute I've only have one or two meals there, and I don't think that's fair. So I'm going to pick on Myers + Chang.

                                                                                          Not because I don't like the place, because I do like it. But because Sichuan Gourmet is a restaurant with much more gravitas, and because Myers + Chang commits the same sin of which you accuse Sichuan Gourmet, namely having an inconsistent menu. However, while the good stuff can be readily distinguished from the dreck at Sichuan Gourmet if you have a little knowledge, the only way to tell the difference at Myers + Chang is to cast your net, and reel in some true winners along with serious losers. (Or get very lucky). By contrast, I don't have to order the Sweet & Sour Chicken, Beef w. Broccoli, or the Pu Pu Platter (for 2, of course) at Sichuan Gourmet to expect mediocrity. I might even get pleasantly surprised.

                                                                                          Among the losers on their menu include the scallion pancake (among the worst I've had), the green papaya slaw that sounds so good but falls flat every time, the chicken and waffles, all of their dumplings, the Thai chicken salad, and the wok charred baby bok choy (wok burnt baby bok choy?). And those are just ones I remember off the top of my head.

                                                                                          To be fair, the tiger's tears, Hakka eggplant, and crispy whole fish there have been not just terrific, but super terrific. And there are other redeeming features about Myers + Chang, such as location, decor, "vibe", dietary restrictions for some people, and the ease of palatability for others.

                                                                                          But that still doesn't mean that they don't have an inconsistent menu. But unlike Sichuan Gourmet, I neither expect it, nor can excuse it given the genre and price-point.

                                                                                          But finally, I do want to add that I understand where you're coming from about at a above level expecting that everything on the menu reaches a certain high standard. If I were in the habit of rating restaurants with stars, that's not how I would do it, but I do think that's a totally reasonable criterion to use. I just think that by doing so one might undervalue lots of restaurants that I count as my favorites (since I don't order the bad stuff on their menu!) and it just seems incongruous to rate my favorite restaurants lower than other ones. =)

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

                                                                                          Pu Pu Restaurant
                                                                                          2060 Centre St, West Roxbury, MA 02132

                                                                                2. re: cavaluv
                                                                                  tatsu RE: cavaluv Aug 21, 2010 10:06 AM

                                                                                  Well that is the first reply to the "egg kobayashi maru test" I read here that makes sense. While all seem to give ethnic, esp Chinese, some slack in terms of service and consistency throughout the menu, ethnic restaurants that are smashing across the board stick out in my mind, and those are the ones that get "4 stars" or whatever in my book. Places like Tu Y Yo, where everything is good.

                                                                                  I wasn't really suggesting we all order eggs at every restaurant. But I think Chinese restaurants offering everything under the sun are doing themselves and diners a disservice. Striperguy really likes Wonder Cafe, and I looked at the menu and said "What a hot mess!" I was pretty surprised that it would be any good, and even if I liked a few dishes, I would hesitate to send friends there, especially on their own. How can you give 3 or 4 stars if you can't unequivocally recommend it to others? Stars are the bottom line and if non-chow types yelpers generally give too many stars, shouldn't we be more critical? Now that SG has 4 stars, do you think they have any impetus to hone the menu or improve? I guess we are all eating fish fillets for the next 10 years, oh well.

                                                                                  I hate to be contrarian (well, that's not true) but some sushi places do have good kitchens. It's true, it's not like that back home, but here, we don't have 10,000 sushi places to compete with like we do in Tokyo, so yes, some places take advantage of that. Toroya's kitchen (the wife) is excellent, every bit or better than the sushi quite honestly. In NYC, 15 East has an unbelievable kitchen, the chef has on par provenance with Masa, the sushi man. And taking it further, AKA Bistro is pretty much a dichotomy of french and sashimi. But the split is very clear, very defined. It's not crab rangoon and XLB next to each other on the same menu. So things are changing here in the US and that is a parallel example of one cuisine is adopting to our tastes and demands.

                                                                                  Even so, I would probably not mix the two at dinner, unless I wanted a bit of sashimi perhaps before my entree.

                                                                                  I could go on about differences in Chinese-American vs Japanese-American themes but that would be way TMI.

                                                                              2. RobtNadeau RE: FoonFan Feb 5, 2011 03:48 PM

                                                                                I should at some point explain again in the column that I dislike giving stars because a star-system pushes reviewers into a bell-curve mentality, where they never use the top and bottem ratings. So I try to flatten out the curve by giving out a lot of fours and ones. Thus my four stars does not stand for perfection, because I have always argued there are no great restaurants, just great dishes. Not all my or even blanks are useless, there is something there for someone, usually. I don't trust critics who only review positively (and what do their stars mean?), and admire those who can master the yes-but or middling review of useful but flawed or uninventive but useful restaurants. Hope this helps clear things up.

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