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Sep 14, 2010 11:34 PM

Sichuan Food at Top Garden in Tewksbury . . . WOW!!!

Tewksbury is not exactly around the corner for me, so I was secretly hoping for this place not to be that good. I had heard from a Chinese friend this weekend that it's good, but, really, that good? I mean, there are so many great Sichuan restaurants closer to Boston, so Top Garden couldn't possibly be good enough that I'd feel compelled to venture to Tewksbury again, right? Wrong.

This was the best Sichuan food I've had in the United States.

Maybe I should hold my tongue until I visit a few more times, or wait to post this until after my lips stop buzzing from the hua1 jiao1, but even with the surfeit of outstanding Sichuan restaurants in the Greater Boston area, I can't hold back from posting about this special place.

For dinner tonight:

fu1 qi1 fei4 pian4 (Roast Beef, Tongue & Tripe with Chili-Peanut Vinaigrette) was piquant, perfectly cut, and bursting with flavor and texture. This is one my favourite classic Sichuan dishes (a terrific cold appetizer) and it's hard to get exactly right. The knife work has to be superb, the various cuts of meat the right textures, and the sauce spicy but complex. This one hits all the right notes. As good as the best from Sichuan Gourmet, which says a lot.

si4 chuan1 pao4 cai4 (Sichuan Pickles) were a terrific plate of a diverse range of finely chopped pickled vegetables, covered in a nice, thick red oil. The cabbage was particularly good, with a nice saltiness and firm crispiness.

si4 chuan1 liang2 mian4 (Cold Noodle Salad with Chili Sesame Vinaigrette) was the only dish tonight that didn't blow me away. A very competently cooked set of noodles, topped with flavorful sesame seeds and very well sliced cucumbers in the same hot red oil. Noodles were good, but not house made. I think by itself it would have been better, but this was the third cold appetizer with the same red oil, and by its nature has a less complex flavor profile than the other dishes.

chuan1 yu3 ju1 la4 zi ji1(Szechuan Dry Hot Chicken) was the best rendition of my favorite Sichuan dish I've ever had. The chicken was fried on the outside, soft in the inside, cut quite small, and the depth and complexity of the sauce was just astounding. It was hot, spicy, numbing, piquant, sizzling, rich, sour, tangy, and zippy all at the same time. The peppers were dried and roasted just right, and the whole thing was airy, not oily. Wow.

ma2 po2 dou4 fu (Sichuan Style Tofu with Minced Pork) was ordered without pork, and this was among the very best versions of Mapo Tofu I've ever had. Just watch out, because it's not listed on the menu as Mapo Tofu, and is near the very bottom of the Chef's Specials, and is not cross-listed with other tofu dishes under Vegetables. The tofu cubes were pillowy soft. The sauce was rich and deep, with a very strong red oil base, but piled on with complexity. The fermented black beans were very bright and tasty. Just terrific.

Rice and tea were tasty too, and the service couldn't have been any more friendly.

The strip-mall location is unassuming, but the décor is seriously nice inside. Super-clean floors, beautiful wood carvings on the freshly painted walls, and intriguing light fixtures. However, the utilitarian metal tea-pot and vintage Chinese-American restaurant zodiac placements were out of place with the modern plates and bowls. As you can see by the pictures below, these dishes weren't plated haphazardly, but by a trained chef in a banquet-like style.

The menu, however, is a bit confusing. The Appetizers section seems totally Americanized. The Sichuan Cuisine section contains authentic cold appetizers. The Chef's Specials section includes both Americanized Chinese food and Authentic Chinese food. The transition between the two happens somewhere between General Tso's Shrimp and Kung Pao Chicken.

The authentic Soups are the Soups for two. The authentic Noodles are the one's not labeled as "Lo Mein." The Seafood category contains authentic dishes, as does the Vegetables Category. The Chow Mein, Chop Suey, Egg Foo Young, Fried Rice, Poultry and Beef categories don't contain authentic dishes. Neither does the Thai section of the menu. =)

They also have a separate laminated sheet with only Chinese characters on it. Some of these dishes are cross-listed under "Chef's Specials" on the English menu, but some are not. Do not fear, because I have copied the Chinese characters, and provided transliterations and translations below. Why they don't translate it themselves, I do not know. I can't wait to explore this menu further.

Column #1:
樟茶鸭 zhang1 cha2 ya1 Tea Smoked Duck
椒盐鱿鱼, 或虾 jiao1 yan2 you2 yu2 / xia1 Salt and Pepper Squid or Shrimp
干锅虾 gan1 guo1 xia1 "Hot Pot" Prawns
板栗烧肉 ban3 li4 shao1 rou4 Roast Chestnut Pork
腊肉回锅 la4 rou4 hui2 guo1 Double Cooked Chinese Bacon
竹笙丝瓜 zhu2 sheng1 si1 gua1 Squash and Bamboo Fungus
豆花鱼片 dou4 hua1 yu2 pian1 Soft Tofu and Fish Slices
干烧全鱼 gan1 shao1 quan2 yu2 Sichuan Style Whole Fish
沸腾鱼 fei4 teng2 yu2 Spicy Boiled Fish
泡椒全鱼 pao4 jia1 quan2 yu2 Pickled Pepper Whole Fish

Column #2:
火暴腰花 huo3 bao4 yao1 hua1 Hot and Spicy Kidney
毛血旺 mao2 xie3 wang4 Spicy and Aromatic Pork Blood
水煮牛, 或肉片 shui3 zhu3 niu2 / rou4 pian4 Braised Beef Filet (or Sliced Pork) with Roasted Cabbage, Leek & Celery
水煮鱼 shui3 zhu3 yu2 Spicy Boiled Fish
纸包羊 zhi3 bao1 yang2 Paper Wrapped Laamb
口袋豆腐 kou3 dai4 dou4 fu Braised Tofu Stuffed with Vegetables
全家福麻辣汤 quan2 jia1 fu2 ma2 la4 tang1 House Special Spicy Soup
川雅居回锅肉 chuan1 yu3 ju1 hui2 guo1 rou4 Sichuan Style Twice Cooked Pork
川雅居辣子鸡 chuan1 yu3 ju1 la4 zi ji1 Sichuan Style Hot & Spicy Chicken
川雅居回锅大肠 chuan1 yu3 ju1 huo2 go1 da4 chang2 Sichuan Style Twice Cooked Intestine
川雅居三椒羊肉 chuan1 yu3 ju1 san1 jiao1 yang2 rou4 Sichuan Style Three Pepper Lamb

In conclusion . . . go to Tweksbury!

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

Sichuan Gourmet
1004 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02446

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  1. I'm also a huge fan-- thanks Lipoff for reminding me to comment on this fantastic restaurant. For those who are fans of Sichuan Gourmet, I'd say Top Garden is every bit as tasty, with probably more heat and more subtlety in the complementary flavors. Pricing is a little more reasonable, but menu doesn't have as much breadth (not as many vegetable dishes, not as many authentic-but-not-killer-hot options).

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

    Sichuan Gourmet
    1004 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02446

      1. Is the place very large inside? I got the impression it was mainly takeout.

        3 Replies
        1. re: hargau

          I was there last night, and it's bigger than it looks. Probably 10 tables and a big round table with a lazy Susan. I tried the bamboo shoots in chile sauce, dan dan mien, shredded beef with chile, dry fried chicken, and shredded pork w/ garlic sauce. All were very good, some with plenty of ma la. The pork dish was actually the hottest, even though it was supposed to be the most tame. We're planning a group lunch with our Chinese contingent next week.

          1. re: hargau

            Not very large inside, but definitely not just for take out. There are four four-tops, two six-tops, an eight-top round tabble, and maybe a one more table in an alcove near the front (where the staff were eating around 9:30 PM. I was really impressed by the decor and the nice plating of the food. Not to mention the food itself, if that's not clear!

            Ferrari, of course, thank you for showing them my translation. I think there are a few more dishes on their Chinese-only menu, like zhi3 bao1 yang2, kou3 dai4 dou4 fu, quan2 jia1 fu2 ma2 la4 tang1, zhu2 sheng1 si1 gua1, and jiao1 yan2 you2 yu2, in addition to the four at the bottom, which aren't on any English menu they have (or at least, I didn't see them!). In any event, it's nice to have a bunch of authentic dishes all in one place.

            1. re: lipoff

              Hope to check it out very soon. Thanks

          2. I tried it for lunch today and had to try the Roast Beef, Tongue & Tripe with Chili-Peanut Vinaigrette. Never had it before so I have nothing to compare against but that Vinaigrette was something else! What a complex flavor and the meats was excellent to. I also had to try (Surprise!) the Ma Po Dofu with pork. This was an truly excellent rendition with a deep red chilli sauce and a thick layer of ground Sichuan Peppercorns on top. Didn't see any fermented black beans. When I ordered it she asked it I liked spicy food and I said yes and it was spicy allright but not deadly so, but very very tasty. Even the chicken wing that come with the lunch was very flavorful and juicy and cooked to perfection. What a find and at $6.55 for most of the lunch specials, quite a bargain.
            lipoff, hope you don't mind but I left your translation with them suggesting they add them to the secret menu and she said that all of them was already on the menu except for the last four.
            Also thanks for writing this place up, would never have suspected such a quality place there in that location.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Ferrari328

              Looks like great stuff, excellent find lipoff!

              I'm sort of on the fence about black beans in MaPo Dofu. I'm accustomed to and prefer broad beans myself and I'm curious as to whether the inclusion of black or both is a regional thing.

              1. re: tatsu

                Fuchsia Dunlop's recipe--which is as authentic as any I've ever had and both delicious and easy to make--uses both broad beans and fermented black beans, though more of the former than the latter. I find they add a little depth to the flavor.

            2. Oh man, not *another* one. This is starting to get absurd. And my current DC doesn't have the appetite to let us investigate a significant part of the menu in one visit. :-/