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Sep 20, 2010 05:29 PM

Cheng Du Kitchen, Manchester N.H.

While driving on Hooksett Road in Manchester, I spotted this place and the name had me immediately thinking spicy-numb thoughts. I had already eaten, so I didn't order any food, but I grabbed a delivery menu from the customer and employee free restaurant. There's mapo tofu, dry fried green beans, and strange flavor chicken available. So, I'm wondering if this food is ma-la, or SINO (Sichuan In Name Only.......I just made that up). Anybody eaten there? A little research reveals that it opened recently, replacing a standard brown sauce take out joint.

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  1. Thanks for the tip--I drive by it all the time, will give it a try.

    1. My wife and I finally got ‘round to giving Cheng Du Kitchen a try this afternoon. Given the name, I assumed they specialized in Sichuan cuisine, slinging brown sauces dishes on the side to keep the lights on. The young lady who started to take our order spoke so little English, she had to bring in a pinch hitter from the kitchen (good sign) when I asked about getting the “real stuff.” The second waitress was extremely gracious, but wanted to be very sure that we could handle the real ma-la heat. We assured her that we were chili fiends , and as a result, what emerged from the kitchen was LOADED with chilis and Sichuan peppercorns. Yee Haw!
      Here’s where it gets a little funky: The waitress mentioned that most of the people who eat there are Chinese immigrants (another obvious good sign), and when asked, she said that she was from Fujian. She then gave us the “REAL” menu. I don’t know much about Fujian cuisine, but the menu seems to be engineered to appeal to a wide range of Chinese eaters. The food we got was interesting, but definitely not authentic Sichuan. We had Sichuan wontons, ma po tofu, dry fried green beans, and strange flavor chicken. All of the dishes were built on a base sauce of sesame oil, soy sauce, varying amounts of sugar, and Xiaoxing wine (I think. Please feel free to correct me if you try this food.) I’m thinking they have a standard sauce for Chinese people, and another standard sauce for Americans. The one I got wasn’t Sichuan, but it definitely was more interesting, more subtle, and more tasty than any corn starchy Americanized brown sauce.
      Ma po tofu didn’t have broad bean paste or chili oil, the Sichuan wantons were a little heavy on the soy sauce, and the strange flavor chicken wasn’t what I understand the dish to be. But they were loaded with chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns, making the dishes instantly “Sichuan.“ I plan to go back a number of times in an effort to find the dishes that are in the chef’s wheelhouse.
      Again, what we ate was not hyper authentic Sichuan food, but it was pleasant and definitely not boring. I’d love to hear he opinions of folks who are better versed than I am in regional Chinese cooking.

      7 Replies
      1. re: crowdingthepan

        How does it compare to Sichuan Gourmet in Billerica?

        1. re: whs

          As far as Sichuan authenticity goes, Cheng Du Garden isn't even in the same ballpark as Sichuan Gourmet. The owners are from Fujian, and when I asked what on the special menu was authentic to their home region, our waitress indicated that EVERYTHING was authentically Fujian. So I'll have to do a little research and eat my way through the menu to figure out what's really good.
          The wontons at Sichuan Gourmet are just about the best thing I've ever put in my mouth, and I'm happy to drive an hour to eat them. I doubt that there's anything on the Cheng Du Garden menu that I'll have that reaction to, but restaurants that are within twenty minutes of my house in Concord get graded on a more generous scale.

          1. re: crowdingthepan

            Thanks for the heads up--will have to try Cheng Du since it's 5 minutes from the house.

            1. re: whs

              Another thanks for the heads up. We don't usually get to Manchester/Hooksett but today we did. Unfortunately we were there for an early lunch and the place was still cold. The waitress turned on a portable heater and aimed it at us which helped. The decor is spartan and it looks like they mainly do take-out but I really liked the food. We ordered the fried rice with Chinese sausage and Pork with pepper and bamboo shoots. The waitress double-checked to make sure we knew that dish was spicy. I asked little bit spicy or a lot spicy. She said little bit which was fine for us. At first I could taste the heat but then it wasn't very noticeable. I suspect they used chili oil.

              I will definitely return. My husband got cranky because it was so cold and is not comfortable trying new dishes. It takes time for him to get used to different tastes. The special menu and the regular menu are under the clear plastic table protector. I chose dishes from the special menu based on the Chowhound reports. Since I'm not very familiar with authentic dishes, I took a set of menus which they have at the cash registers for customers to take home. If you grab one, make sure you get the special menu, too. It's on a seperate sheet of paper. I will have to google some of the dishes. We're not even sure what "fish balls" are.

              I thought the rice was perfectly done and very flavorful thanks to a good coating of egg, bacon, and Chinese sausage. For those unfamiliar with bamboo shoots that don't come out of a can, the pork dish was also very flavorful. Bean sprouts were almost uncooked but scallion pieces were well cooked. No sign of brown sauce.

              There is a wide selection of familiar Chinese Restaurant dishes on the menu and familiar luncheon specials. The menu says they do not use MSG. We have stopped going to one Concord area restaurant because the menu never changes and doesn't offer many choices. Our last visit to Bejing Tokyo on S Main St will be our last because what we think was MSG made us incredibly thirsty for the next two hours and very uncomfortable while we attended an event.

              It was interesting to compare the menu with what is offered at Sunshine Oriental in Concord. I usually get quick dim sum take out on meeting nights when I don't go home. There's a lot on their menu I haven't tried yet.

              Unfortunately, DH fondly remembers the old China Dragon with elaborate decor. Of course, back then we thought pu pu platters were exotic. But, wish both Sunshine Oriental and Cheng Du were in nicer buildings.

            2. re: crowdingthepan

              I'm addicted to sichuan gourmets won tons and dan dan noodles and xingla fish and kung pao and cumin lamb...and.........and.......

          2. re: crowdingthepan

            I tried it last night - strange-flavor chicken, green beans and fried rice with Chinese sausage. I'm not an expert in Sichuan cuisine and forgot to order "ma-la" although I did ask for it extra spicy.

            I thought the chicken was delightful - some very interesting and very fresh vegetables in the mix, the chicken was tasty and not at all stringy and the sauce was light years removed from the usual glop you get in southern NH, strong winey taste without unpleasant sweetness, no thickeners used.

            The fried rice was quite light despite the sausage, and was tasty. The green beans trailed the others, a little less well-cooked than I would have thought, almost al dente, and not particularly interesting. The servings are quite large, bordering on the huge. I have more than enough for a second meal.

            There is a separate one-sheet menu I never got to see till after I ordered - from memory, salt and pepper shrimp and a wider selection of pork and lamb dishes.

            All in all, easily the best Chinese in the area AFAIK, maybe not saying much when your competition is Szechuan House, Chen Yang Lee and the like. Still, well worth a visit, hope they get enough traffic to stay open.

            1. re: crowdingthepan

              Yeah, Fujian province is on the SE coast, near Taiwan. It has nothing to do with Sichuan province (Chendu is the capital city) in the interior, where the spicy (hot chili pepper) & numbing (Sichuan peppercorn) food is eaten. Where the waitress is from probably doesn't matter, where the chef is from or what cooking school they attended is the key. So maybe the chef learned some Sichuan style dishes, or they thought it would be more popular. Chengdu has become more of a foodie city in China even now.

              Has anyone else eaten there since Jan 2011?