Where can I find authentic shui zhu yu (water-boiled fish) and dan dan mian in the SGV?
As you can probably tell from my username, I used to live in Beijing. While I was there, I ate shui zhu yu several times a month, it was one of my favourite things to eat.
This is the kind of shui zhu yu that I'm looking for: it should have fish fillets and it should swim in a fairly light bowl of oil, with a ton of Sichuan peppercorns. The oil is clear so that you can see through most of the bowl. (If any of you have been to Beijing, I'm thinking especially of what I had at Chuan Ban, in the Sichuan provincial restaurant. Perhaps impossibly high standards for LA.)
I've been pretty disappointed by the shui zhu yu that I've come across so far:
1) Chung King in San Gabriel: For heaven's sake, it was sweet and I swear there was sweet and sour sauce in it! Massive disappointment.
2) Shui Zhu Yu Yi Hao (Edit: just discovered that the restaurant's English name is New Chongqing) in San Gabriel: Good try, but for a restaurant dedicated to shui zhu yu, it was curiously disappointing. Also, their fish selection isn't good--I prefer grass carp and they didn't have that. We had ours with catfish and that's not a good fish for this. The dan dan mian here is pretty close to how I like it though.
3) Taste of Chongqing in San Gabriel: The best of the lot so far, especially as they served it with thick fish filets rather than catfish, but the sauce was too thick.
Is it possible to find authentic shui zhu yu here? Major points if you can rec a place that serves it with grass carp too.
Also, while I'm here, are there any restaurants that serve dan dan mian WITHOUT peanut sauce, where it just swims in a small pool of chili sauce, minced pork and Sichuan peppercorns? With the peanut sauce is more Taiwanese than Sichuan, and while it's good, that's another thing I miss, authentic Sichuan-style dan dan mian without peanut sauce.
I think it's fair to say that peanut butter is a no no. That said, dan dan mian is one of those dishes that everyone makes differently, so I don't think there's one canonical "correct" way to make it. Most Sichuanese recipes I've seen, including both recipes in Fuchsia Dunlop's book (both based on the versions served at restaurants in Chengdu), as well as most dan dan mian I've had at Sichuan restaurants in the SGV, are served with a sauce made with sesame paste -- so even if you don't prefer it, I'm not sure it's fair to say it's [sesame paste, not peanut butter] not authentically Sichuanese -- perhaps due to regional variation? Not all places make theirs with pork, and from what I understand, it's also a matter of style. I don't eat meat, so I guess I have a slight bias towards the "saucy" style.
My favorite dan dan mian are the renditions at #1 Noodle House in Rowland Heights, and also Lucky Noodle King in San Gabriel, but both use sesame paste; neither are super heavy on the huajiao. #1 Noodle House also makes another Sichuan dry wheat noodle dish, which has no sesame paste, but also no pork, and a little bit of sugar (they also have liangfen, just served with chili paste etc.). I'm pretty sure either place will be happy enough to omit the sesame sauce if you ask, and they usually can make it more spicy or numbing upon request. I can't say for sure whether either of them sneak a little peanut butter in, but I'm pretty sure it's just sesame paste.
(For that matter, I've seen Taiwanese places, like Bean Sprouts in Arcadia, serve their 'dan dan mian' with only ground pork (fake pork, in that particular case). I think adding peanut butter in addition to the sesame paste is a bit more of a Taiwanese and American Chinese refinement.
I don't mind the dan dan mian at New Chongqing (I like the zha cai they use, the fried soybeans they used to put on it were interesting, and overall, the taste is good), but the noodles are a bit too soft, and sometimes their chili oil has a bit of a rancid flavor. I don't think their version ever has pork, even if you don't order it without. I find the other food there to be a bit on the "too-sweet" side of things, though.
Unsure how peanut sauced DDM is uniquely "Taiwanese". Here's a video of Taiwanese DDM recipe:
Here's a typical recipe:
In LA, Chuan Yu Noodle used to display the peanut butter for its DDM proudly. That restaurant was as far removed from Taiwanese cuisine as Deng Xiao Ping.
And really, chasing DDM at restaurants is amateur at best. Anything you can whip up at home, bespoken to your taste, will probably be superior to XYZ restaurant. It's not worth the frustration, anger, or gas money, to run around LA looking for a podunk RMB5 dish that has no set recipe.
Hunan Seafood, Hunan's Restaurant, Hunan Chili King, Xiang Wei Lou, Yunnan/Yunkun Garden all have water boiled fish. Knock yourself out. And before calls of Hunanese inauthenticy is voiced, let's not forget Beijing to Chengdu is 1800Km, and even on the Maglev that's a 16hour++ ride(s).
My favorite place for water boiled fish is at the Yunnan Garden branch on Las Tunas. Thick, meaty chunks of fish. I love it.
I don't know that I've tried it there, but you might consider Shufeng Garden in Rowland Heights, which is widely considered to be one of the top Sichuan restaurants in LA.
My place for shui zhu yu pian (if you don't ask for "pian" specifically, you may not get fillets) is Yunchuan Garden on Hacienda Blvd. right off the 60. Clear (though reddish from the chiles and Sichuan peppers) oil, proper texture. I don't have a preference as to fish, but you could ask.
Their dan dan mian is acceptable. I do not think it uses peanut sauce but I can make dan dan mian at home and don't need to spend $4 or more on it in a restaurant.
And while the name of the place evokes Yunnan province, the menu is 90% Sichuan, down to the suan la chao shou.