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Real Sichuan (spicy) near KOP

I heard that Chef Zhang is back. That's good news for all of us who loves his spicy food and Sichuan dishes. His new place occupies what used to be Tokyo Fusion in the Gateway Shopping Center near the intersection of Route 202 and Route 252. The old neon sign of Tokyo Fusion is still on display but, sure enough, he has hand-written signs taped to the glass door that say "Rez's Ping Pong" and "川味坊". He was there wrapping wonton yesterday when we dropped in for dinner.

We ordered 4 dishes: Ma Po Tofu, Water-Boiled Fish, Sliced Ginger/Shredded Duck, and Pickled Pepper/Tripe. With the exception of Ma Po Tofu, everything else was good - spicy, fresh, the right texture, with as-remembered flavors. I was crying not just because of the heat but also because I was very happy. As for the Ma Po Tofu, I was disappointed by the silken tofu they used instead of the traditional todu I preferred. But the dish was still better than what other Chinese restaurants could manage to produce.

I am rating his food with 4 stars because I don't believe I can find better Sichuan anywhere else easily. Service was attentive but unprofessional, similar to what one gets at other Chinese restaurant. Decor and ambience are similar to the 2 Exton restaurants where Chef Zhang worked 2-3 years ago. .

This morning I sent email out to all my local Chinese friends to let them know about this place. I expect to see some of them there tonight. Yes, I am going back. They are smoking ducks with tea leaves today. Can't wait to try it.

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  1. Where was Zhang before this restaurant? How does it compare to Han Dynasty?

    3 Replies
    1. re: cwdonald

      He was at Z. Wei (current name) when I first tasted his food. His old partner there is the one he is working with at Ping Pong now. Z. Wei has changed hands at least twice since he left.

      He later was at Han Dynasty when that restaurant first opened up in Exton. We followed him to Han Dynasty then. But since he left 2-3 years ago, I found food quality at Han Dynasty not very consistent in subtle and not-so-subtle ways - dishes tasted different when #1 cook was off or when they hired a new #1, etc, the normal kind of situation you run into when the owner can't cook him/herself.and can't set standards.

      Guess I prefer to bet my money on known quality rather than a variable one.

      1. re: borntolovefood

        Thanks for the great background. In greater Philadelphia Han Dynasty certainly has the reputation (along with Sichuan Tasty House in Chinatown) as being the most authentic sichuan flavors. I have heard people complain over the years that the Exton branch has been inconsistent. I frequent the Royersford, or Philadelphia branches and have not noticed that issue, but perhaps I do not have the palate to appreciate the difference. I look forward to trying chef Zhang's new home! Thanks for the great write up.

        1. re: cwdonald

          I recently ate at Four Rivers in Chinatown and had very good peppercorn chicken--lots of Szechuan peppercorn and the chicken was very crispy. Not quite as good as Han's, but very very good. Dan dan noodles were ok, not nearly as good as Hans. I got delivery from Szechuan Tasty House recently, the three pepper chicken was not crispy and had no Szechuan peppercorns, just doused in red pepper flakes, and the dan dan noodles were--no joke--linguine pasta noodles. The food tasted good but was like a fast food version of Szechuan.

          The other dishes we had at Four Rivers, especially the lion head meatball, were very good too, and it's dirt cheap. Highly recommended.

    2. Byo or liquor license?

      1. I had to try some of Chef Zhang's fare yesterday and was very pleased with the kung pao chicken - just chicken, arbols, peanuts and scallion with a spicy sauce and slightly charred from being done in a very hot wok. HOWEVER, I'd give the place a few weeks to get its act together. My order was wrong to start with, soup was served cold and had to be sent back for reheating, chopsticks never came, tea never came, a request for water had my glass taken and returned five minutes later, and the check required a 15-minute grand pow-wow in front of the POS screen while they figured out how to work it. When I got the check, it was in Chinese without prices listed and the total (I think a few dollars too much) hand written. Don't get me wrong. The staff was more than gracious and apologetic but they have a way to go before they can manage a full house for dinner, let alone the scant seven of us there for lunch. The old sign for Tokyo Fusion is still up, there are no take out menus and no wall decor to speak of so I hope this isn't an underfunded venture that will go belly up in a few weeks.
        CP
        P.S. And it would be nice to screen off the urinals in full view from the dining area when the men's room door is opened and, for us non-Mandarins, have the daily specials written in English.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Chefpaulo

          Scheduled to go there tomorrow 4/4/12 for dinner and since the reservation was made by a friend of the chef/owner Mr. Zhang (the "Z" in R & Z's Ping Pong), I expect the food to be the best they can offer. Will report back.

          Co-owner Mr. R said they welcome feedback. He seemed to be aware of the issues mentioned in Chefpaulo's posting. I heard the place is pretty busy at lunch time during the week. The place certainly has become a spot for local Chinese to gather.

        2. Have been there a few times since they opened. They have their own sign now - R&Z's Ping Pong, however, it is still hard to stop in a crowded strip mall. It is close to Panera.

          Everything I have tried has been delicious and would recommend the Wontons in Chili oil, Poached pork in chili oil and Lamb hotpot.

          The dishes have a depth of flavor without being overpoweringly spicy.

          3 Replies
          1. re: percyn

            Thanks for the report; can you tell me about the hotpot? And would you say that the "poached pork in chili oil" is usually the dish known as shuizhu rou ("water-cooked" pork), which is slices of pork in a pool of chili oil and seasonings, and usually, but not always, some veggies like bok choy?

            Have you tried anything you wouldn't recommend?

            1. re: mookleknuck

              The lamb hotpot is very similar to the "drypot" you get at Han.

              Yes, the poached pork in chili oil is exactly how you describe it and it was a recommendation from the owner when I asked him for some specialties.

              I have not found a bad dish yet but would probably not rave about their Hot & Sour soup. Prefer Han's Dan Dan noodles and Kung Pao slightly more.

              1. re: percyn

                Thanks for the confirmation and also the warning! This way, I'll only order the lamb hotpot if I'm in the mood for shuizhu yangrou, not mala yangguo.

                (I almost never order hot and sour soup without a trusted source's recommendation since that is almost always a guaranteed disappointment., but I thank you for the warning all the same.)

          2. Went tonight & ordered just a few of my favorite Han classics for comparison - Dan Dan Noodles and Shrimp with dry hot peppers....and some new things - 3 Vegetables, and Pork Dry Hot Pot......winner is.....Dry Hot Pot with Pork!!! totally sichuan - I love it! Dan Dan could have had A LOT more sichuan peppercorns...and the shrimp was heavily battered and puffy. So verdict is - will stay at Han for Dan Dan and my favorite Shrimp with dry hot peppers. But so happy that there is something with excellent sichuan nearby to get lots of NEW yummy yummy dishes!

            2 Replies
            1. re: yummykimmy

              Do you get the shrimp with dry pepper at Han's? I have tried the Chicken with dry peppers several dozen times but never the shrimp!

              1. re: percyn

                I love the shrimp with the dry hot pepper at Han's - it's not on the menu, but they will make it for you. it was one of Han's recommendations many years ago when there was just the Exton location.