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Szechuan Palace in Agoura Hills

l
LesThePress May 7, 2012 08:36 AM

We went to Szechuan Palace in Agoura Hills last night.

First, this place is REALLY small. It has 3 booths and a banquet with 3 tables. The service was friendly and good. We ordered Tofu Vegetable Soup, Kung Pao Shrimp and Dan Dan Noodles. The food, however, was only acceptable, edible but not great or outstanding. Portions were good sized.

The soup, while a little on thin side, was good but nothing special. The Shrimp and Noodles were unlike any I’ve had at any other Chinese restaurants.

The noodles were in a chicken broth, kinda oily and very few pieces of chicken. I’m used to the noodles being served dry with a chopped chicken sauce. There was no sauce, only the broth. Taste was okay, but again, nothing special. The Kung Pao Shrimp was also served differently, definitely not Szechuan style. I’ve been making and ordering this dish for many many years and this was far from the traditional style. First, on the plus side, there was a good amount of shrimp. However, for the other ingredients: I only found about 4 or 5 peanuts, there were no water chestnuts, celery, bell or red pepper, scallions or carrots, items found in traditional Kung Pao. It included bamboo shoots, which I’ve never seen in this dish (and don’t particularly like). Also, I did not taste any Sichuan peppercorns, hoisin or oyster sauce which give Kung Pao its distinctive flavor. The dish was edible, it just wasnt' the way I expected it.

The last observation is not about the food. Since the place is so small, you could hear every conversation in the room. We arrived about 6:00pm and only one booth was occupied by 3 young Chinese ladies. While we were there, two families, each with 2 children in tow, and another couple came in. Needless to say, the volume of the background noise increased exponentially. We understand and accept a certain amount of background noise in a restaurant, especially in a family place. But, as I said, being so small it was like dining with everyone.

We will not be back. While the location is much better for us, we’ll continue to make the trek out to Newberry Park and go to the Sesame Inn. In a totally different class and well worth the drive.

  1. cant talk...eating Jun 29, 2012 09:32 PM

    Wow! I can practically walk to this place, so this is great news that it even exists. Found their all-Chinese menu posted online, I did my best to translate using Google images/translation, and no knowledge of Chinese (so please correct me!):

    醬爆茄子 SPICY EGGPLANT
    麻婆豆腐 SPICY (MA PO) TOFU*
    蒜苗腊肉 LEEK AND CHINESE BACON
    香干鸡片 “XIANGGAN” SLICED CHICKEN
    虾仁滑蛋 SHRIMP WITH SCRAMBLED EGG
    辣子鸡丁 SPICY FRIED CHICKEN CHUNKS*
    泡椒鸡仔 PICKLED CHICKEN FEET*
    脆皮豆腐虾 CRISPY TOFU WITH SHRIMP*
    水煮魚 SPICY BOILED FISH*
    豆花魚 SPICY BOILED FISH AND TOFU*
    清蒸魚片 STEAMED FISH FILLET*
    水煮牛肉 SICHUAN BOILED BEEF*
    毛血旺 DUCK BLOOD SOUP*
    干锅鸡/牛/虾 STIRFRY CHICKEN/BEEF/SHRIMP*
    椒盐虾 SALT AND PEPPER SHRIMP*
    干锅杂菌 STIRFRY MEAT WITH FUNGUS*
    清炒虾仁 FRIED SHRIMP (UNBREADED)*
    核桃脆皮虾 CRISPY SHRIMP WITH WALNUT*

    * spicy

    No lamb, alas!

    5 Replies
    1. re: cant talk...eating
      liu Jun 29, 2012 11:01 PM

      WOW...thanks, cant talk...eating.
      I will take this with me next time.

      We had the spicy fried chicken chunks. The chicken was not greasy and not heavily fried; however, at least half the dish is hot peppers. We were told that no one eats these, but they do impart a wonderful spice and flavor.

      Please, please do report back! I am so anxious to hear what you think.

      1. re: liu
        cant talk...eating Jun 30, 2012 08:50 PM

        Ok, Liu, here goes:

        This place (Szechuan Place - not Palace) is indeed the real deal. I knew upon walking in and seeing dishes heaped high with dried chilis beside empty dishes with pools of chili oil that I was in the right spot.

        I'll get to the food first. I had spicy fried chicken (chunks) and "homestyle" pork. I had to get egg rolls and veggie fried rice since my wife's tolerance of Chinese food begins and ends with those two dishes (this is probably a huge plus - they have a complete "American Chinese" menu as well, which you might not find at, say, Chung King.

        The fried chicken chunks were outstanding, as good as I've had at the old Chans Paris N, Yunnans Garden and 168, Chung King, etc. About 1/2 and 1/2 chicken vs. peppers, and plenty of Sichuan peppercorns. A couple things about it that made it stellar - there was heat, but it was in no way overpowering. The meat tasted fresh and was evenly fried (I've had a few stringy renditions - this wasn't). This dish alone is worth a detour off 101 as far as I'm concerned.

        Homestyle pork was actually one of my favorite Chinese dishes, Chinese bacon with leeks (or green garlic). This version had the addition of what I think may have been lightly marinated sliced potatoes, sort of half-blanched. Sort of like the shoestring potatoes that are the common cold appetizer at most of the SGV places. Anyway, no dodgy bits of the bacon, just fresh and not greasy in the least,

        I'd brought a print out of my translation, but they actually had Sharpied-in English menu translations which mostly matched mine. The Chinese/Sichuan menu also includes a few more sort of "pan-Chinese" dishes that aren't going to be at Americanized places but which are common the SGV, like beef noodle soup (maybe these are on the all-English menu now, not sure).

        To the OP, I'm not sure Kung Pao Shrimp - or anything with more of a vegetable than a green onion - is something I'd order at this type of restaurant. Even though KP dishes can be spicy, I get the sense (and folks, feel free to shoot me down on this) that the meat+peanut+bell pepper thing that we know and love as Kung Pao is more of an American creation, and not really found at the many Sichuan joints around San Gabriel and east. (So, you won't want to get things we Angelenos associate with "American Szechuan" or whatever you call things like mu shu rolls and Kung Pao, but is definitely part of the post-90s Hunan-Sichuan "new wave".)

        And just quickly regarding ambiance, it was squarely of the "San Gabriel Valley mini-mall" school, with the faux marble tables, no music, and loud conversations in Chinese. Tasty Noodle House on Las Tunas, just to name one, has a nearly identical layout, around 3 booths along a wall then two 6-tops. I for one am thrilled to have found this in the neighborhood (thanks, LesThePress!). I suppose a boba shop isn't too far off now? Wonder what it'll be called. Hopefully not Why Thirsty.

        1. re: cant talk...eating
          liu Jun 30, 2012 09:34 PM

          cant talk...eating, I am so glad to know that YOU like Szechuan Place! I have been holding my breath.

          I completely agree with you about the fried chicken chunk dish. The peppers add a lot of flavor without the painful heat, as long as you eat around the peppers.

          Similarly, their salt and pepper shrimp has a wonderful Sichuan pepper note, but it is not so much that it is numbing.

          I completely agree that the dishes on the Chinese menu are really good. The last few times we have ordered from this menu exclusively. Only on our last visit did we see that they had "markered in" the English descriptions on the Chinese menu. Still, your translations are very helpful!

          Thanks, again, for posting your experience with so much detail.

          cant talk...eating, regarding your comment about a boba shop in this area: have you been to Sweet XO in Agoura Hills, just north on Kanan from Szechuan Place? Go to the next shopping center on the left, after you cross Thousand Oaks Boulevard, in the Ralph's Center. There is a new ice cream/yogurt shop there that might be a candidate to offer boba...if they don't already. They offer so many different items; they might be open to hearing your suggestions.

          http://www.sweetxo.com/

          There was a place on Thousand Oaks Boulevard in Westlake Village a couple of years ago that was a boba shop. Sadly, they did not survive.

          1. re: liu
            cant talk...eating Jul 1, 2012 12:31 PM

            Cool, thanks Liu - I also heard a rumor of a boba sighting near the Do-it Center (east of Kanan, south of the Fwy.) and will report back.

            [And, upon reflection, what I thought were potatoes in the bacon dish were actually some kind of radish like daikon (which I'm not used to seeing in Chinese food the the U.S. but which are obviously commonplace).]

            1. re: cant talk...eating
              liu Jul 1, 2012 12:55 PM

              Nice...I prefer the daikon to the potatoes.

              The now defunct boba place to which I referred up-stream was in the shopping center just west of the Do-It Center. I'll keep my eyes on it, too, for a new boba shop.

    2. liu Jun 29, 2012 08:29 AM

      We have been to Szechuan Place several times now and everything has been delicious!

      The owner and the serving staff are extremely friendly and helpful. The owner knows her customers and even remembers what each customer orders so that she can offer suggestions for subsequent visits. They really seem to care about their customers...how refreshing!

      But the standout is the food! We have been ordering from the Chinese menu -- which does have English descriptions. To date, we have enjoyed their tofu seafood soup, their hot and sour seafood soup and their chicken with spicy peppers. They also offer a fish in a soy sauce that is very tasty and their salt and pepper shrimp is cooked perfectly!

      I look forward to our future visits!

      2 Replies
      1. re: liu
        l
        LesThePress Jun 29, 2012 10:49 AM

        I guess we just had a poor experience the one time we went. We've been going to Mandarin Bistro regularly now (thanks Liu) (we just went last Sat. night) and even though it's much farther, we have really enjoyed every meal there, and found the staff also very friendly and willing to customize thier dishes for us (we're pretty picky). As I've said before, we're into atmosphere and Szechuan Place is at zero while we give MB a high 8 (out of 10). I agree that the staff was friendly at SP but If we try it again, it will most likely be for take out.

        1. re: LesThePress
          liu Jun 29, 2012 02:43 PM

          I agree...no atmosphere...but the food is good!

          I do hope you will give Szechuan Place another chance, Les...in house; carry out doesn't count as a try!

          Try their soups and browse their Chinese menu -- although many things on the Chinese menu appear to be spicy (I don't know if you like "spicy").
          Spend a few minutes talking with the owner. Tell her your preferences and let her guide you in your order.

          Yes, I really like Mandarin Bistro in Newbury Park as you do!

      2. h
        harschwarz May 7, 2012 05:11 PM

        Try HUNAN in Thousand Oaks. They are the real deal in Chinese food. The Duck in Ginger Root is fantastic! Soups are are great too!

        5 Replies
        1. re: harschwarz
          c
          Chandavkl May 7, 2012 05:59 PM

          Yeah, last time I went the Chinese menu wasn't even translated into English.

          1. re: Chandavkl
            c
            Chandavkl May 8, 2012 08:43 AM

            Not reading Chinese, not knowing what's on the Chinese menu was not an issue as the owner told me they could "make anything you could get in the San Gabriel Valley." While I'm sure that's an overstatement, this place clearly is a superior option to driving to the San Gabriel Valley.

          2. re: harschwarz
            l
            LesThePress May 8, 2012 07:35 AM

            Thanks but we live about 2 miles from Hunan and we liked as it was okay when it when they 1st opened about 7 years ago. The last two times were horrible, the last time was unbelievably horrible and we will NEVER return. Also, while thier service and quality have declined, their prices have risen.

            NEVER AGAIN.

            1. re: LesThePress
              h
              harschwarz May 8, 2012 07:52 AM

              That's what makes the world go around. Everyone has their own experiences. My friends and I have been going there for years, since it opened. We have not seen any degradation. But respect your opinion.

              1. re: harschwarz
                l
                LesThePress May 8, 2012 01:18 PM

                Absolutely agree. When we went the last (and I do mean the last) time, they served my wife's vegetables (which looked very pathetic) and that was it. After a while I stoped someone (couldn't find my waiter) and told him to take the dish back and make a fresh one to come out with my dinner. Later he brought the exact same plate of vegetables, now competely cold, and my order was incorrect. Since we had been there for quite a while already I just accepted my dish, but my wife's dinner was inedible. I should have taken a plicture of it - you'd be shocked at how pitiful it was. The service was absolutely horrible, we stopped Sally (the owner) and compained about the food and service and she just walked away. We didn't leave a tip and as we were leaving the ladies at the table next to us were complaining as well. They said they weren't leaving a tip either.

                I guess you've been lucky!! Go with what works for you, for us, it's the Sesame Inn.

          3. liu May 7, 2012 08:59 AM

            Nice review, LesThePress!
            Thanks for saving me. We are looking forward to trying Sesame Inn soon!

            2 Replies
            1. re: liu
              c
              Chandavkl May 7, 2012 09:43 AM

              Yes, Sesame Inn is the real deal, as long as you order from the Chinese menu.

              1. re: Chandavkl
                liu May 7, 2012 09:55 AM

                Thanks...and we will do that!

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