Sichuan House in Walnut Creek
- Melanie Wong Jul 21, 2012 11:57 PM
Yesterday’s mention by “elliora” of the new Sichuan House in Walnut Creek set off a chain of investigation that uncovered Chef Zhang Shaobin (aka Ben Zhang), partner in Pleasant Hill’s Sichuan Fortune House, as the owner. The trail starts here,
Coincidentally I would be in Oakland in the morning, making it easier than usual to swing by the Creek for lunch. Sichuan House is a couple doors down from Genova Deli and opened about seven weeks ago. Hearing the staff speaking Cantonese to each other was concerning. Before getting too cozy with the menu, I asked whether Mr. Zhang was cooking today. The waitress immediately brightened and said, “Ah, you must be a customer from his other restaurant. Yes, he is cooking today. This is his own place, the other restaurant is with a partner. He only makes the sauces there now, and is here all the time.” That was good enough for me to sit back and relax.
I’d been handed the menu of lunch specials (available Monday through Friday), but I also asked for the full menu. The table was set with a fork, chopsticks and napkin. I asked for hot tea, which was served in a pot at no charge. The very good pao cai (Sichuan spicy pickles) and glazed peanuts were complimentary too.
To hedge my bets, I ordered one lunch special plus tan tan noodles. Dan dan mian had been my favorite dish at Sichuan Fortune House.
Hot and sour soup was as part of the lunch special. Innocuous enough, yet with a good amount of pressed tofu underneath the egg and strips of bamboo plus a good snap of vinegar tartness.
I’d ordered the ChongQing style spicy chicken wings lunch special, $7.75 with meat on the bone. My waitress nodded saying, “It’s better that way.” Boneless is an option. The wings were hacked into thirds and the lunch size serving was about the equivalent of four wings. The pieces were deep-fried, then wok-tossed with dried red chili pods and other seasonings. Crispy and very flavorful fried skin with juicy meat to be worked off the bone fragments were everything they should be and reminded me of earlier discussion referring to ChongQing la zi ji as “chicken ribs”. Yes, I guess those pairs of parallel bones are akin to ribs.
A closer look in these two photos at the ChongQing la zi ji, shows the singed garlic, scallions, ginger, and plentiful Sichuan peppercorns. So tasty, about medium heat and plenty of ma la numbing power.
After I'd eaten my fill and packed up the leftovers, this shows how many dried red chilis were left on the plate.
The dan dan mian, $8.50, was not as pleasing. The waiter put the bowl in front of me and immediately started mixing things together without asking me, all the while balancing a plate of food for another table on his left arm. The sauce spattered about and I had to ask him to stop. Made with thickish, soft wheat noodles, this version was meat heavy with a load of ground pork. Nice lift of vinegar and a nutty creamy quality from a bit of sesame paste, but lacking in Sichuan peppercorns, chili heat, scallions, or the earthy complexity and salt of preserved vegetables. And the dish was too sweet. The addition of sautéed pea shoots was a surprising and welcome touch. The dish seemed Americanized to me in the extra sugar and absence of traditional flavor elements. This was doubly disappointing since I’d liked Chef Zhang’s version of this dish before.
A mixed scorecard on this initial visit with one dish as good as it gets around here and the other rather dumbed down. As we often find with the huge menus at Chinese restaurants, some trial and error will be needed to figure out the gems. I wouldn’t hesitate to return to order other Sichuan standards here. Let’s hear from other ‘hounds who’ve given it a try.
2064 H Treat Blvd.
Walnut Creek, CA
Free delivery within 3 miles for purchases over $30
I suspect they may have some issues with consistency or chefs with very different styles.
After my review of Yiping got panned, and this place was praised, I was in the area and wanted to compare the Dan Dan (Tan Tan) noodles.
You had said your serving was meat heavy and lacking in heat. What I got was very small amounts of meat and blazing hot with nice amount of preserved vegetables to give it a salty, crunchy contrast. It was very good (I think not as good as Yiping which was very rich and creamy with just enough heat, but that's personal preference), but nothing like you described.
You and I should trade dan dan bowls! I like a touch of creaminess but can live without it, and no where near the peanut butter-y versions some places serve. What you've described with a small amount of meat with an intensely spicy/salty topping that is mostly about the seasoning is the way I like it. And in a small portion that costs less than $8.50! The one I was serve had the equivalent of a quarter-pounder patty worth of meat on top and none of the signature red oil or sichuan peppercorns. I guess that is meant to justify the price.
This is a very interesting development. I had thought that perhaps the chef felt that two ma-la dishes would be overwhelming in one meal and he toned down the dan-dan intentionally. Now I wonder if the kitchen turns out two versions and does some customer profiling to figure out which to serve. I once had a server ask me which style I liked as two were available. This deserves some follow-up.
And please know that it was Yiping was panned by others, not your review. I, for one, am very glad that you brought it to our attention.
As a long time China Village enthusiast, supporter of Sichuan Fortune House, and one who lives in this neighborhood I was thrilled to hear about this place opening.
On walking into the quiet dining room early on Saturday night I noticed one of the servers was a familiar face from SFH. The menu is either identical to SFH or so close I could not discern the difference. I asked the familiar server if the food was as authentic as SFH and she said yes and that the SFH chef is now cooking at this new location.
We were brought a complimentary sample of the house made dumplings in chili sauce that were delicious, spicy, and left me confident with the rest of the meal coming. We had General Zhang Fei's Beef. The dish was fresh, well prepared, and spicy even by my standards. Now that I think about it... they omitted the peanuts usually in this dish. They also used the sliced beef instead of the more traditional stewed tendon that I favor. After the fact I inquired and they said it could be had you just need to ask. I would order this again, even if this was not the best rendition I've had.
We then had the Sichuan Country Style Fish Fillet. This was awesome and one of the best versions I've had. It was very spicy and nicely studed with Sichuan Peppercorns. The tofu and fish were both cooked to tender perfection. I could not stop eating the celery and sliced jalapenos. It was a little saucier than other versions I've had and I can imagine the thickened sauce might not be to some peoples' likings, but it clung to the food and really brought deep flavor.
I suppose a good summary could be that we had planned to take home leftovers, but instead sat picking at the dishes until everything other than the many red chilis that came in the dishes were gone. I'm thrilled this is just down the street from my house.
Down the street? Lucky you! Was hoping that you'd check it out exactly because of your long history with CV and SFH. I think this was my first time at this shopping center and neighborhood. I was sorry I wasn't going straight home or I would have done some shopping at Genova. And it was great to cool off at Guanatos Ice Cream at the other end of the shopping center afterwards.
I especially took note of your comments on the General Zhang Fei beef. When I had it at China Village, it was made with slices of navel cut brisket. Have not had a tendon version, but turned up a post from R Lauriston also mentioning tendon. Here's the photo from 2006 at CV,
re: Melanie Wong
And it turns out I live within their delivery range... dangerous. As a result I have now tried: Spicy Boiled Fish, Sauteed Pea Sprouts, Tea Smoked Duck and Mongolian Lamb. The boiled fish and pea sprouts were as good as any version I've had at CV or SFH. I've never had Mongolian lamb before so I have nothing to compare it to, but while being tasty I'd probably allocate my calories to something else next time. The tea smoked duck was good, but I don't think it traveled too well. I also thought it was nice that they sent the sichaun pickles and peanuts they serve as a starter in the restaurant.
We tried this out last Sunday for lunch and enjoyed it very much. I had the Crispy Sichuan Beef and my friends had a spicy fish dish and some very good noodles. Good food.
I've been a regular diner at SFH and was happy to see this place open closer to my home. I popped in for a quick try and had the chicken clay pot, which was great as always, and the dan dan noodles. I'd never had the dan dan at SFH; my favorite dan dan is at Z&Y. These were, as noted, weirdly sweet and lacking in numbing pepper. I'll return soon for a fuller sampling, but I'll stay away from the dan dan.
This is great news! I generally feel trapped in suburbia on Thursdays, when I have to work on the Walnut Creek/Concord border, and am relieved to have this place nearby. I generally have a lunch conference call, but if I didn't I'd be all over the lunch specials. As with its parent, Sichuan Fortune House, the lunch specials include Sichuan specialties like the water-boiled fish or cumin lamb, but with vegetables--often a problem as a solo business customer. I stopped by after work, and after noticing that they had some version of the 'West Lake fish soup" I had to order it, as I'd been missing it ever since China Village burned up. They also had the trademark peanuts and cabbage aperitif as Sichuan Fortune House. The West Lake soup was very similar to the China Village version (though without the tall waiter who can cut glass noodles with chopsticks) and with sichuan peppercorns, which I don't remember from China Village.