Chef Ma in San Jose for Chengdu, Sichuan Cooking
Earlier this month I walked through again the odd shopping complex on South DeAnza that houses various after school programs geared to Chinese kids as well as several food businesses including Sogo Bakery and Q-Cup in a mishmash of stalls, kiosks and food court seating. The largest eating space toward the back, formerly operated by Foodtopia ( http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/41500 ) and others since then, is now Chef Ma. The owner is from Chengdu and promotes the style of cooking as “Less oil and less salt, no MSG, healthy food”. Here are photos of the menus:
Early on a Friday evening, the other tables were filled with Chinese parents joined in waves by their young kids as each finished their enrichment programs for the day. While Chef Ma has been open for nearly a year, none seemed to be regulars and we all were eyeing our neighbors to figure out what to order. Everything going by looked tasty. Noodles and a couple appetizers seemed to be the most popular way to order.
The complimentary peanuts were wonderful, roasted in oil, lightly singed, and salty. Seasoned with dried red chile pods and some savory bits, the peanuts were so good, I wrapped up the rest in a paper napkin to take home with me.
Dry Noodles B3. Sichuan style noodle with spicy ground pork, $6.95, or dan dan mian was presented with flair and verticality. Heaped up in an imposing mountain, the dan dan mian ingredients were layered and somewhat separated so that one could mix in more or less of a flavor element to taste.
While the floral and citrusy scent of Sichuan peppercorns perfumed the dish, neither their flavor nor numbing qualities were prominent on the palate. But that’s my only negative. The biggest and most pleasant surprise was to discover chewy hand-pulled noodles as the base.
The red oil had far less sesame paste or peanut butter, if any at all, than most other Sichuan restaurants serve. This was also not as sweet as many.
So delighted with the dandan noodles, I ordered a couple more things to-go. Appetizer A2. Strips in chili sauce, $4.99, or fu qi fei pian, shown here packed to go was very garlicky and spicy hot but a bit light on numbing peppercorns. It featured a good amount of tripe, perfectly tender beef shank, and aromatic cilantro, scallions and peanuts.
Dim Sum A5. Pumpkin cake, $1.99/order, included two pieces. Chubby pumpkin-flavored mochi pancakes were filled with moderately sweet red bean paste. Deep-fried, the non-oily lightly crisp crust segued to a chewy soft interior. Freshly prepared and done so well.
My server was great, swooping in with a glass of ice water that I had earlier declined, when he saw me start to ignite from the chile peppers. Chef Ma’s cooking is solid and I have a very good feeling about this spot. Let’s hear some more eating reports.
1600 S DeAnza Blvd. #30
Hours differed on three signs, suggest calling ahead.
re: Dave MP
You're welcome. Sorry to be so mysterious about the hours. One menu says daily 11am to 9pm, then another states 11-2:30 and 5-9pm. I think I saw a sign that it's closed one day a week, perhaps Tuesday? Then I noticed another sign that it was closed a half-day temporarily, either lunch or dinner can't recall, on another day, perhaps Wednesday or Monday. So hold onto that phone number.
re: Melanie Wong
We live very close by and did a takeout order. Had the DDM, chili tripe/shank, spicy dumplings and some stuff off the 3 for 20 menu.
Overall, I liked it quite a bit and would go back to give it a try in person to experience the DDM in its original form. What I particularly like about this place is the balance in their application of spiciness. Enough to be interesting and complementary, but not so much as to obliterate.
I loved the chili strips dish and found it more to my liking than the similar variations at some of the local Taiwanese joints. Given that this was takeout, the DDM wasn't presented in a beautiful, vertical stack, but once it was assembled and re-tossed in the chili sauce (served on the side), it came together nicely. That said, I want to retry it in-house to compare.
The sauce is indeed not the more typical sesame or peanut base, but reading on Wikipedia, it appears that the addition of those ingredients is an adaptation to local tastes.
The chili dumplings were flat-ish boiled dumpings served with a sweeter chili sauce that paired nicely with them. The rest of the dishes were standard fare to please the non-spicy tolerant members of our family.
I'd go back to focus on the Sichuan stuff, as that's where they are strongest. It's quite a pleasant surprise to have something this good close by.