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Jun 25, 2013 08:59 AM

Best Sichuan on Peninsula?

Where are the current faves, say from, Millbrae to Los Altos? I love Spices 2 in SF for a reference :)

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  1. I haven't done a broad survey but Da Sichuan (Palo Alto) has comforting, bold flavors. I like a bit more sichuan peppercorns than their regular spicy levels so I sometimes specify - I just really am addicted to that tingling spicyness.

    1 Reply
    1. There was lots of good stuff eaten at a Chowdown at Mandarin Gourmet ( ). Crouching Tiger is too tamed down, and the few dishes I've had at Spicy Empire were just okay. The Chowdown at Fey Restaurant was full of underspiced dishes.

      1 Reply
      1. re: hyperbowler

        Thanks SO much hyperbowler!

        Little Sichuan in San Mateo? Is very good?

      2. Aside: I did a quick trip to Beijing last week and ended up in some huge mall around 5th Ring, with a massive floor of restaurants, ate at something called "Spicy Mama" and became re acquainted with how a decent pepper ("peppercorn") dish should taste.

        Another aside: doing a little more reading about Pepper and Pepper, the old dishes in China are pre-columbus (new world nightshade peppers) - so dishes like Black Pepper Chicken are older than things like 1,000 chili chicken. And columbus, that ... guy who gave us the Indian / Indian confusion, also gave us the Pepper / Pepper confusion - for the same reason. He was hoping to find a better route for the Pepper trade, and when he found the nighshade family he used some creative marketing --- and the confusion is still with us.

        My list:

        Chef Zhao - great! go!

        Da Sichuan - go, but it's a little scary (manned up and had the intestine and it was great)

        Spices San Mateo - haven't been in a while, pretty dang good

        Spicy Empire - haven't been, it's in the spot of one of the old shanghai places, mentioned by hyperbowler

        Mandrin Gourmet - not bad, especially for San Francisco, waiter seemed to get that we wanted hot and thus we got stuff with a bit of a kick

        Little Sichuan - most of the menu is very americanized, but I ordered some stuff on the less normal side and had an excellent meal, but only one sample

        Crouching Tiger - agree with other posters, a few good dishes (dry cooked spicy is very nice), but tame in general (I get take out there when I'm feeling that I don't want to be challenged)

        Fey - was very hopeful initially, but also tame

        3 Replies
        1. re: bbulkow

          Was hoping you'd reply, bbulkow! Thank you!

          Spices(in Foster City or San Mateo?) is still open???

          1. re: Trumpetguy

            They have blog posts on their site from April, no one in Yelp has flagged them as closed, I remember a report here about them closing ... but ????

            I also said Mandrin Gourmet was San Francisco instead of Palo Alto. DOH.

          2. re: bbulkow

            Spicy empire has some very nice words in this post, I'm putting it on the short list:

            I ate at Amerin Thai in MV last night (kicked out a very decent Cashew Chicken when I was stern to them about spice levels), remembered Hangen in MV has Szechuan on its sign now - reports?

          3. Mostly agree with previous posters. Da Sichuan is my current favorite. Seems least dumbed-down. Cooking can be a bit unrefined in comparison with, say, Fey, but I don't mind that. Rather have the bold flavors.

            I talked to one of the owners at Crouching Tiger the one time I was there and they said if we specify, they'll up the spices to normal levels. If they really are willing to do so, I think it's worth a visit.

            Still need to make a visit to Chef Zhao...

            5 Replies
            1. re: bouncepass

              I should stop at Da Sichuan soon--- bold and unrefined has its place if it tastes good (e.g., Spices II).

              What do you like at Crouching Tiger? I don't think I've had anything bad there, but it's usually not been what I was hoping to eat. In a few dishes, they tossed in lots of unnecessary ingredients (e.g., red bell peppers in the Chongqing chicken, shredded pork in dan dan noodles). I guess that makes each dish more appropriate for a single-dish meal, but I'd rather balance a meal by ordering three complementary dishes. That all said, I've had some good vegetable dishes there.

              1. re: bouncepass

                What code words must one utter to get "normal level spice"?

                1. re: bbulkow

                  Haven't tried it yet so I don't know if it really would work, but my strategy would be to tell them that I want it authentically spicy. In Mandarin. Not sure if the last bit is helpful, but it certainly can't hurt.

                  I agree that some of Crouching Tiger's dishes were a little off-standard. The "water-cooked" fish for instance was tasty but didn't include much broth and the flavor profile was not what I'm accustomed to... trying to remember, I'd say there was less spice complexity (beyond the muted heat and ma-la) than typical. But I'd give them another chance to show what they can do when they take the training wheels off.

                2. re: bouncepass

                  Thank you! Excited to come home for a bit!

                  1. re: bouncepass

                    I had a nice meal at Da Sichuan. There are two chefs, one from Chengdu and another from Chongqing. The female server has quite a sense of humor.

                    I grabbed the take-out menu before I was seated, and was glad I did--- the restaurant menu has the same dishes, but lacks any descriptions of the dishes.

                    The N108, Spicy Tan Tan Noodles (not the N107, Tan Tan Noodles) were great:

                    118 Spicy bamboo shoots : I didn't care for this. This just felt wet and oily--- the sauce didn't really stick to the bamboo shoots.

                    V114 Sauteed sigua : Nothing about this dish struck me as uniquely Sichuan, but it is savory and really good. The sin gua was tender, but not remotely mucousy.

                  2. Yi Yuan in Millbrae is the best Sichuan restaurant I've been to outside of China. It's that good. I was shocked/stunned after tasting their dan dan noodles for the first time. I've ordered their family dinner to go for my solo enjoyment over several meals, even though I don't like spices/hotness in general. Wow it's that good/complex. Perhaps we should organize a group dinner there sometime. Their chef has won some big awards in China.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: vincentlo

                      I gotta say Yi Yuan is a mystery to me. The night I was there with a group, the Sichuan dishes were quite inconsistent. Later reports mention the chef is from Hebei, and maybe that region's specialties are where it shines. Or maybe there's been a change since then.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        I read that thread. I only started going to Yi Yuan this year, and so perhaps they have become more consistent. My recommendations there are the cold appetizers (especially the honey bitter melon), whole chili crab, the "Dragon" (eggplant that looks like a whole fish), and dan dan noodles.

                      2. re: vincentlo

                        I dined there a few times in the past half year, mainly for noodles but I've also had some of the cold dishes (which themselves set Yi Yuan above most of the area Chinese restaurants) and dinner items. It's as good as you say. Very well-balanced dishes. The water-cooked beef is the best I've had.

                        The constantly repeated cooking demonstrations on the TV are distracting and it seems sometimes that one has to ask to be seated at lunch. They don't seem to have American service manners down yet. I also see a lot of Chinese people eating hot pot, but it's not on the English-language menu. Maybe I'll ask about it next time I'm in: the service is strange, but always polite and helpful. They will have an opinion about what vegetable is best on any given day. It's worth taking.