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Nov 20, 2013 12:12 AM

Sichuan Chowdown @ China VIllage (Albany)

Eighteen 'hounds gathered at board favorite China Village tonight. The larger of our two tables got a few extras dishes. The common dishes were:

Cold dishes
2. 蒜泥黄瓜 Cucumber with Spicy Garlic Sauce
5. 五香腐竹 Five Spice Rolled Bean Curd Sheets
9. 四川口水鸡 Mouth-Watering Spicy Organic Chicken (Bone-In)
10. 蒜泥白肉 Sliced Bacon-Cut Pork with Spicy Garlic Sauce
14. 棒棒鸡 Szechuan Boneless Chicken with Julienned Onion (bang bang chicken aka bon bon chicken)

70. 风味排骨 Country-Style Spicy Pork Spareribs
88. 川西泼辣鱼片 West-Style 1000 Chili Pepper Fish Fillet in Chicken Broth
135. 川味轩烤羊肉 China Village Specialty Lamb seasoned with Cumin
142. 水煮牛肉 Szechuan-Style Spicy Boiled Beef (water boiled beef)
180. 干扁苦瓜 Dry-Cooked Bitter Melon (only at the larger table)
189. 蒜炒大豆苗 Roasted Garlic Pea Shoots
191. 呛包心菜 Spicy Charred Stir-Fried Cabbage
192. 四川炒土豆丝 Spicy Shoestring Potatoes Sautéed Country-Style
Brown rice
Complimentary fortune cookies

Pre-order to guarantee ingredient availability
Zhang Fai beef
56. 芝麻大饼 Sesame Flat Bread
71. 东坡烧鸭 Dong Bo Braised Duck

Special orders
185. 麻婆豆腐 Hot Bean Curd (Ma Po Tofu) special ordered with beef
Hand made seafood noodles
Ma la fish (mapo doufu variant but with fish)
Steamed fish with ginger/onion
Lobster with chilies

Finishing out the meal were some lovely citrus (satsumas?) that one of us snuck in. It's late, so I'll post my comments another time.

And just a reminder:
Hounds love to eat, and they love to eat together. There are a some established regional groups of hounds who dine together, so you might want to get on their mailing lists. Anyone can plan a chowdown and announce it on the mailing lists (see the Etiquette for more:


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  1. oh thank goodness you started this already! thanks, HB, for arranging this, and for pre-ordering the duck and the zhang fai beef.

    my faves of the night were the cooked bitter melon (my first time trying this - it had a lovely vegetal, almost pepper-like taste, without the heat, and from all accounts, not as bitter as this dish can be); the lamb with cumin (i loved the assertiveness of the dish - cumin and lamb - they work so well together); the spicy bean curd sheet (loved the texture, and the simple prep - scallions, light and gingery); the pea shoots (just fresh and garlicky); the shoestring potatoes (smokey goodness, a particular fave of mine); and the wok-charred cabbage (more smokiness, sweet). in truth, there wasn't a fail for me. i didn't feel any of the dishes were super hot (i really like it hot), tho there was plenty of mala in many. while i didn't love the spicy organic chicken itself,(mostly because there wasn't enough to taste - a few pieces on the bone to split amongst 10 at our table) - the sauce was incredible. the boneless chicken had something of a tahini-taste to it, which i liked at first bite but after a bit i didn't need to have any more (but to be honest, there were just SO MANY dishes). I loved the pig ears,will always love the cold spicy bacon and was quite happy to find others didn't so there was more for me. to those of us discussing the 1000 pepper fish soup (a lovely mild dish, despite the frightening prospect of those peppers, with wonderfully meaty, perfectly cooked fish - as to whether it was fish or chicken broth - interestingly, the receipt i snagged says its chicken. we were bummed that there was no crab available tonight, but we "made do" with the special lobster, which was heavenly.

    thanks to Melanie for providing delicious, interesting well-paired wines (a riesling, a gewurst, and a wonderful red - i'm not remembering the varietal), and for suggesting a few additional dishes to our already hefty list.

    the company, of course, was great - good to meet some known CH-ers but also a lot of new ones. i had a hard time deciding whether to pay attention to the fascinating conversation about Paris or the one about mala.

    I'm posting my pics too, as i was at the other table (although i think we had mostly the same dishes).

    China Village continues to surprise and wow. Thanks again, everyone.

    1. This was the Chowdown I was waiting for. Thanks, hyperbowler for organizing it. Something like 18 or 20 dishes were available and most of us ate too much, but this banquet was really a way to see what this CH favored restaurant could do.

      Some years ago, based on CH raves, the two of us checked out China Village on a quiet Sunday afternoon, and were very disappointed. I don’t know what happened, probably just a selection of dishes that were not among the best (maybe the ma po tofu was one). So, after the fire we went back as a twosome again and, as I posted recently, were much more favorably impressed by several dishes (twice cooked pork was one, bon bon chi another) and not so happy with the “ma po” or “ma la” crab. But after last night’s amazing display, I became a believer. China Village is really the best Sichuan, at least in the Bay Area.

      As mariacarman noted there were no true failures, but to start on a positive note, there were a few incredible triumphs:

      I am really glad there was no crab and that we had what the owner called “Sichuan style lobster”. This was an amazingly sophisticated dish and really perfect. Of course, there are no Maine lobsters or Dungeness crabs walking around the rivers and lakes of Sichuan. So this is a modern take at a time when such beasties can be flown in. That doesn’t make it any less Sichuan. (I am a little confused about the description “Lobster with chilies” in hyperbowler’s list as there is an item with this name on the menu, but the owner seemed to steer us to a differently named dish as I noted earlier. Not sure if they are 2 dishes or not — so be careful in ordering this.)

      I was also totally impressed by the Country-Style Spicy Pork Spareribs. For the first time I understood what people mean by a “citrusy” flavor from Sichuan pepper corns. Maybe it was a marinade they used, but these dry cooked ribs had a new (for me) and complex flavor. This is what I expect from real Sichuan cooking.

      Other dishes new to me and excellent:

      Five Spice Rolled Bean Curd Sheets, a wonderful addition to a set of cold starter dishes.

      Dong po duck. Boy, ducks were meant for this long braising dish. Even better than the usual pork and lighter in many ways as most of the fat gets cooked out. Loved it.

      West-Style 1000 Chili Pepper Fish Fillet in Chicken Broth. Lovely and light despite the covering of chiles, dramatically removed by the waiter.

      The following were superb and the best rendition I have ever seen:

      Szechuan-Style Spicy Boiled Beef (water boiled beef). There are several other restaurants around here doing this, but I think this may have been slightly better than the best. Lots of a dry roasted chili, sichuan pepper corn, and what else?, on top. Superb.

      Mouth-Watering Spicy Organic Chicken (Bone-In). The owner insisted on this, while I insisted on ordering the bon bon chicken. He was right. This is perfectly prepared version, with highest quality chicken, and a deep and interesting sauce.

      Following were competitive with the best I have had, maybe better, maybe just as good, all excellent:

      Spicy Charred Stir-Fried Cabbage
      Spicy Shoestring Potatoes Sautéed Country-Style
      Dry-Cooked Bitter Melon
      Cumin lamb

      Wow, what a list of winners! But there were some negatives:

      The ma po tofu with beef is very good, but not up to what this place should be doing. A conversation with the owner after the meal was quite informative. He clearly knows that the original version of this dish is not vegetarian (as the menu offers), uses browned beef, and far more spicy and complex. But he noted that in other parts of China, beef is not considered a quality ingredient so pork is expected in the MPTF. I think that is a correct interpretation. Worse is that he confirms the sense we have had that pressure from those thinking that tofu equates to vegetarian encouraged many restaurants in the US, including CV, to put this on the vegetable section and make it without meat. I think he confirmed that without meat it really should be called ma la tofu. And I think that is what they call the crab version and the fish version, both of which have little to do with MPTF except that they included tofu and a somewhat spicy, oily red sauce. I really wish CV would demonstrate what an authentic, firry hot, MPTF is all about as I know this kitchen can do it. Hope someone is reading this…

      And now a brief rant about bon bon chi. CV makes the best and most authentic version around these parts, but it is not as good as they should be doing, which may be why the owner steered us away from it. This is one of my favorite classic Sichuan dishes. “bon bon” or ”bang bang” refers to the sound made by the side of a cleaver banging the chicken breast so it can be shredded by hand. Here it is sliced in juliennes from a rather dry breast pre-prepared and grabbed from the fridge. Although the saucing is pretty close to correct, could be more fiery hot, it should be made from a juicy (high quality) chicken breast just pulled out of the broth and then bang banged and shredded. The other place making an excellent variant is Spices II, where the chicken comes on the bone in chopped up pieces. So the meat is better than at CV, but this is supposed to be a boneless shredded dish.

      Others can speak to the Sesame bread as apparently the weather didn’t help in its creation last night.

      Steamed fish with ginger/onion is a Cantonese dish and this kitchen was not at its best in implementing it.

      Hand made seafood noodles. Noodles were excellent and quite perfect in texture, but maybe this was just too much after everything else, but I didn’t get the point of the seafood and saucing.

      All in all one of the best Chinese banquets I have been at in a long time. Great food, great conversation, interesting people. And we discovered that CV is only a 20 minute walk from the El Ceritto Plaza BART stop — so we avoided the rainy day Bridge traffic. Thanks to hyperbowler for the ride back to the City.

      1. Curious to hear how the Zhang beef was last night -- when I had it in August, it didn't seem as flavorful as the old days. Miss it so. Will try to go this weekend.

        1 Reply
        1. re: The Dive

          Interesting question. I forgot to comment that I was wondering if we ever got the General Zhang Fei Beef. Maybe I missed it, but I don't think I see it in any pictures. Think it was ordered but did it not come for some reason?

        2. Tried to call China Village tonight . . . Jeff answered the phone but said that the whole neighborhood's power is out.

          C'mon, there were 18 people at the dinner, why so quiet? Did anybody else find anything enjoyable about this meal? Favorites? Dislikes? Learn anything about Sichuan cuisine?

          * * * * Sichuan Chowdown Series * * * *

          China Village, Albany (November 2013)

          China Village, Albany (July 2013)

          China Village, Albany (July 2013)

          Mandarin Gourmet, Palo Alto (May 2013)

          Chef Ma, San Jose (May 2013)

          Fey Restaurant, Menlo Park (May 2013)

          Happy Golden Bowl aka Ancient Szechuan, El Cerrito (February 2013)

          Dong Bei Mama/Panda Country Kitchen, San Francisco (June 2011)

          Trend, Mountain View (November 2008)

          Z & Y, San Francisco (September 2008)

          Chili Garden, Milpitas (July 2008)

          Little Sichuan, San Mateo (July 2008)

          Great Szechuan, Richmond (June 2008)

          Hunan Restaurant, Fresno (Chef Liu rediscovered, May 2008)

          China Village, Albany (November 2007)

          South Legend, Milpitas (July 2007)

          Zone 88, San Francisco (December 2006)

          Little Sichuan Express, Fremont (September 2005)

          FeldmanFest @ China Village, Albany (Chef Liu’s last night, September 2004)

          Sam Lok - SF Chinatown Chowdown Lunch Series #8 Report (May 2004)

          We’ve Been Ma-La’d @ Spices! II, San Francisco (January 2004)

          NYE China Village Chowdown (January 2004)

          China Village, Albany (July 2003)

          #1 Chowdown of 2003 – China Village (January 2003)

          House of Yu Rong in San Jose (May 2002)

          3 Replies
          1. re: Melanie Wong

            I was waiting for people to post about the Ma Po tofu on the dish of the month thread. I was going to post my own observations about the last few times I had it at China Village. I had to miss the chow down unfortunately because I am out of town this week.

            1. re: Ridge

              I'm impressed that my not so subtle effort to guilt my dining companions into posting their opinions managed to tug a confession from you when you weren't even there! We'll go another time.

              1. re: Melanie Wong


                It is interesting to hear people's opinions about the Ma Po tofu at CV. Before the fire it was one of my favorite dishes there. After the fire it has been meh. I have been trying to think about how it has changed. I think that before the fire the quality of the tofu seemed better. More silken and creamy. There was more sauce. After the fire the quality of the tofu has not been as good. There has not been very much sauce or liquid at all but instead an over abundance of chili oil. So the dish now is more like tofu in chili oil and it lacks the depth of flavor and complexity it used to have.

          2. >2. Cucumber with Spicy Garlic Sauce
            better than same dish i have had at other places. cukes had a lot of flavor and great snap. although it ended up fading a bit due to the large number of stronger dishes ... which might not have been the case if this was your "non-rich" dish in a menu of 5 items.

            >5. Five Spice Rolled Bean Curd Sheets
            i like this quite a bit. good contrast to the spicy/oily dishes we had. this was a better rendition than the version i had on my last CV trip.

            >9. Mouth-Watering Spicy Organic Chicken (Bone-In)
            >14.Szechuan Boneless Chicken with Julienned Onion
            14 > 9 ...
            I preferred the "Szechuan spicy chicken strips". The other one was good but just as a matter of personal preference, it was a bit gingery and i dont like really boney pieces of chicken, duck etc. I did like the spicy oil the chicken was bathing in ... it was good product for the sesame bread which arrived just after.

            >10. Sliced Bacon-Cut Pork with Spicy Garlic Sauce
            this is one of my fav dishes at CV. this was a strong redition. possibly my fav item of the evening, although i'll admit this is a bit "cynical good" [i.e. "throw fat at the problem" ... in contrast to ...]

            >88. West-Style 1000 Chili Pepper Fish Fillet in Chicken Broth
            another strong performance items ... complicated, deep taste to the broth. [fish = flounder?]

            >135. China Village Specialty Lamb seasoned with Cumin
            this was a favorite item too. generally this dish is popular with my friends, although i sometimes find it is too cumin-y. today's dish was just right for me.

            >70. Country-Style Spicy Pork Spareribs
            perfectly good, but it came late in the meal and some fatigue was setting in. also overshadowed by some stronger dishes, when it comes to personal pref.

            >191. Spicy Charred Stir-Fried Cabbage
            the last time i had this at CV, i thought it was "good" but i felt fell short of it's reputation. tonight i thought it was "very good" and perhaps lived up to being a "must".

            >192. Spicy Shoestring Potatoes Saut�ed Country-Style
            i liked this more than i expected. i'd been interested in trying one of the potato dishes at other places such as Yao Ming Beijing, but my companions were never interested, so was glad to try it.

            >71. Dong Bo Braised Duck
            good, but again a little "cynical" ... "duck fat ... Mmmmmm". i wish i had saved some sesame bread to have turned this into a fatty duck bun/sando.

            >185. Hot Bean Curd (Ma Po Tofu) special ordered with beef
            i didn not find this too exciting. judging by the amount left over, i suspect this wasnt a table favorite.

            >Hand made seafood noodles
            the bits of seafood were good, but i didnt like the ensemble much.

            >Steamed fish with ginger/onion
            i had a small piece of fish and it was ok. this type of prep is generally not my fav. [fish = black bass]

            >Lobster with chilies
            i didnt love this. but i also probably deferred eating it too long and it had cooled and congealed a bit.

            i havent been to CV a huge number of times, but this was the best meal i have had there ... 20dishes.

            want to thank the Hyperbowler for the invitation, and MWong for the taste of the dessert wine. enjoyed the evening, the company as well.