Chengdu (Szechuan restaurant) near UC Berkeley
Actually just across the street from UC, at Bancroft and Bowditch, previously a Vietnamese place (Le Petit Cheval).
The menu is familiar to me from years eating at China Village, Z&Y, and other places serving Szechuan food, However there are quite a few dishes I've never seen before -- "toothpick lamb", duck-blood stew, floured sliced pig's trotters…
The space is large and has an outdoor patio. It's in the YWCA building, so I doubt that they will ever have a liquor license.
It's just opened. I came for Sunday lunch and had the dan dan noodles, which were good, though a small serving ($5.95).
2600 Bancroft Way
(between Bowditch St & College Ave)
Berkeley, CA 94704
I used to enjoy Le Petit Cheval for inexpensive Vietnamese food (steam table and a la carte options) and a bit of Cal campus vibe. Sad to see them go. Happily the new Chengdu Style looks to be a good replacement. I stopped in on Monday but due to the MLK day holiday the steam table was not happening. Pork and peppers rice plate was my alternate option among several lunch plates in addition to the rest of the menu. No soup with take out but the slivered pork and jalapeños in sauce with steamed rice ($7.95) was fresh, tasty and medium spicy. I am looking forward to returning for the 3 item for $7.95 steam table option.
I've been here twice more.
First, for a solo weekday lunch at 1 PM: The place was busy, with many people getting the two- or three-item lunch (about $6-$7) from the steam table (you bus your own dishes). But I opted for table service. I got #99 "Chengdu Style Beef Soup Noodle" ($7.95) and it was a disappointment. The beef was OK, some pieces fatty or gristly. Noodles were fine. But the broth had too much MSG and not enough flavor; I'm not physiologically sensitive to MSG so I finished it with no ill effects. It was not very spicy, in contradiction to the menu icon. There were no little pots of condiments available so I could not spice it up.
But for dinner I took home two cold dishes which were excellent.
#1 "Beef and Ox Shanks in Hot Chile Oil" ($7.95) consisted of lean slices of tender beef and crunchy strips of beef tripe. The sauce was spicy and flavorful.
#17 "Chengdu Style Cold Noodle with Garlic Sauce" did not have the "spicy" icon on the menu but packed a powerful punch. It was a perfect blend of hot pepper, Szechuan pepper, garlic, and sesame (or maybe peanut). Just superb.
All the noodles in all the dishes were linguini style.
Then dinner. Three of us went Friday night and the place was completely full. In a side room there was a private party for a group of Cal students: "Future Business Leaders." They were having a great time in a packed room; apparently our future business leaders will be mostly Chinese women. The main room was full and noisy, but we got a table after a fifteen minute wait. The service was cheerful and efficient despite the huge crowd; we had to wait to get teacups because they were running low, and I had to get up to grab some chopsticks and napkins. But the food came soon enough. Our table consisted of three of the five Caucasians in the crowd, and we were three times the average age of the other customers.
We started with the "Chengdu Style Cold Noodle with Garlic Sauce" and I was again impressed with the perfect balance of flavors. We ordered two dishes which were intended for much larger groups: #51 "Boiled fish with green pepper sauce" ($13.99), A large metal wok-shaped tureen containing a lot of tender fish filet, with slices of green jalapeno and many whole Szechuan peppercorns, in a milky and flavorful broth, with very crunchy bean sprouts. Quite delicious and numbing. You could adjust the level of spice by eating or avoiding the slices of green pepper. We took a big container home.
We wanted a green vegetable and were immediately advised that #60 (Water spinach with Garlic, $9.95) and #62 (Stir Fried pea sprouts, $11.95) were not available. The former ("ong choy") is not in season, I believe. So we ordered #61. This is "A-choy" and listed on the menu as "Arden lettuce" ($9.95). It was a large enough portion (given the high price) but although perfectly cooked it was too salty. If the place was not so busy I would have sent it back to the kitchen.
Finally we ordered "Toothpick Lamb" ($15.95). I've never encountered this before. The dish probably contained a pound of lamb, so it was worth the high price -- we took home a lot of leftovers! The lamb was in grape-sized chunks, individually threaded on toothpicks. Although a few pieces were fatty or gristly, most were tender and perfectly cooked. The flavor was amazing, a dry rub of cumin, hot pepper, and Szechuan pepper. It was like lamb candy. I almost could not stop eating it.
As mentioned before they do not have a liquor license and we did not bring wine.
In summary a fun place, not cheap, full of a young student crowd.
By accident I ordered a vegetarian lunch.
#100 Sichuan tan tan noodles ($6) were a delicate meat-free version. Thin yellow (alkaline?) noodles, not very spicy, subtle seasoning, slight sourness. Very satisfying.
#4 three kinds of cold mixed vegetables in hot chili oil ($6, pictured) had some kind of barely cooked or uncooked rice vermicelli, shredded seaweed, carrots, and bamboo shots. Very nice and refreshing.
#6 cucumber in sauce ($6) was a decent version, I've had better at Spices!3.
Tasted #10 steamed bun ($9), which turned out to be XLB. Tasty but amateurish. Also tasted some velveted pork with sliced not-very-spicy jalapeño, I'm not sure that was actually #71 as ordered since we were charged only $10. Bit bland for my taste.
I scanned the takeout menu, maybe someone who can read the Chinese can suggest some things that might be good to try:
I had to run an errand up near campus, so stopped off to check out the steam table. By 2 pm it was almost empty, but I cobbled together a lunch of small servings of several dishes for which they charged me 6.95.
The Ma Po tofu was very good with a good peppercorn bite to the thin sauce. It had a little ground pork and pieces of leek. Shredded pork with garlic sauce and some sort of shredded black tree ears? had a sweet, slightly bitter taste but was tasty enough. Green beans were still crispy, but almost too salty. The egg flower soup tasted fine, but the neon yellow color put me off.
I'd return again if I was nearby, but with Great China open again, no reason to trek up to Telegraph for Chinese food..