After a day of intense LA eating, we were overjoyed that our reserved 7:30 table wouldn’t be ready until 8pm, and gave us an extra 30 minutes of appetite recovery.
Dishes were exciting in flavor and fun in presentation. I get why many consider this the best Sichuan restaurant in the US. The kitchen seemed to pace our fifteen dishes with foresight. Bobo ji, chicken and vegetable skewers, whose delights were unknown until unearthed from a pool of spicy liquid, started the meal, and I returned to them whenever I needed a moment to ponder the entire feast. The meal ended with the Lion fish, which I reserved and confirmed over the phone twice, and which neighboring tables coveted (we of course shared after we were stuffed).
I ordered everything with extra “hua jiao” (Sichuan peppercorns) and “la jiao” (chilis) and no peanuts (a guest’s allergy). Food was spicy enough to excite the senses, but not an exercise in machismo. Two keys to my enjoyment were being assertive when we needed plate changes and sipping lots of Beijing yogurt, a necessary palate cleanser and heat tamer.
Here’s a dish by dish breakdown, roughly in the order I’d get them again. Portions were gargantuan, especially for the price, and our LA friends took food home.
Lion fish. This was an impressive dish, even without the presentation, which looked like something out of the Body World’s exhibit at the California Science Center. Pieces of skin and flesh were sliced from the body, but still attached, and the skin formed tubes around the flesh as it fried. Plucking each piece off, there’s a light sweet and sour sauce, a crunch, millimeters of air, then flesh. Unbelievable. There was still a ton of custardy fish in the carcass, but, tilapia not being a favorite of mine, I didn’t stomach much of it beyond the cheeks.
Toothpick lamb w/ cumin Aromatic, spicy, and juicy. I understand that toothpick lamb was popularized in the US at Chengdu Taste. For reference, Chengdu Taste opened in mid-2013, and the first one toothpick lamb in the SFBA appeared when Berkeley’s Chengdu Style opened in January 2014.
Red chili chicken and mixed vegetable skewer (bo bo ji): cold liquid, Intense chili oil, full of heat, mala numbing. A mystery in every bite— soft juicy (presumably poached) chicken flesh as well as feet, heart, and gizzard; potato slices, cauliflower, wood ear mushrooms. For some reason, this dish has not become popular in the SFBA, and, to my likely out of date knowledge, is only available at Chendu Style (Berkeley), Spicy Way (Milpitas), and was at least initially offered at Bai xing jia hunan fusion (San Jose).
Green pepper chicken and mixed vegetable skewer (bo bo) citrusy green Sichuan peppercorns, serrano (jalapeno?) peppers, and the same sticks as the other one. I don’t think this preparation is available in the SFBA.
Chicken with green pepper sauce
Delicious sauce, mild green onion flavors, and if I remember correctly citrusy, Sichuan peppercorns. I bow to the chef’s chicken poaching mojo.
Sauteed wild yam
A cooling, mild haven. Yams have a lovely savory quality in this dish that I prefer them to charred chili potato shreds.
Sautéed eggplant with garlic sauce (fish fragrant) Kapow! It’s plated in a bowl and unlike any version I’ve had. Pickled chilies brought the heat level higher than any other dish. I was unable to enjoy this until its temperature reduced, but god it was good.
Sauteed string beans Easily the best version I’ve had of this dish, which I tend to avoid. It had just the right amount of ya cai and ground pork.
Red oil Wonton a classic.
Sliced fish with tofu pudding in hot sauce we were all familiar with this dish and though well executed, similar flavors were distributed among other dishes and we should have skipped it.
Diced Rabbit with Younger Sister’s Secret Recipe Royal Feast in Millbrae makes this as a special order, and the two chef’s versions are comparable. Complex red sauce, I think I tasted some doubanjiang. Lots of small bones.
Snowflake beef slices in golden sauce knots of enoki mushrooms wicked up the beef juices.
Rabbit with baby ginger another well executed dish that got lost in the fray. Some slices of ginger had absorbed meaty flavors and were a highpoint of the meal.
Beef with crispy rice crust* a giant mound of food, encrusted in a rice-based panko-like crust. I’d like to try this again— we had to send it back because they forgot to exclude peanuts, and it was too late in the meal to enjoy deep fried when it came out. That said, pieces of rice crust fell, along with several dribbled sauces, into my rice bowl, and created quite a nice “dessert.”
Sautéed arden lettuce whoops, I forgot to try any.
There was no complimentary dessert, so we walked to Salju. Sesame shaved ice, and a taste of someone else’s passion fruit topping (real stuff!) capped off the evening.