Sichuan Gourmet

A tale of two dinners
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  August 12, 2010
4.0 4.0 Stars

RING OF FIRE: The smokey hot shredded chicken with cayenne and fresh bamboo shoot will set your lips aflame. And we mean that in a good way.

Sichuan Gourmet | 1004-1006 Beacon Street, Brookline | 617.277.4226 | Open Sunday–Thursday, 11:30 am–9:30 pm; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 am–10:30 pm | AE, DI, DC, MC, VI | Full Bar | No Valet Parking | Sidewalk Level Access
I thought I knew all about Sichuan food, back from when Joyce Chen and Peking on Mystic introduced what was then called "Mandarin-Szechwan" food to the United States via greater Boston. It was the rootin'-tootin' spiciest food anyone north of Texas had ever tasted, and it was supposed to be more authentic than the Cantonese-American food of Chinatown. But it kind of disappeared when Thai food came in, and dishes got Americanized: less spicy, more batter-fried, none of the mentholated, numbing Sichuan peppercorns. So when I began hearing about Sichuan Gourmet restaurants in Billerica and Framingham — there was even a Chowhound flame war between fans of one kitchen and the other — I was primed for a third branch in Brookline, and even more so after my colleague MC Slim JB (a Billerica fan) okayed it in a Phoenix "On the Cheap" column last May.

Mrs. Nadeau and I dropped in for a pre-cinema sniff on what I remembered as authentic Sichuan dishes: tangerine beef ($13.95), Sichuan kung bao chicken ($9.95), and basil Chinese eggplant ($8.95). Instead of food the way Szechwan food used to taste, however, there we were with breaded, deep-fried slices of beef the size of a small hamburger patty, studded with bits of tangerine peel in a gloopy sweet sauce. You know you are in General Gau's personal dungeon for pretentious Anglos when the server puts down a fork with your chopsticks and the dish is in pieces that need to be cut with a knife (which you don't have).

The diced chicken and peanuts we could at least eat in a civilized way, and the breading was light enough that we could taste the meat and little bit of spice. The basil eggplant — not a classic Sichuan dish — was delicious. I've seldom had a bad eggplant dish under East Asian auspices.

I knew, of course, that this fiasco was my own fault. I knew this because of the refreshing assortment of half-pickled chopped vegetables placed on the table with the menus. And I knew because the rice was outstanding.

A week later, after a more careful study of the Chowhound flame war and other arcane texts, I had a plan. I was going to start our order with the beef tendon with "spicy wonder" sauce ($7.25). The waitress said, "It's tendon. Have you had that before?" I said, "Sure, I know, tendon."

She still wasn't sure. She said, "It's very spicy?" I said, "Spicy, great. Yes!"

As in a fairy tale, there had to be three tests. "It's a cold dish," she said. Mrs. Nadeau replied, "It's a hot night. A cold dish would be good."

1  |  2  |   next >
Related: Review: Scallops and lamb soar at Havana South, Restaurante Montecristo, El Pelón Taquería, More more >
  Topics: Restaurant Reviews , dining, SICHUAN GARDEN, SICHUAN GARDEN,  More more >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   REVIEW: BONCHON  |  August 10, 2012
    What am I doing in this basement in Harvard Square, reviewing the second location of a multi-national franchise chain?
  •   REVIEW: CARMELINA'S  |  July 25, 2012
    After a good run with "Italian tapas" under the name Damiano (a play on the given name of chef-owner Damien "Domenic" DiPaola), this space has been rechristened as Carmelina's — after the chef's mother and his first restaurant, opened when he was an undergraduate in Western Mass — and the menu reconfigured to feature more entrées.
  •   REVIEW: TONIC  |  July 06, 2012
    Bad restaurant idea number 16: let's do a neighborhood bar-bistro where there already is one.
  •   REVIEW: HAPPY’S BAR AND KITCHEN  |  June 20, 2012
    In a year of bad restaurant ideas, one of the better bets is to have a successful fancy-food chef try a downscale restaurant.
  •   REVIEW: GENNARO'S 5 NORTH SQUARE  |  June 18, 2012
    In year of bad restaurant ideas (often done well), this the worst idea — and best meal — yet.

 See all articles by: ROBERT NADEAU