After trying out Szechuan Restaurant with my friend and fellow blogger, Anna of Anna’s Appetite back in January, I was pretty impressed with the food so I decided to round up a couple more coworkers to go for lunch so we could try out more dishes.
We started off with a small order of the Boiled Sliced Fish in Hot Sauce ($13.98 for small; $18.98 for large). On this visit, we asked for the spice level of this dish to be medium and I thought it tasted a lot better than the version I had during my previous visit when we had asked for it to be mild. I thought the overall flavours were brighter and more complex. I really enjoyed the citrus notes and tingly sensation from the Szechuan peppercorns. My coworkers and I agreed that this dish was a winner! The fish slices were perfectly poached in the spicy broth. They were tender and flavourful while the vegetables were crisp.
Since I was so impressed with the Egg Plant with Ground Pork and Sour & Sweet Chili Pepper Sauce ($10.98) on my first visit, I ordered this dish again. To my amazement, this dish tasted even better than the one I had during my first visit. The flavours in this dish were a lot more complex on this visit. I could taste a hint of sweetness and tanginess in the sauce which I never noticed before on my first visit. Again, the eggplant was perfectly al dente and served steaming hot. This was definitely one of the favourite dishes on this visit amongst all my coworkers.
Our third dish was the Fried Green Beans with Ground Pork in Garlic Sauce ($10.98). This was my first time having this dish at Szechuan Restaurant and I thought it was well-executed. We had on purposely ordered the non-spicy version of fried beans to give our palates a break from the other spicy dishes. The beans were tender yet still crisp. The beans could probably have been fried a touch longer in the wok to give it more flavour. Other than that, it was still pretty tasty overall.
Lastly, we tried the Sliced Pork with Dried Tofu with Mixed Vegetables in Bean Sauce ($12.98). This dish is often known as Twice Cooked Pork or Huí Guō Ròu (回锅肉). This is another classic Szechuan dish. I had already anticipated that this version from Szechuan Restaurant would be stylistically different from the version that my coworkers and I were used to having at Han’s Restaurant as Han’s serves Taiwanese-Szechuan fare whereas this version is classic Szechuan. The dish is called Twice Cooked Pork because the pork belly is first simmered and then sliced into really thin pieces, almost like bacon. It is then stir fried along with cabbage, red and green peppers, and fried tofu slices. My coworkers and I really enjoyed the complexity of flavours in this dish. We loved the smokiness of the pork belly slices and the dish had the perfect amount of heat. This was actually our other favourite dish of this visit along with the eggplant dish.
My coworkers and I were really impressed with all four dishes that we had on this lunch visit. All were stellar and the flavours spot on. It had been a long time since we’ve had a spicy meal that we enjoyed so much. I think our last one was at Han’s Restaurant when it was still under the original ownership.
In fact, we were so impressed with this lunch that we went back less than a week later and this time with an even larger group so that we could order more dishes. On this second lunch visit, we ordered the same four dishes – the Boiled Sliced Fish in Hot Sauce, the Egg Plant with Ground Pork and Sour & Sweet Chili Pepper Sauce, the Fried Green Beans with Ground Pork in Garlic Sauce, and of course, the Sliced Pork with Dried Tofu with Mixed Vegetables in Bean Sauce. Interestingly, we noted that all four dishes were not as tasty as our first lunch visit. Even though we had asked for the spice level to be medium for all the spicy dishes just as we did before, we noticed the Boiled Sliced Fish in Hot Sauce was not that spicy at all and lacked complexity flavour-wise. I would say it was similar in flavour to the one that I had during my very first visit. The Egg Plant with Ground Pork and Sour & Sweet Chili Pepper Sauce lacked the subtle sweetness and tanginess which we had really enjoyed during our previous lunch visit. And the Sliced Pork with Dried Tofu with Mixed Vegetables in Bean Sauce lacked the smokiness which we had tasted and really loved in the pork belly.
In addition, one of my dining companions wanted to try the Ma Po Tofu ($10.98). This was actually my least favourite dish of the visit. I found the tofu to be rather bland and the flavour was single-noted. All I could really taste was the ground Szechuan peppercorns which numbed our tongues and there wasn’t really any other distinguishable flavour to the dish. I’ve certainly tasted better versions of this dish elsewhere. My coworkers all concurred as we had lots left over of this dish.
Another dish we tried was boneless version of the Hot Chili Pepper Chicken ($16.98 for boneless version; $10.98 for small bone-in version; $14.98 for large bone-in version). This dish is often known as La Zi Ji (辣子鸡), Thousand Chili Chicken, Chongqing Chicken, or sometimes even Chicken with Chilies. I’d been craving this dish ever since I had well-executed version of it at the now defunct Beijing Garden in Vancouver last November. I was really curious to see what the version would be like at Szechuan Restaurant. To my pleasant surprise, this dish was very well-executed. And it was actually the highlight of our otherwise disappointing lunch. Though not necessarily authentic, I actually enjoyed the boneless version of this dish. For me, personally, I’d probably order the bone-in version but for the sake of my coworkers, the boneless version is much easier to navigate. And it is certainly nice to have the option of a boneless version since not many places offer it. The flavourful chicken pieces were tender on the inside and crisp on the outside. I’m really glad they did not skimp on the chilies or the Szechuan peppercorns. We’ll definitely order this dish again on future visits.
Lastly, we ordered a large order of the Szechuan Dan Dan Noodle ($5.98 for small; $8.98 for large). I know every place makes their version of this dish slightly differently but this version at Szechuan Restaurant was quite a bit soupier than I had expected. Overall, the flavours were ok but it was a bit too soupy for my liking as I found the noodles were drowning in the thick soup. Some of my coworkers enjoyed it, others not so much. The dish consisted of thick-cut, springy wheat noodles that are covered in a thick soup containing chili oil, garlic, ground peanuts, diced green onion, Szechuan peppercorns and ground pork.
Despite being really disappointed with the food overall on our second lunch visit, a few of my coworkers decide to be brave and we actually went back for a third visit a couple of weeks later as we were curious to see whether there was any correlation between the day of the week and how the food was prepared. We had speculated that perhaps on our second lunch visit, the main chef was on his day off as there was a noticeable difference in quality of the food we were served.
Since there were only three of us on our third visit, we only managed to order three dishes – the Boiled Sliced Fish in Hot Sauce, the Fried Green Beans with Ground Pork in Garlic Sauce, and the Sliced Pork with Dried Tofu with Mixed Vegetables in Bean Sauce. The Boiled Sliced Fish in Hot Sauce tasted better than the one we had during our second lunch visit but still was not as good as the version that we had during our first visit. The Fried Green Beans with Ground Pork in Garlic Sauce was probably the best this time out of our three visits although my coworker noticed that it was quite a bit saltier on this visit. I just found that the fried green beans and ground pork were a lot more flavourful this time around. The Sliced Pork with Dried Tofu with Mixed Vegetables in Bean Sauce tasted better on this visit but was still not as good as the one that we had during our first lunch visit as it still lacked the smokiness that we loved so much. Overall, we thought this lunch was middle of the road in comparison to the our other two lunches there.
We still have not figured out why the flavours vary so drastically from visit to visit. We are determined to give it a few more tries to see what happens. I just wish they would be more consistent with the food. At this point, we are not confident as to what we would get from visit to visit.
414 16 Ave NW