Sometime in the last year, Lao Sze Chuan, a Chicago-based mini-empire of Szechuan restaurants, opened a branch in Minneapolis. As I don’t really follow the Twin Cities food media very closely, I missed this. A chance reference to it on Facebook alerted me to its existence recently, and shortly thereafter we descended upon them with a group of friends to see if this was a worthy addition to the Twin Cities’ unexpectedly strong Sichuan scene. Short answer: it is. More annoying answer: it’s nothing very special, however. And while the original bills itself as “the best Chinese restaurant in America”, this one is not the best Sichuan restaurant in the Twin Cities; nor is it, for that matter, the best Sichuan restaurant within a 1/4 mile radius. That award would go to Tea House, which is walking distance from Lao Sze Chuan. The best Sichuan restaurant in the Twin Cities metro area, of course, continues to be Grand Szechuan. Continue reading
Our first visit to Tea House in Minneapolis was almost three years ago. In my review of that meal I noted that while it was fine on the whole, nothing about it made it worth driving 20 more minutes each way over going to Grand Szechuan. However, after our recent return to Szechuan in Roseville, I figured we should give Tea House another try too—especially as occasional commenter, Jim Grinsfelder always speaks highly of them. Well, we went back a few weekends ago with most of our regular eating-out crew. And I am very happy to say that we liked this meal more than our first. Read on to see what we ate. Continue reading
At the end of last week’s review of an excellent dinner at Demera I noted that this week’s review would be of a disappointing Sichuan meal. This is that meal, eaten at Szechuan (in Roseville). I should say right off the bat, however, that it was not by any means a bad meal; it was, however, disappointing on account of some changes in the menu and how it was presented on their website when we decided to go eat there. This menu presentation raised our expectations in a specific way and those were far from met. Anyone unencumbered by those expectations—which would be almost anyone else eating there—would have far less to complain about. What am I talking about? Read on to find out and then keep reading to see what we actually ate and what we thought of it. Continue reading
Thanks to a less than indifferent meal at Yangtze in October I’ve had recent cause to once again deplore the dim sum scene in the Twin Cities. Fortunately, thanks to our recent trip to Los Angeles I’ve also been able to erase the memory of that meal courtesy a dim sum outing to one of the San Gabriel Valley’s finest: Sea Harbour. Along with Elite—or just above it, depending on who you ask—Sea Harbour remains at the top of the San Gabriel Valley dim sum scene. There have been some new challengers who’ve opened relatively recently—Longo Seafood is the latest in the San Gabriel Valley—but nothing I’ve read led me to want to go anywhere else for our one dim sum meal on our trip. And Sea Harbour rewarded my confidence: it was a very good meal. Continue reading
It is a tradition for us—as it is for many others—to eat lunch on Christmas at a Chinese restaurant. When we’re in Minnesota on Christmas this always means lunch at Grand Szechuan. In Los Angeles, however, we have a wide range of excellent options to choose from. I’d originally thought to go to Sea Harbour for dim sum this Christmas—especially after being thwarted the previous weekend by various of the missus’ elderly aunts and uncles (we ended up at Oo-Kook instead); but then I recalled again the massive crowds we’d seen while driving past it to Chang’s Garden on Christmas a few years ago. And so we punted our Sea Harbour meal to a regular weekday and ended up instead at 101 Noodle Express in Alhambra. Thankfully, there was only a short wait. Continue reading
Grand Szechuan is the Twin Cities area restaurant we eat at most often. Rather than report on every meal, for the last few years I’ve been posting yearly roundups instead. This year we weren’t there as often as usual. This is largely because we were gone for a chunk of the year, and given how much we ate out in the UK, and the fact that it was good to be back in our own kitchen, we didn’t eat out very much for the first few months after our return either. This roundup therefore includes a few dishes eaten at meals in the mid and late summer but mostly comprises a blowout meal we ate there this last Sunday with what has become our regular eating-out crew. As last restaurant meals of the year go, it was a very good one. And we ate so much that it also ended up being our last meal of the year—we passed on dinner. Continue reading
I’ve previously written up two meals at Chengdu Taste, the celebrated and absolutely essential Sichuan star of the San Gabriel Valley. Though I call it essential—and it is—it has somehow been two and a half years since our last visit. This is partly because it has been one and a half years since our last visit, and partly because on our last two trips we’ve docked instead at Szechuan Impression—essential in their own right. We were resolute, however, that we would return to Chengdu Taste on this trip. Annd we were there for lunch on Tuesday, less than a day after arrival. They are now a mini-empire—with three locations in the SGV and one in Las Vegas—but the original in Alhambra (which is where we always go) is no less busy for it. We got there just after noon and were given one of two empty tables. When we left at about 1.15 there were a lot of people waiting inside the door. On a Tuesday. For lunch. But the food tells you why: our third lunch was as good as our first (and that was just about a year after they’d opened). There’s been no resting on laurels here. Continue reading
I wrote up dim sum at Yangtze a few years ago in my first post on dim sum in the Twin Cities. That post upset some people in the area. There’s a tendency among a subset of Twin Cities foodies and journalists to inflate the state of the local food scene and I took issue then with the notion that dim sum in the Twin Cities deserved high praise. Not only was it not on par in 2014 with dim sum in Denver more than 10 years ago but compared to that in cities in the US with significant Chinese populations, the best dim sum here seemed fourth rate. And that best dim sum here, in our opinion then, was at Yangtze. (Our last meal at Mandarin Kitchen was atrocious.) But it’s not like we like Yangtze enough to make the near two hour round-trip trek unless we have guests who really want to go.
Well, my parents were recently in town and since, as I’ve said before, even fourth rate American dim sum is better than what’s available in Delhi, we made the drive (in pouring rain). And we were hoping that maybe in the time since our last visit things had in fact improved. I am sorry to say that not only did our opinion of Twin Cities dim sum not improve from the experience but our opinion of Yangtze also took a hit. Continue reading
Our first meal in London, shortly after arrival, was lunch at a Sichuan restaurant just a few steps from our flat in Westminster. We ate there twice. This is not that restaurant (and nor was Chilli Cool). I plan on making my review of that restaurant the last of my London food reviews (because after all we ate there first). This is a review of a Sichuan meal eaten almost at the very end of our trip, at Baiwei in Chinatown. It’s one of a few outposts of the Barshu group (the eponymous Barshu, Ba Shan and Baozi Inn are the others); it opened in 2013 and apparently Fuchsia Dunlop was a consultant on the menu. We were very disappointed to have this be one of our final meals in London, but not because we didn’t enjoy it. On the contrary, we liked it very much—it was the best of the Sichuan meals we ate—and wished we’d gone there much earlier so we could have gone back and sampled more of the menu. Ah well. Continue reading
Dim sum isn’t the only Chinese food we ate in London; we predictably also ate a fair bit of Sichuan. Predictably, because our love of Sichuan food is of a piece with the general food culture’s love of Sichuan food. Just as the Twin Cities have no other decent regional Chinese food worth the name but boast a handful of quite good Sichuan places, London too has seen an explosion of Sichuan restaurants in the last decade or so. Leading the way is the Barshu group, which in addition to their upscale eponymous restaurant also has a few hipper, more affordable outposts. We didn’t eat at Barshu but we did eat at another pricey Sichuan place opened by an ex-Barshu chef (more on this later) and at one of the Barshu group’s aforementioned hipper outposts (more on this later as well). First up, however, is this writeup of the altogether less fashionable Chilli Cool on Leigh St. in the King’s Cross area, a hop, skip and jump from the British Library and not too far from the British Museum (or, for that matter, the Dickens Museum). Continue reading
I’d said I’d have reviews of a couple more Indian restaurants this week but I decided to give you a break from Indian food. Accordingly, here is an account of an interesting lunch of mod dim sum and other snacks at A. Wong, located in the borderlands between Victoria and Pimlico and a world away from Joy King Lau.
Named for the owner, Andrew Wong, A. Wong opened in 2013 on the site of a previous unremarkable Chinese restaurant owned by his father. Well, I don’t know myself that it was unremarkable—I’m pulling that description from Jay Rayner’s rave review in the Guardian from about a year ago. As you will see, if you read his review, A. Wong features pan-regional Chinese food, passed through the filters of contemporary cheffy technique and plating. If you’d ever wished you could eat har gow with a citrus foam on top, or a sesame ball with a dab of foie gras inside it, well, A. Wong may be the place for you (but make sure to get a reservation). But how well is all this done? Read on. Continue reading
The word on the foodie street is that Chinese food in London is nothing very special and that, unlike Indian food, there’s no good reason to seek it out when visiting. Accordingly, when I was here last August I didn’t look at any Chinese restaurants. However, when your visit is not for a week or two but for three months the prospect of going without any kind of Chinese food is untenable—for us anyway. As it turns out, one of London’s better reviewed Sichuan restaurants is a hop, skip and jump from our flat—we’ve already eaten there once and I’ll have a report once we’ve eaten there again. But how about non-Sichuan Chinese food? Continue reading
We skipped dim sum on our trip to L.A. last winter—this because we were going to be in Hong Kong a month later and it didn’t seem particularly urgent to eat dim sum in L.A. Now, of course, after five months in Minnesota, the opportunity of eating dim sum that is better than just acceptable was hard to pass up. I have to admit, however, that I was a little bit nervous: years of eating dim sum in the San Gabriel Valley has made it hard for me to get excited about dim sum in Minnesota (the best of which would be about third-tier in the SGV); would eating excellent dim sum in Hong Kong do the same to the SGV? Our meal at Lei Garden had been an order of magnitude better than any we’d ever eaten at Sea Harbour or Elite—would either of these places still do it for us? It was to one of these that we wanted to go, of course: they’re still the consensus top picks in the SGV. The fact that we were going to be eating on July 4 all but ruled Sea Harbour out. The waits can be 1-2 hours on regular weekends. Elite can be as crowded but for whatever reason we’ve always had luck getting in there, and so that’s where we decided to take our chances. How did it turn out? Read on. Continue reading
We ate at Szechuan Impression on our trip to Los Angeles last winter and at the end of my review I noted that I expected we’d be back on our trip in the summer. Well, this came true almost immediately upon our arrival in Los Angeles. We got in on the evening of July 1; we ate lunch at Szechuan Impression on July 2. Joining us for lunch were Sku and his family, with whom we eat on every trip, and with whom we love eating (as they are one of very few families whose attitude to eating out is exactly like ours, that is to say, excessive). Since our last trip Szechuan Impression has opened a second branch but we made a return to the original in Alhambra. I am glad to say that expansion has not had any negative effects on the kitchen: our meal was as good as the previous, and that one was one of the best Sichuan meals we’d ever had (and better than the Michelin starred one we ate in Hong Kong a few weeks later). Continue reading