Chuancai Fang (Inside Formosa Seafood Buffet)
6304 E 82nd St
Indianapolis, IN 46250
A Chinese American buffet in the fairly White suburbs of the Midwest is probably where you would least expect an authentic Sichuan style restaurant to be housed in, but you would be wrong! To my pleasant surprise (and initial skepticism of both my friends and myself), you can find real deal Sichuan flavors at Chuancai Fang, a restaurant inside a restaurant of sorts inside the Formosa Seafood Buffet. In actuality, it’s really the B side of the same restaurant, just with a different menu.
Walking into the buffet we were greeted by a delightfully pleasant host where I explained we were a table of 3 and looking to order from the Sichuan/Chuancai Fang menu. As we were being shown to our table, he chatted in decent Mandarin (better than my sad excuse for Mandarin) to the server that we were here to eat from the Sichuan menu. The server then came over, greeted me (specifically me as the only Chinese person at the table) and peppered me with a few questions in Mandarin I could barely comprehend. I somehow managed and got us some water, hot tea, and a few minutes to browse the menu.
While browsing the menu, one of my friends, who is an aficionado of Sichuanese food, deliberately wanted someone spicy, especially the plate of fried chicken tossed under heaping mounds of peppers he loves. We ended up finding it, luckily, after doing some Chinese language Googling. My other friend, who is less spice tolerant, looked at the menu and found something decent with only 2 out of 3 chile peppers in rating. Here’s what we ended up ordering:
- Lazi Ji 辣子鸡 – This was the fried chicken dish we were looking for. The chicken was perfectly fried with just the right amount of crispiness on the outside and juicy chewiness on the inside. Most bites had a nice coating of Sichuan peppercorn for a light numbing/tingling sensation. We all agreed, however, that we wish this dish was even spicier since we hope and expected it with the 3 pepper rating. Definitely good, but maybe next time we can ask for it to be spicier
- Tea Tree Mushrooms in Fire Wok 干锅茶树菇 – This was a dry pot filled with tea tree mushrooms (which are kinda like enoki mushrooms meet shiitake mushrooms), potatoes, cauliflower, thin slices of pork belly, sesame seeds, and celery. The pork belly fat and the decent, but not overpowering, amount of spice really helped to give the dish a lot of flavor. This was honestly my favorite dish of the whole meal.
- Stir Fried Shredded Beef with Veg 干煸牛肉丝 – The dish contained celery and matchstick slices of brief stir fried with peppers. While the celery and spices were on point, the beef was definitely overcooked and tough. it wasn’t necessarily bad, but just not on par with the other two dishes we had.
While we only got to sample 3 of the dishes, all in all it was a fairly impressive, especially given the modest expectations from an otherwise American Chinese buffet. The spice could have picked up a notch (I am not sure if they might have toned down the spice level given that the wait staff could clearly tell we were a group of 2 white guys and an American Born Chinese), but the flavors were very good and something similar to what you might expect in other larger metropolitan areas like Detroit or Philadelphia. It could be that the biotech presence of Eli Lilly in Indianapolis is increasing the number of Chinese immigrants in the region, but either way there is clearly enough demand for this pleasant delight of an authentic Sichuan restaurant within a Chinese buffet. Hopefully there will be more restaurants like this in Indianapolis in the future.