Category Archives: Sichuan

Chuancai Fang (Indianapolis, IN)

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:

Image of Lazi Chicken and Chuancai Fang
Lazi Chicken and Chuancai Fang
  • 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.
Tea Tree Mushrooms in Fire Wok at Chuancai Fang
Tea Tree Mushrooms in Fire Wok

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.

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Baozi Inn, London

Baozi Inn
26 Newport Court
London WC2H 7JS, UK 

It’s Labor Day week, the “traditional” end to the US summer season so it’s fitting that I’m finally finishing the last post of my grand British/Canadian/New Yorker vacation.

Today brings me to Baozi Inn, a Sichuan restaurant in London’s Chinatown that serves Sichuan cuisine. While it is a restaurant that’s in the Michelin Guide to London, I mostly came here on the recommendation of my grandaunt and granduncle that live just outside Brighton. They enthusiastically recommended the restaurant as they dropped me off at the train station as I journeyed back to London. Given that I didn’t know London’s Chinese food scene all that well (and my previous dining adventures earlier in my trip were disappointing), I decided to give Baozi Inn a try for my last dinner in London.

On a Tuesday evening at 8PM it was fairly easy to get a seat. The hardest part, of course, was to choose menu items that I could reasonably digest and afford as a table of one. While I basically wanted to order the whole menu, I pared it down to the following:

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Food at Baozi Inn

  • Pork Baozi – Of course I had to get the namesake baozi, and it did not disappoint. The bun was moist and fluffy, giving perfect texture at first bite. Then the filling was juicy and flavorful as well, with a pork meatball that was seasoned well and had some diced vegetables. If I didn’t have so much more to eat, I definitely would have ordered more.
  • Potato slivers with chilli and sichuan pepper – In contrast, I found that the potato slices were underflavored. While this dish isn’t exactly supposed to be bursting with heat, I barely could notice the hint of chile oil and sichuan peppercorns. It was refreshing but just on the blander side.
  • Chengdu Dan Dan Mian – Then I had one of their signature dishes, the Dan Dan Mian. I loved the chile oil and sichuan pepper sauce which really worked well with the flavor of the nice, rich ground pork. The noodles were perhaps a little too thick for me, but mixed together it was absolutely delightful from first to last slurp.

I’d say that while Baozi Inn might not be the best Sichuan food I’ve ever had, it certainly is solid and definitely was levels beyond the other Chinese food I ate in London (granted, it was a small sample size). I would definitely encourage travelers to London to try it out, especially given how close Chinatown in London is to nightlife hotspots in Leicester Square and SoHo. Whether you’re looking for a light snack or heavier meal, Baozi Inn would be a good pit stop for food before a night out on the town.

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Chengdu Taste, Alhambra

Chengdu Taste
828 W Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91803

Of all the restaurants I want to visit this year, Chengdu Taste is at the top of the list, even higher than 3 Michelin Star rated Lung King Heen. Much of that is due to Chengdu Taste’s reputation as one of the most hyped and lauded Chinese restaurants ever since it opened a few years ago.

So when I happened to be in LA last weekend, I decided that this was my chance to finally eat at Chengdu Taste. I invited a friend, who happily accepted and we decided to meet at 6PM on Friday. Thankfully we decided to meet early because the wait for a table started soon after we sat down.

We took a look at the menu, finding it hard to narrow the choices down to 3 dishes. In the end we decided to eat 2 well praised items and a vegetable dish to balance out the meat and carbs.

Mung Bean Jelly Noodles with Chilli

Mung Bean Jelly Noodles with Chilli Sauce

  • Mung Bean Jelly Noodle With Chilli Sauce (伤心凉粉) – The first item we ate were  the mung beans noodle, which is simple but well executed. The thick mung bean noodles had just enough bite and soaked up the hot oil and peppers really well. Given the amount of chile peppers in proportion to the amount of Sichuan peppercorns, these were the most directly spicy dish we had but not too much to be overbearing.

Toothpick Lamb at Chengdu Taste

Toothpick Lamb at Chengdu Taste

  • Toothpick Lamb (牙签羊肉) – One of the signature dishes of the restaurant, these bites of lamb did not disappoint. The lamb not only was tender and juicy, but perfectly flavored with cumin, chile pepper seeds, and sichuan peppercorns. We demolished the plate.

Sauteed String Beans at Chengdu Taste

Sauteed String Beans at Chengdu Taste

  • Sauteed String Beans (干煸四季豆) – Because I’m a fan of balancing proteins and vegetables in my meal, we chose this to be our dish with vegetables. The string beans were stir fried just right, allowing the string beans to still have a little snap. The minced pork was juicy as well. This dish had the most Sichuan peppercorns of the three allowing for a nice, but not overwhelming, mala flavor.

Overall, Chengdu Taste did not disappoint. The reason why it is so lauded was very clear dish after dish: all the dishes have just the right amount of spice and balance of flavors. While other Sichuan places overload with too many peppers or compensate with too much oil, Chengdu Taste masters the the balance of flavors to let the main ingredients shine. It is undoubtedly the best Sichuan restaurant I have eaten at.

It’s definitely a restaurant that should be on anyone’s list while they are in LA. If you want a more casual restaurant with better individual servings you can also go to their offshoot, Mian, on Valley Boulevard in nearby San Gabriel, where you can taste solid Sichuanese style noodle dishes.