I’ve noticed that my favorite Chinese restaurants have the most unassuming names. In Washington, DC my favs include Hollywood East and Joe’s Noodle House. Over in the West Coast, the top Chinese go to place is Little Shin Shin. Little Shin Shin is fine and does Americanized Chinese food very well but it’s still Chinese American food. As you know Chinese American food has the same relationship to Chinese food as Tex-Mex does to Mexican food. Now if we were in Houston I’d rely on my Chinese uncle to get authentic Chinese take-out, but over in the Bay Area we’re left of our own devices.
Left to our own devices, the way we identify an authentic Chinese restaurant is the use of Sichuan peppercorns. Joe’s Noodle House in Rockville, MD is our first taste of this vital spice and it was like nothing you will ever encounter. Beyond spicy, the peppercorn kind of numbs your tongue and makes your mouth tingle. Sichuan cuisine is defined by this spice and the hearty soups and stews. China Village brings this in spades. We’ve read rapturous reviews on yelp about this place and had to try it. And guess what? It lived up to the hype.
The great thing was that we told the server we wanted authentic Sichuan cuisine and loved the peppercorns. When J was thinking about ordering the appetizer platter that include standbys of egg rolls and postickers, the server simply said “you can order that at other restaurants” and steered us to the cold chicken appetizer. On his recommendation we had the cold chicken appetizer, the tofu in a play pot with seafood, and, surprisingly, the boiled beef. And everything was excellent.
The meal started with a complimentary dish of pickled cabbage. Like the rest of the meal, the cabbage was in a hot chili oil. It was both cool and spicy. For those of us wanting to have some semblance of healthy eating, they give you the option of brown rice. YAY! Anyway, the tofu with seafood looks like your usual clay pot dish with a brown sauce but the sauce was extraordinarily flavored. It wasn’t just salty, it was loaded with a savory uname flavor. The seafood and the tofu was cooked perfectly and there was a generous serving of everything. It’s nice when the seafood isn’t stingy. I know that boiled beef sounds like some Dickensian nghtmare gruel but it turns out THIS boiled beef is a classic Sichuan stew of beef in a spicy oil and broth. It hit the mark with its spiciness and strong peppercorn flavor. Our mouths we definitely numb! I will say that Sichuan food is hearty peasant food and hearty peasant like their fat and oil. We did quite a bit of fat skimming but it was worth it.
On a cold rainy night, this was perfect. The servings were totally generous and when you express your desire to eat real Sichuan food, you get awesome food.
P.S. – If you can find it at your local farmer’s market, I highly recommend the Newtown Pippin apples. Sounding like some kind of barbershop quartet, the Newtown Pippin is the kind of apple that my sister and I would both love. My sister likes a firm, tart granny smith and I like the sweeter, more aromatic pink lady. The Newtown Pippin is firm and tart but also sweet and very fragrant.