A lot of us that love spicy Chinese food were excited when we learned that a well-known Sichuan restaurant from the San Gabriel Valley was opening in West Los Angeles. There are a few restaurants in West LA that claim to be Sichuan, but most end up catering to local tastes and can’t make a living selling authentic Sichuan foods.
Sichuan Impression has fallen a slight bit into this heresy, but by and large you can get some pretty authentic dishes here. A lot of the authentic dishes were not to my taste, like the frog dishes and various tongues. I know rabbit is popular in Sichuan, but I didn’t get a chance to try that. The kung pao chicken was not at all authentic, maybe because only non-Chinese order it: it was too sweet and lacked the real hot Sichuan flavors.
But the rest of the dishes were very good. We had griddle-cooked shrimp, juicy shrimp peeled but with the tails still on, with vegetables—hot but not too hot. The wok-fried crab was the best dish to my taste, and I ate most of it. I didn’t eat much of the red pepper base underneath the crab, but the way the crab was cooked the shell was tender so I could easily access the crab meat, and also eat most of the spicy shell itself. I’ll be back for that again.
The “impressive dumplings” were OK, but not particularly impressive. The “Mapo tofu was not hot enough, lacked the numbing flavor of Sichuan peppercorn. and nothing like I expect they serve to Chinese people (although we had a Chinese person in our party). The boiled fish with rattan was excellent.
In general we ate mostly seafood, and we will go back for some of the meat dishes in the future. I didn’t see tea-smoked duck on the menu but it might be available, since it’s a popular Sichuan dish, and one that is not spicy.
What I look for in Sichuan cuisine is the application of authentic Sichuan pepper, which some people call “numbing pepper.” It does produce a tingling-numbing sensation in the mouth. And of course I expect a lot of chili peppers, bean chili paste, ginger, garlic, more garlic, and perhaps star anise. I think the restaurant has toned down the use of these spices for American tastes. More aggressive ordering might solve this. There are a lot of Chinese people eating there, so they might be getting the real thing.
Of course we had a few beers and some rice. All-in-all I really liked the dinner and I’m so glad not to have to drive to San Gabriel for Sichuan food! For six of us the bill was $150, which is pretty reasonable.
11057 Santa Monica Boulevard, LA CA 90025; 310-444-7171
Orto, on Santa Monica and 5th street, has definitely become my favorite Italian restaurant in Santa Monica. Every dish I have there is made to perfection. And the pasta selection is wonderful.
Some time ago, when Gate of India was on Santa Monica Blvd near Ocean Avenue, the owner Rita was considered by many to be the best Indian Chef in Los Angeles. Her restaurant was closed because of a fire, and later reopened as a different Indian restaurant. Now Rita has opened again at 1450 5th Street. The $10 lunch special is a bargain. The food is still very good, but Rita is acting as both the chef and the waitress, and that doesn’t work well in terms of getting the food out in time and in the right order and still hot. I’m hoping she hires a couple of good servers soon and I’m hoping she then starts up her lunch buffet.
Merv Hecht, like many Harvard Law School graduates, went into the wine business after law. In 1988, he began writing restaurant reviews and books. His latest book is “The Instant Wine Connoisseur” and it is available on Amazon. Or you might like his attempt at humor in “Great Cases I Lost.” He currently works for several companies that source and distribute food and beverages, including wines, internationally. Please send your comments to: email@example.com.