It's easy to not want to share great restaurants with others. Maybe eateries aren't ready for the number of people who, after reading whatever positive reviews, are compelled to invade said restaurants for lunch or dinner. Maybe I just want to keep them secret so I don't run into anyone I know ... Sichuan House, which opened in May, is one such place.
At first glance, the tiny strip the restaurant is in isn't compelling unless you're into anime, need to rent a tuxedo, print a few signs or get a touch up on your Shellac. Not quite in the corner lot of this string of random shops sits Sichuan House, inside the former 4 Star Chinese Cuisine. Once inside, Sichuan is a whole other story. Instead of tossing red lanterns every which way, Sichuan chooses demure décor and lets the food handle the rest. And boy does it.
Technically, Sichuan House was a recommendation itself from the folks at Hot Joy, who also pointed me in the direction of Kung Fu Noodle, a wee little joint off Bandera that delivers with fresh house-made noodles and dumplings. But instead of home-cooked Anhui province dishes, Sichuan House delivers regional favorites hailing from Sichuan, found in the southwest of China. The menu is a bit daunting, because unlike Kung Fu Noodle where there are maybe 10 things available to choose from, this one features several dozen items. Just when I was getting acquainted with the first menu, a page-worth of new winter items made an appearance.
My visits – and at this point there have been plenty — usually consist of bringing in one other person. This is by far my biggest mistake. Sichuan House should be enjoyed with several friends because dishes are all served family style. This runs the gamut from the 32-ounce soups to tea-smoked duck. The former kept me warm during several dreary and wet days last month. It's hard to beat a mix of soft tofu cubes, leafy napa cabbage and glass noodles floating in a light, fragrant chicken broth. The soup is more than enough for two, and really could use a third slurper.
It's easy enough to fill up on starters (another mistake of mine during an early visit) such as the Sichuan wontons or chao shou, made of ground pork wontons sitting in a savory broth with house-made chili oil on the side, which helps the eater control the smoky heat per bite.
On the entrée side, it's hard not to want to try one of everything. During my visits, I've had the shrimp and tofu (comfort food at its finest), the tea-smoked duck (which calls for both hands and definitely a side of the hot chili oil) and the scallions (tossed with cumin lamb).
All were noteworthy and delicious, but menu highlights definitely included the recommended dongpo braised pork belly that's marinated, deep-fried, cubed and steamed. The end result is sweet, tender and a must-try. Those looking for just a bit more heat can try the han shao bai, which comes with preserved Sichuan mustard greens. Don't miss the "fish fragrant" eggplant, which contains neither fish, nor fish sauce, but instead a pickled pepper brine and a healthy dose of ginger for a delicately sweet finish.
Heed my advice — take a few pals, order one of everything and load up on Sichuan cuisine. Splitting the bill will be easy, the leftovers not so much ...