Slideshow: Sichuan Garden in Brookline, MA: Is Great Sichuan Food Without Sichuan Peppercorns Possible?

Chengdu Red Rabbit ($7.95)
Chengdu Red Rabbit ($7.95)
The first bite of this dish off the special Sighuan menu was appealingly warm and juicy with an intensely salty and slightly smokey flavor enhanced by the large pile of dry toasted chili flakes they provide for dipping. But a few bites in I noticed a couple of chunks with still-frozen cores. C'mon guys—still-frozen meat? Luckily, this has only happened once out of the myriad times I've ordered this dish.
Ox Meat and Tripe with Roasted Chili Vinaigrette ($7.95)
Ox Meat and Tripe with Roasted Chili Vinaigrette ($7.95)
The ox meat is riddled with bits of chewy tendon rendered tender by the ultra-thin slicing, while the tripe is the cleanest, crispest tripe I've had anywhere. I'd almost describe it as refreshing, the way it cools your tongue and snaps between your teeth. Though doused in chili oil, it's not overwhelmingly strong, and the vinaigrette has a deep, roasty complexity with a touch of sweetness accented by the fresh notes of the chopped cilantro and scallions. This here is what Sichuan food is all about: a perfect balance of flavors and textures.
20100802-sichuan-garden04.jpg
20100802-sichuan-garden04.jpg
Studded with bits of pork and swimming in a rich, hot chili broth, the cellophane noodles must have a heat capacity of several million kilojoules. They stay blindingly hot (both temperature-wise and on the Scoville scale) even after being delivered in a take-out box and consumed a full hour after ordering.
Camphor Tea Smoked Duck ($15.95)
Camphor Tea Smoked Duck ($15.95)
Another peppercorn-free choice is the Camphor Teat Smoked Duck ($15.95). Intensely aromatic and insanely juicy, the skin is expertly roasted to a crackling crisp finish.
Camphor Tea Smoked Duck ($15.95)
Camphor Tea Smoked Duck ($15.95)
The meat is insanely juicy.
Braised Beef Filets & Napa Cabbage with Roasted Chili ($12.95)
Braised Beef Filets & Napa Cabbage with Roasted Chili ($12.95)
Without Sichuan peppercorns, it suffers from a lack of authenticity, though it fares better in translation than the tofu. The tender slices of beef are slippery as velvet and come swimming in a rich chili broth with Chinese celery and Napa cabbage.
Chongqing Chicken ($13.95)
Chongqing Chicken ($13.95)
The Chengdu Dry Hot Chicken ($12.95) borders on unbearably hot, but if you can really handle the heat, opt instead for the Chongqing chicken ($13.95) off of the special menu. It's the same dish or battered and fried chicken pieces tossed with hot dry chilis, but with the heat upped by a factor of ten. Like the appetizers, it's not just a one-note tongue-searing affair. The fiery chili bits offer an extraordinary complexity and balance with a touch of sweetness, and deep roasted aromas. Popcorn chicken from hell.
This is What it's All About
This is What it's All About
Sweet and hot roasted chili pieces from the bottom of the chicken dish. I find myself picking at this stuff until the check arrives.