Sunday, October 25, 2009

Huang Cheng Lao Ma Hot Pot

I'd often walked by the architecturally interesting building on the south side of the second ring near the Zijing cinema complex without any clue that this was a branch of the high end hot pot chain Huang Cheng Lao Ma, probably the best known hot pot in Chengdu.

A friend and I went to check it out this evening. You can choose self serve, at Y110 per person, or to order from the menu (our choice). I was very pleased that we could order the hot pot stir-ins in both large and small portions. Goose intestine, served in a bowl of ice water, and lamb:

Shrimp balls, like shrimp dumplings with no wrapper. Really liked these in both the mild and spicy soup.

For soup we ordered basic yuanyang style (half spicy, half mild). This was some of the best mild soup I've ever eaten, milky white with a good rich pork flavour. The serving plate lettuce and green vegetables were cooked in the white soup and eaten with great satisfaction. The spicy side was pretty ordinary, though it got spicier very quickly. (It's normal for hot pot soup to get more and more spicy as you eat, but the effect was very intense here.) However, the potato starch noodles at the end were amazing good, cooked in the spicy soup and dipped in a garlic and sesame.

The servers were efficient, attentive, and completely unobtrusive as they poured tea, picked up used serviettes, cleared dishes, and kept the hot pot temperature at the perfect bubble.

For a first visit, I was pretty impressed but it was still about double the price of comparable tasting hot pot elsewhere. They also have many special options on the menu, like French goose liver and special mushrooms, which can quickly inflate the check. Even though there were many large groups, the room was about half full and lacked the friendly chaotic buzz that hangs around a more typical hot pot evening in Chengdu.

Name: 皇城老妈
Address: 二环路南三段 20 号

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Homestyle on Kehua North

This is the wood paneled place on Kehua North, with the mysterious name 'mumfortunerestaurant'.

The yu xiang eggplant, very garlicky, in the typical homestyle swimming pool of oil:

Preserved vegetable and shredded pork soup:

The food is 'yi ban', just okay, and a little expensive.

Chinese name: 聚缘家味馆
Address: 科华北路36号

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pizza and Sweet

"Is your fruit pizza made the same way? With ketchup and cheese, and baked?" I asked the server.

"Yes, the same. Baked."

"What fruit do you use?" (The girls at the next table were sharing a fruit salad, cubes of either apple or Asian pear tossed in mayonnaise.)

"It's sweet. Do you want one?"

"Oh, next time."

I wasn't curious enough to order the fruit pizza, though one left the shop in a large takeout box while I was there. The shop had only three small tables, but a steady stream of customers ordering takeout kept the staff on their toes.

The all-Chinese menu board advertises fragrant chicken pizza, beef pizza, sausage pizza, and the fruit pizza. I'd ordered a small fresh vegetable pizza (鲜蔬比萨) for nine yuan. The six inch crust was spread with ketchup and covered with mushrooms, onions, green peppers, corn, and peas. ('Ketchup' and 'tomato sauce' both translate to 蕃茄酱, so in Chinese there's officially no difference.)

The sweet part of the menu includes green bean and red bean soup, sundaes, and toast (考土司). You can get toast spread with peanut butter, jam, or chocolate syrup for two yuan, or toast with ham, ketchup, and egg.


Name: 比萨甜品
Location: 小南街 13 号

North part of Xiao Nan Street, opposite west gate of People's Park.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Yang Yang

Yang Yang belongs to the infamous 'fly shack' (苍蝇馆子) genre of restaurant, which means a modest place with walls open to the outside that serves basic Sichuanese or homestyle food. Yang Yang distinguishes itself with very good classic dishes as well as a couple more unusual ones and an upper floor with washrooms and private rooms. The place is extremely popular among both locals and foreigners.

When the server set the hot dishes down, they were still carrying smoky pepper fumes from the wok. Clockwise from bottom: spicy cold pork slices mixed with garlic, very tender beef stir fried with green pepper, dry-fried green beans (must order), and a wood ear mushroom dish.

Not lovely, but very crunchy and tasty gong bao ji ding:

One dish that gets carried to many tables is the Japanese tofu (日式铁板豆腐), tender fried pieces of soft golden tofu in a sweet and sour sauce. The classic Sichuan crispy fish (脆皮鱼) is beautiful and another must order. The fried potatoes are very popular as well.

They are busy enough to require a fee for the private rooms, but it can be waived if your bill goes over a certain amount. This plus the open BYOB policy make Yang Yang a very inexpensive place for a group.

Storefront, behind trees on a residential street, very easy to walk by:

Service is very efficient but can be uncooperative to surly, and don't bother trying to eat there during afternoon mahjong time. I'm putting a not-spicy label on this post, not because you can't get hot food here but because many of their best dishes are not spicy and it's a very good place for people who can't handle heat. Also hear they have an English menu.

Name: 杨杨 餐馆
Address: 武侯区锦苑巷24号 West of Sichuan University West gate; north of American consulate in Zongbei area. Most cab drivers know it.

Cold Mixed Rice Noodles at Yunnan Mengzi

All the other customers in Yunnan Mengzi were eating Crossing the Bridge Noodles, which is also my default order. This time I decided to break tradition and asked for cold mixed rice noodles (凉拌米线). A bowl of fresh rice noodles arrived topped with cilantro, sliced chicken, spicy garlic oil, peanuts, and shredded carrots:

This branch of Yunnan Mengzi has long been one of my favourite places to eat and bring visitors, but it wasn't as good as usual. The quality of the chicken was fine, but instead of the crispy fried pieces of chicken in the picture they used sliced white meat, a disappointing bait and switch. I also ordered a plate of greens, which came out way too salty.The formerly excellent service was careless, and the dining room is looking and feeling a bit neglected . I may have to stick with their other branch on Renmin Middle Road.

Name: 云南蒙自过桥米线
Location:陕西街, 菜市场 对面

On Shaanxi Street across from the farmer's market, on the next block down from all the tailor shops.

Chicago Cheesecake from Good Wood

Most coffee houses in Chengdu are, unfortunately, grim places. The decor usually includes thick drapes, tablecloths, and cloth upholstery; all of which suffer in the dank climate and clouds of cigarette smoke. They serve a harsh cup of coffee, and charge 25 to 35 yuan or more for the most basic kind. (To put things into perspective, 35 yuan is about what you would spend in an entire day going to Luodai, climbing the wall, drinking tea at the Jinlong temple, taking a bus back to the old town, seeing the sights while eating excellent snacks, and coming home.)

Good Wood is a typical coffee house chain that is found all over Chengdu. I've stepped into a few and stepped out again due to the smoke, and had mediocre cups of coffee in others. I ended up in this one near Hong Wa Si because I was tired of the tea house next door. My server, however, was exceptionally nice and helpful as she took my order, explaining the flavours of all the desserts. She described the Chicago cheesecake as a bit tart, and it did have the cheese tang that is missing from most cheesecake you buy here:

Mainly because of the friendly and enthusiastic server, afternoon coffee and cake felt like a real treat.

Good Wood Coffee: 良木缘咖啡西餐

South of first ring, Hong Wa Si area on south side of Jiuyan Bridge. I hope this is the right address; there are many branches around the university.

Shu Jiu Xiang

Like any hot pot fan, I was thrilled to be invited to Shu Jiu Xiang, a very popular higher-end local hot pot chain. The Tongzilin location is beautiful and comfortable inside, and the arrangement of tables gives you the feeling of celebrating at a long communal table when it is busy. Their trademark nine-section pot:

If you order yuanyang (some spicy soup and some plain) it comes in the regular concentric pot configuration.

Many hot pot places serve side dishes like fried rice or dumplings that seem little more than afterthoughts, but here they are worth ordering. We saw tables served orders of golden fried mantou, and got an order of crisp and fragrant flatbread. Their sweet black rice congee (黑米粥) is the perfect thing to order after two hours of eating fiery hot pot.

Flatbread (飞饼):

Very good beef:

The hot pot ingredients were all quality. Standouts were the crispy fried pork (酥肉), absolutely delicious in the spicy soup, crunchy pork throat (黄喉), and the unusually thick and chewy sweet potato noodles (苕粉). They have an English menu but the Chinese menu was far more extensive.

Name: 蜀九香
Address: 武侯区紫荆南一街2 号

Chun Yang Dumplings

Shui jiao are small dumplings filled with meat (often pork), and in Chengdu they usually are served in soup or tossed in red oil, like the famous Zhong Shui Jiao. I used to really like the shui jiao at Chun Yang Shui jiao, which is in the courtyard of the yellow and blue Golden Hawaii building on Xi Da Street:

Smoke in picture is from the neighbouring barbecue joints. One serving of dumplings and a bowl of white fungus soup:

This time the dumplings' filling didn't taste as fresh as usual and the servers could barely be bothered to take and deliver orders though it was just after one o'clock. Will probably go up the street to Xiao Tan Dou Hua for shui jiao next time.

Address: 青羊区金色夏威夷A座