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Monday, November 12, 2012

What The Critic Saw - Szechuan Chef

Posted by Chris Onstad on Mon, Nov 12, 2012 at 10:14 AM

Chong Qing Chicken - try the blistered peppers. They are like if Satan roasted pumpkin seeds.
  • Chong Qing Chicken - try the blistered peppers. They are like if Satan roasted pumpkin seeds.

"This place would kill downtown," said Nick, the obstreperous bartender with whom I regularly share review meals. He'd turned me on to Szechuan Chef, the fairly recent addition to the Water Tower building in John's Landing, and we were sharing a table of Chong Qing chicken, xiao long bao, hand-shaven noodles, and cumin lamb. It was bold food, with layers of flavor and texture, and despite Szechuan cuisine's reputation for being VERY SPICY YOU SURE YOU LIKE?, the heat did just what it was supposed to: a bit of numbing, a bit of flush, a bit of high. I don't even think I broke a sweat, although you certainly can if you make sure the kitchen knows you want it hot. After a few post-review visits on my own dime, I fully stand by my assertion that this is one of the best, if not the best, Chinese restaurants in Portland. From the fresh, house-made chili paste and black vinegar on the condiment tray, on through to the roster of unusual dishes and live crab wells, it's served quickly in a clean, upscale dining room.

More food shots after the jump.

Szechuan cold noodle, $6.95.
  • Szechuan cold noodle, $6.95.

Cumin Lamb, $12.95. I dont know the HTML for the chili pepper symbol, but this gets three or so.
  • Cumin Lamb, $12.95. I don't know the HTML for the chili pepper symbol, but this gets three or so.

Hot and Sour Soup, $1.50. Nice to see something besides bathwater for this; rich and full of textures.
  • Hot and Sour Soup, $1.50. Nice to see something besides bathwater for this; rich and full of textures.

Szechuan bean jelly, $5.99. Liang fen, all texture and little real interest beyond the sauce.
  • Szechuan bean jelly, $5.99. Liang fen, all texture and little real interest beyond the sauce.

Chicken Pickle Chili, $9.95. The pickled chilies are like an advanced version of Mama Lils.
  • Chicken Pickle Chili, $9.95. The pickled chilies are like an advanced version of Mama Lil's.

Xiao Long Bao, $7.95 for ten. Fresh, bite-sized, good value.
  • Xiao Long Bao, $7.95 for ten. Fresh, bite-sized, good value.

Yang Zhou fried rice, $8.95. Fluffy, balanced, loaded with protein, and delicious.
  • Yang Zhou fried rice, $8.95. Fluffy, balanced, loaded with protein, and delicious.

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