Location: 5807 Rosemead Blvd. Temple City, CA 91780. (626) 677-6667
Date: October 21, 2014 and January 4 & 12, 2016 and March 6, 2016
Cuisine: Szechuan Chinese
Rating: Great flavors, not ultra hot
I love me some Szechuan, and surprisingly, so do a lot of others because Szechuan places have become all the rage lately. This is a composite meal built from 2 Hedonists dinners and several casual lunches.
Chuan’s is the latest Chinese chain to open a Southern California output, like Meizhou Dongpo in the Century City Mall.
The menu is super glitzy with big clear pictures of every dish (oh so helpful!). This is the 2014 edition, as it has changed slightly since then.
Chuan’s didn’t offer liquor on our first visit, and we couldn’t bring ours in really either. But they did have this (non-alcoholic) Sour Plum Juice that was quite delicious. It had a smokey rich flavor. Really smokey — the most like bacon of any juice I’ve ever had.
Cold eggplant with preserved green chilies. A bit funny looking, but pretty damn good, and that’s even with this being the style of steamed eggplant I usually don’t like. The chilies were excellent.
Spicy avocado. Never had this one. Maybe a Cal/Chinese hybrid, but pretty good.
Chopped Chicken with Fresh Peppercorns. The menu version had a lot more peppercorns. This is always a good dish, and this example was no exception. There was the “boney chicken bits” problem, but, hey, this is authentic Chinese food. It wasn’t that hot.
Here they are mixed up. On my several lunch visit (pictured) the dan dan was great, with a lovely complex nutty undertone. Small portion though (perfect for 1-2 people).
Chengdu Sour and Spicy Vermicelli. A bit more flavor than the Dan Dan, but still maybe a little bland on the first visit. On the second dinner visit this had been punched up with a lot more sauce (below).
Ma Po Tofu. A delicious take on the classic. This version had a nice tang, great texture, and a bit of heat. It didn’t really have enough peppercorn numbness for my taste, but it was still probably the dish of the night in October 2014. In March 2016, it was a little salty and the tofu a little soft.
Fish filets boiled in chili sauce. The classic Chungking dish. Not bad at all. Nice soft/fresh filets of fish.
Shredded chicken and glass noodle with chilies. This third boiled chili dish was fabulous with soft strips of boneless chicken and glass noodles buried in all that red.
Corn with pork belly. Insanely good. The lardon-like pork served as the fat in place of the butter and made for one tasty corn dish!
Suicide potatoes. Sliced potatoes with a fabulous spicy Szechuan rub. Fairly spicy for this meal, but not really that hot on an absolute scale.
Eggplant. A version of the garlic eggplant dishes, this one with soy beans. Quite tasty, if mild.
Fried scallops. Spice in the batter, and VERY fried, with a nice tempura crunch. A little like the Nobu tempura popcorn shrimp.
Dry spicy fried chicken with chilies. Also a classic Szechuan dish. The chicken had ALL the bone bits. Almost every piece was filled with bone. Despite this, or perhaps owing to this, the taste was amazing. You just crunch through the bone and it tasted great with chili aromatics, fat, and a bit of numbing Szechuan peppercorn.
Crispy Beef. Basically, chicken fried steak nuggets! Probably really should have been a lamb dish traditionally, but was beef here. Tasty though. The meat was soft and flavorful. So soft, and so pare, that we were joking about it not being beef.
Chicken with green chilis. A bit of heat here, and a different style of chili heat than most of the dishes with their red chilies.
Shredded potatoes. Fine, although I’ve had better versions of this dish.
Special Seafood Dry Hot Pot. Like a Wuhan dish, a mix of dry hot shrimp, potatoes, veggies, fish balls, and the like.
Fried pumpkin and bean cakes. Greasy, but pretty good for fried Chinese desserts. These had that mochi like consistency with the bean paste inside. VERY fried and greasy.
Overall, Chuan’s was extremely tasty. The service was great, and they seemed to use fairly high quality ingredients, on par with Szechuan Impression and better than at Chengdu Taste. The flavors were good too and there is a lot of variety on the menu. But it isn’t that spicy. Really, afterward I was thinking it was about right because the through the night burn was fairly mild, but during, I missed that searing/numbing heat that is found at the hottest examples of Szechuan cuisine. Most dishes were well executed. Almost no bombs. Weakest probably was the fish filets, dan dan (both evening visits — although they have been great at lunch), and maybe the duck (a lot of others liked the duck), but there were a lot of very strong dishes too: Ma Po Tofu, dumplings, the meats, Lobster, dan dan (second visit), shredded chicken with noodles.
On our second dinner the young lady above helped us out and she did a great job. We ordered in flights and she kept everything straight and changed out the plates fast.
Chuan’s is one of my favorite Szechuan places for a combination of atmosphere, service, and dish execution. It’s not as “home style” as one like Cui Hau Lou, but they use very good ingredients and I never get the MSG headache.
During our March 2016 visit it was close to Chinese New Year and there was a show given by this character in costume — actually pretty cool and certainly mysteriously Chinese.
Afterward (on our October 2014 visit) we went around the corner in the minimall to Guppy’s a strange kitchy Taiwanese place for some shave ice.
From my cellar: 2008 Pierre Morey Meursault Les Terres Blanches. 92 points. Bright yellow. A musky quality blew off to reveal strong nutty notes of macadamia and almond, plus a whiff of iodiney oyster shell. Densely packed, tactile and serious but with a light touch. More rocks and flowers than primary fruit here. A precise, persistent, rather grown-up style of Meursault, and serious for village wine.
2013 Desparada Sauvignon Blanc Borealis.1.E4 McGinley Vineyard. VM 88. The 2013 Sauvignon Blanc Borealis.1.E.4 is an intriguing wine made in amphora. Lemon, grapefruit and white flowers meld together in a bright, nicely balanced wine. The 2013 was made from McGinley Vineyard. As so often happens wines made in amphora, the vessel and elevage dominate the wine’s personality. It will be interesting to see where future vintages go.
2012 Herman Story Tomboy. VM 89. Lemon oil, white flowers, mint and jasmine meld together in the 2012 Viognier Tomboy. Floral notes add lift in an oily, textured Viognier built on raciness and persistence. The 100% new French oak is evident, but nicely balanced at the same time. The 2011 spent 12 months in 100% new French oak.
F.X. Pichler Riesling Smaragd Dürnsteiner Hollerin (don’t remember vintage). VM 93. Medium green-yellow. Dark wet slate dominates the nose initially, with mandarin orange, vineyard peach and anise coming up with aeration. The fruit is sweeter and more opulent in the mouth than the nose suggests, but limey acidity gives shape and lift. Salty minerals linger on the very long finish. This already offers outstanding drinking pleasure, but will continue to improve and should hold well until 2014.
2002 Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Brücke Riesling Spätlese. VM 92. A bouquet of lily and narcissus is both sweet and musky. A coulis of red raspberry and molten minerals flows over the palate, but the sheer intensity here is matched by an elegance and lightness of touch. You might say this has the concentration of other recent vintages of Brucke Spatlese but not the weight, a perfect illustration of Donnhoff’s characterization of 2002 as “playful and light even though dense. ” The balance of acid and sugar is perfect, so that the sweetness drops away completely in the back. Red fruit, citrus and devilishly diverse expressions of salt and stones hang around for a lot longer than you can wait before taking the next sip. 2 stars.
2005 Dönnhoff Schloßböckelheimer Felsenberg Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel. VM 92. Pale golden yellow. Musky peach, a floral nuance and a hint of licorice on the nose.Smoke and honey give way to a spicy acidity on the palate. Well-balanced, vivid auslese, showing an almost salty minerality on the finish.
From my cellar: 2000 Trimbach Pinot Gris Sélection de Grains Nobles. VM 93. Bright medium gold. Superripe aromas of apricot jam, exotic spices, honey and tobacco; just misses the clarity of the best SGN bottlings from this producer. Very dense but not hugely unctuous thanks to firm, perfectly integrated acidity. Sappy, vibrant and very long on the aftertaste.
1999 Domaine Philippe Delesvaux Coteaux du Layon Sélection de Grains Nobles. 94 points. Served lightly chilled as a mid afternoon refresher. Medium amber color, delicate botrytis aromas and flavor notes of apricot, honey, pineapple, brown sugar, and a hint of oranges. This seemed a little less intense than I remember the prior bottles being but it had a delicate, crisp feel that I found delightful on this occasion. Perfectly balanced with a lingering finish, really a delicious drink.. Served lightly chilled as a mid afternoon refresher. Medium amber color, delicate botrytis aromas and flavor notes of apricot, honey, pineapple, brown sugar, and a hint of oranges. This seemed a little less intense than I remember the prior bottles being but it had a delicate, crisp feel that I found delightful on this occasion. Perfectly balanced with a lingering finish, really a delicious drink.
1988 Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey. VM 91. Good pale color. Fresh, flinty aromas of apple, fresh herbs and dried fruits. Very rich and pliant in the mouth, with a strong resiny/spicy flavor. Strong for the vintage, and very well balanced. Quite powerful and long on the finish, with complex flavors of honey, earth and tobacco.
2011 Herman Story Syrah Nuts and Bolts. VM 93. A vivid, multi-dimensional wine the 2011 Syrah Nuts & Bolts bursts from the glass with the essence of blackberry jam, melted road tar, graphite, incense and licorice, all in a rich, broad-shouldered style that is immensely appealing. Vibrant mineral notes underpin an exciting, full-throttle Syrah loaded with personality. This may be one of the very finest Herman Story wines I have ever tasted. Readers will want to give the 2011 at least a few hours of air, as the wine really needs time to open up.
2007 Alban Vineyards Syrah Reva Alban Estate Vineyard. VM 94. Inky purple. Black and blue fruits on the nose and in the mouth, with smoke and Indian spice nuances adding complexity. Densely packed and forceful, with building notes of candied licorice and mocha. This very rich, seamless wine shows very good energy in the mid-palate. A candied violet quality comes up on the finish, which clings with impressive tenacity.