Restaurant: Szechuan Impression
Location: 1900 W Valley Blvd. Alhambra, CA 91803. (626) 283-4622
Date: September 14, 2014 & April 6 & May 6 & May 24, 2016 & June 19, 2017 & February 5, 2018
Cuisine: Szechuan Chinese
Rating: Red sauce for the win
Szechuan is among my favorite Chinese sub-regions. It’s also, somewhat mysteriously, a really hot genre. Chengdu Taste is so hot (haha) that the line rolls around the corner. The Sept 2014 diner was organized by Skylar. Also included are dishes and impressions from a April 2016 lunch.
As of 2014, Szechuan Impression was brand new, just a couple of weeks old, but it too was mobbed and doesn’t take reservations.
The display out front shows off all sorts of peppery goodness.
The decor is a notch more modern and upscale than the usual SGV spot.
Sweet bean and lychee tea. A pretty and unusual beverage.
It should be noted that SI doesn’t have a liquor license, even as of April 2016, so bringing wine wasn’t really an option.
Rose Honey Tea. Tasted like turkey rosewater sorbet! Very sweet too. (5/16)
Smoked plum juice. They do have the classic Szechuan plum juice, which I do love.
Vegetables in Chili Oil. As you’ll see, red chili oil is the rule more than the exception with this cuisine. This appetizer is a bunch of vegetables and weird chicken parts (gizzards or hearts?) skewered in hot (two types of hot) chili oil.
Impressive Cold Noodle. There was debate as to whether this “noodle” was dough or in fact intestine or jellyfish. Anywhichway it was delicious. Nice slick texture and a mild heat. (9/14 & 4/16 & 5/16)
Hou (Honest) Dao (Authentic) Dumplings. Simple but tasty dumplings in chili oil. (9/14 & 5/16)
Wontons in Chili. Better than the Honest Dumplings, although similar. They had more meat (pork presumably) and hence more flavor. Very good. (5/16)
Smoked Pork Ear. Eeew. Looks like something my Labrador would’ve liked. Kind of hammy and leather textured.
Impressive Cold noodles. They are fairly impressive. Not meaty or that nutty like Dan Dan, but a really nice chewy noodle with a tasty chili sauce.
Mapo Tofu. A nice, salty, broad bean dominant version of the classic. (5/16)
Boiled fish Fillets in Chili sauce. A classic dish. Not as incredibly spicy as at Chengdu, but very tasty. The sauce particularly over rice.
Rice Noodle Lamb. The usual broth with lamb and rice noodles. Tasty, but perhaps not the most exciting of the dishes. (9/14 & 4/16)
Chicken in Chili. With peanuts. The sauce here was even better and there was actually some chicken breast (along with all sorts of weird other parts). (9/14 & 4/16)
And when Yarom “complained” that things weren’t spicy enough, we got this version: Those red chilies on top — hot!
Spicy Bullfrog Pot. Some bones, because it is frog, but very tender meat. At least they cut it up. I hate whole frog! (5/16)
Fresh squid dry hot pot. It might actually have been octopus. The flavor on this dish was great, with a TON of cumin. It was also hot hot hot. Hottest dish I’ve had here by far. Really quite a slow punch. The sauce soaked potatoes well great too. The squid/octopus maybe a little chewy (cooked), but fresh and tasty. (5/16)
Toothpick lamb. Tender meat of a higher quality than some places. Really tasty.
Tea Smoked Duck. Cold. Really good. Tasted like ham.
Tea smoked ribs. These had an amazing “forest floor” like smell and fragrant meat that just fell off the bone. (4/16 & 5/16)
Cumin Lamb. The classic cumin woked lamb. Fairly spicy. (5/16)
Special garlic shrimp. This wonderful dish is a Szechuan “original” version of a dish I frequently get at Chinese American restaurants. There it’s sometimes like tomato soup with shrimp, here it’s a goopy spicy/garlicky wonder. (4/16)
Steamed Taro Chicken Pot. Like many of the other dishes. Just the chicken was even weirder less identifiable parts.
The usual sauce. Have some chili oil!
Golden Soup with beef (6/19/17). A sort of yellow sweet and sour soup with light noodles and boiled beef. Very nice actually and different. I would get this again.
Golden Soup with lamb (2/5/18). The same basic soup, but with lamb.
Fried chicken with chilies (2/5/18). This is the typical aromatic Szechuan dish. Nice version with a thick fry.
Street Vendor Potatoes. Spicy Szechuan french fries. A little oily. Not as yummy as those shredded potatoes a lot of Szechuan/Hunan places have. (5/16)
A choy with garlic. Fairly typical Chinese greens with a nice crunch to them. (5/16)
Pumpkin cakes. Nice mochi texture and vague sweetness.
This was someone else’s dessert, a kind of sticky rice.
Overall, Szechuan Impression was very tasty. The ingredient quality and presentation was a notch or too up from some of the other valley Szechuan places. The flavors are complex and the ingredient quality significantly above some of the more “OG” places.
Service was great for SGV Chinese. At my April ’16 lunch a friend of mine was gluten free and they did an excellent job (particularly considering the language barrier) in sorting that out.
Like Chengdu Taste they didn’t allow wine (bummer), and they show no interest in getting a liquor license.
At the Sept ’14 dinner, I think we also could have done a better job ordering, mixing it up a bit to have more different proteins and less wall to wall red sauce. This particular sub-group we were with likes to keep the cost down, but this is a place where cheap is $25 a head and “going nuts” is $35. There are interesting crab dishes and the like on the menu.
I was even more impressed at my April ’16 lunch, having eaten at many many Szechuan restaurants in the 18 months between. Plus, one of my initial gripes with SI was that the menu didn’t feature some of the Szechuan greatest hits but they seem to have expanded the offerings. Because of the wine thing this is more a lunch place for me, but I want to head back and sample a wider portion of the menu.
For more LA Chinese dining reviews click here.
or more crazy Hedonist dinners here!