The Astronomer and I dined at Yun Chuan Garden many moons ago when my mother was in town for work. Even though no one in our party read Chinese or was familiar with Szechuan cuisine, we still enjoyed a solid meal by blindly trusting the menu’s cryptic English descriptions.
The Astronomer and I returned to the restaurant a few weekends back with our friend Danny. With a Chinese-speaking Szechuan expert at the table, we were excited to re-experience Yun Chuan Garden.
Joining the three of us for dinner were Amy, her fiance Dennis, and Laurie. Our group of six gathered around a large table toward the back of the restaurant. Danny took charge and ordered an array of beloved standbys, as well as a handful of new dishes.
To start, Danny, Amy, and I picked out a few cold appetizers from the selection at the front counter. The fried tofu, beef shank, and jellied headcheese all rocked. The spicing and seasonings were just right for my chili-loving tastes.
I’ve learned from Danny that a Szechuan meal isn’t complete without a serving of “Water Boiled Fish.” The dish was comprised of flaky hunks of white fish marinating in a pool of red chilies, chili oil, and Szechuan peppercorns. The flavor was more subtle and nuanced than the fiery red sauce signaled. The peppercorns left a numbing parting gift.
The Astronomer and I both loved the “Yunchuan-Style Spicy Fried Shrimp.” The light and crunchy batter gave way to tender and juicy shrimps. What made this dish better than your average platter of battered and fried seafood were the aromatics at play. Ginger, scallions, garlic, dried chilies, and Szechuan peppercorns imbued the shrimp with an intense and addictive flavor. Once again, our tongues were left deliriously numb thanks to the peppercorns.
I also adored the “Preserved Pork with Wild Mushrooms.” The salty slices of Chinese prosciutto, coupled with the toothsome mushrooms, had my chopsticks coming back for more all evening long. The combination of jalapenos and dried chilies gave this dish a more traditional spicy profile.
One stone left unturned from our previous meal at Yun Chuan Garden was a dish called “Spicy with Spicy.” Feeling braver than we did two years ago, The Astronomer and I insisted on an order of this mysterious concoction.
It turns out that “Spicy with Spicy,” which consisted of ground pork and bean curd sauteed with dried chili flakes, fresh red chilies, chili oil, and jalapenos, was really friggin’ spicy! It was great to finally satisfy our curiosity, but I don’t think we’ll be ordering this dish again.
To balance the chili-intensive plates, Danny selected a few “buffer” dishes. The “Across the Bridge Noodles,” a mildly flavored chicken noodle soup from Kunming, provided a fine diversion from the avalanche of peppercorns and chilies.
The “Seafood Trio with Crispy Rice” also effectively combated the incessant burning sensation. The saucy mixture of shrimp, squid, fish, carrots, and mushrooms contrasted wonderfully with the crispy squares of puffed rice underneath.
The “Yunnan-Style Stir Fried Rice Cakes” were a familiar face in a sea of exotic and new dishes. This was a solid and not-too-spicy rendition of one of my all-time favorite dishes.
And finally, a lone plate of “Garlic Green Beans” to provide some vitamins and fiber up in this carbohydrate- and protein-centric paradise. I loved how the hot wok wrinkled the beans’ skins, imparting an unbeatable savoriness.
Our meal at Yun Chuan Garden made me feel all warm and tingly inside. I think it was the lingering peppercorns.
Yun Chuan Garden
301 N. Garfield Avenue, Ste. D102
Monterey Park, CA 91754