Our initial visit to the "New Spicy City", was fairly good, so we decided to have dinner there a few nights later. This time, the menu said very clearly; "Si Chuan Garden Spicy City", and the Server told us, that the Owners are indeed the Owners of Yun Gui Garden(or whatever it may be called now...they seem to reinvent themselves more often than Madonna!).
Again we started with a plate of cold dishes(3 items $5.50):
We decided to start out with one of the few Yunnan dishes I'd ever heard of Yunan style Steamed Chicken in Clay Pot($8.99):
This should actually be called chicken bones in medicinal, overly sweet soup. The broth looked rich, but was because the flavor of rock sugar was so strong, it ruined the soup. There was a bunch of wing tips, and some rib pieces, but only about a scant 2-3Tb of actual chicken meat in the dish. Washed out lychee and wolf berries finished up the soup, which the Missus said reminded Her of "Chinese punishment medicine!" Whatever that means.
Fried Lamb with Cumin($9.99):
Cumin Lamb is a favorite of mine...unfortunately, this version of that dish is not. The lamb was cooked over too low a temperature, making the meat mushy. There was not enough cumin, and even though it looks spicy it was strangely not. On the good side, this was not very oily.....
Sheesh, what a difference from our previous visit........ However, we just needed to give it another go, and recently went for lunch. When we arrived the place was only half full, but there were 2 large parties having lunch, by the time we left, the place was totally slammed, and people waiting for tables. It was an interesting crowd...all of the non-Chinese seemed a bit puzzled by the menu, and there were some interesting things we observed, which we'll go into later. Right now, let's get on with the food.
We started with
Fried Cured Pork w/Dried String Beans actually, not....we ordered that dish($8.99), but was brought this:
La Rou Chao La - Preserved/Cured pork (think Chinese bacon), stir fried (Chao) with leeks and red bell peppers. When we asked about this, we were told that they were out of Dried String Beans so they made us this instead....how about a sarcastic "how thoughtful" for this one? We'd have appreciated being told they were out of something, instead of just going ahead and serving us whatever they felt like making. As with most La Rou dishes, this was salty...in fact that's about all it was....salty.
Yunnan Style Dried Beef($8.99):
Thinly sliced, seasoned dried beef (think beef jerky) is fried to crisp up the edges, tossed with some chilies, and served. Like the La Rou you can see that this was another style of serving meat that had been preserved, before the days of refrigeration. The flavor is like that of a mild spiced, salty, soy flavored beef jerky, there was a mildly "fishy" quality to the beef that the Missus didn't like, but I enjoyed it. This would be great beer food.
Chungking style fish w/Pickled Chili Pepper($9.99):
Supposedly, one of the "specialties" of the house, there was a nice amount of preserved vegetable, but not a single Pao Jiao(pickled chili) in sight! Much to our surprise, this wasn't spicy in the least bit.....not even a sheen of sweat developed on my forehead! The fish was cooked adequately, soft, but not melt in the mouth soft, the preserved vegetable had a decent vinegary-salty punch, but was obviously dumped into the dish and not given a chance to impart any flavor to the broth.
Finally, the dish simply known as Spicy & Spicy(La Chao La - $7.99) on the menu. Since the Restaurant was so busy, a very nice older Gentleman who looked like one of the Owners, or a Manager, took our order....but when the Missus asked him in Mandarin what was in the dish, he didn't know...he had to ask one of the Servers!
At last, we have a winner! Chopped preserved Pork, preserved vegetable, and smoked bean curd, stir fried, with chilies, this hit on all cylinders....spicy(at last a bit of sweat), sour(kick of the preserved vegetable), and maybe a bit too salty....a little seemed to go with a large amount of rice. This I'd have again, though I don't know if I'll be back to Si Chuan Garden anytime soon.
Now for the people watching part....it started with 2 Gentleman with German accents, first marching on in, looking over the menu, and demanding "lunch specials". When told there were no lunch specials, one of the men orders the Fish Fillet with Chopped Hot Chili Pepper....when the dish arrives, he gives the young lady who is just totally crushed with customers a dismissive wave, and tells her, "no-no-no you cannot make food like that it is too spicy, take it back!" Ok, first off, this is a Sichuan/Yunnan Restaurant, not PF Chang's or Panda Express, secondly, he did order a dish with Chopped Hot Chili Pepper, didn't he......what did he think this was? And we wonder how food gets dumbed down, or why people get told "you no like that".... Meanwhile, the last open table was taken by 4 middle aged Chinese Women, who as soon as seated started making demands...."hurry and take our order, hurry up..." as soon as their order was taken, it was "where's our food, you're taking too long." Demanding and whining are a deadly duo! The Missus whispered to me; "these are the times when I'm embarrassed to be Chinese..." I simply replied, "remember the Chili's and Applebees rule; if these ladies were seated in Chili's or Applebees there's no way they'd be acting so obnoxious and demanding. Some kind of Darwinistic switch gets turned on when they enter a Chinese restaurant." I remember learning that one of the major differences between Humans and Animals is the ability to feel empathy....guess where on that scale I thought these ladies belonged? This was just 2 of the 3 ringed circus going on as the place was totally slammed....... I think I'll be eating at my desk for a while!
Spicy City Chinese Restaurant
4690 Convoy St
San Diego, CA 92111
Open Daily 11am - 930pm