By Bob Sacks |
The kids are all grown up, but Little Szechuan, first opened in 1981, is still serving its classic Chinese food in a relaxing, traditional setting. Just walking in the front door of this iconic Little Silver restaurant evokes fond memories of numerous Sunday night family dinners for many folks. Even the comforting décor, dark wood with subdued lighting, is time machine nostalgic. If you are seeking contemporary Pan Asian cuisine, with trendy ingredients and flashy plating, look elsewhere; but if you want the Chinese food you grew up with, using well-prepared, fresh ingredients, then this archetypical neighborhood restaurant is the place to be.
From a large selection of appetizers we selected Barbecued Spare Ribs ($13 large/$8 small). Juicy, tender, and devoid of extraneous fat, these were well-seasoned, textbook ribs on the bone. The generous portion was enjoyed by all.
Crisp, and not oily, the Shrimp Spring Roll ($2.10) with its crunchy exterior enclosing the mild chopped filling, was traditional in style and well executed.
From the “Chef’s Delight” section of the menu, a Malaysian Curry Spring Roll ($2.10) filled with shredded vegetables, had the same flaky shell, but was a notch above the shrimp version, thanks to the use of a subtle curry seasoning in the preparation.
Steamed Vegetable Dumplings (6/$6.) would have appealed more had there been more filling and a thinner, less doughy wrapper.
After sampling the appetizers, we were ready to dive into the entrées. Mu Shu Pork ($11.50), was a favorite of the table; one order allowed our server to create four large, thin, tortilla-like pancakes, each holding a mix of slender strips of pork, cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, ginger, garlic, scallions and soy, with a small dish of sweet and salty hoisin sauce on the side for dipping. Very enjoyable!
Szechuan Tofu ($10.50), as with a number of dishes, can be ordered to whatever degree of spiciness desired, and we chose to have this dish made mildly spicy, which turned out to be just the right amount of heat. Cubes of soft Tofu (Bean Curd) in a soy-based sauce were tasty, even if somewhat unremarkable. This would be best eaten as a side dish with one or two vegetable-based entrées in the starring roles.
The name alone drew us to Seven Stars Around the Moon ($22.95); this selection for two combined stir-fried bits of lobster, shrimp, sliced scallops, pieces of white meat chicken, disks of roast pork, broccoli, snow peas, baby corn, carrots, and water chestnuts, in a lightly creamy white sauce (vegetable stock, corn flour, and spices), all surrounded by seven large, breaded and fried, fantail shrimp. The dish was visually impressive and offered a good variety of flavors, with textures ranging from soft to crunchy in each mouthful.
A friend who frequents Little Szechuan with regularity told me she always orders the Chinese Eggplant with Chicken ($11.50), and one taste made a believer out of me. This deceptively simple mix of thin slices of boneless chicken breast, and halves of small Chinese eggplant (similar to purple Japanese eggplant) in a brown, garlic-inflected sauce, was dish of the night; the silky consistency of the eggplant was memorable.
We also enjoyed General Tso’s Fish ($17.95); fat chunks of breaded and fried cod with cubes of pineapple, and sliced green pepper, in a piquant sauce that had some heat, some sweet, and some spice, and plated with those omnipresent broccoli florets, an integral part of many traditional Chinese dishes.
What to drink with this cuisine? Obviously cold beer is always an option, but I am partial to wine: German and Alsatian rieslings, and Gewurztraminers. The spice of “Gewurz,” coupled with a slight bit of sweetness and even a trace of pleasant bitterness, marries well with the spiciness of this food. Rieslings are a bit less assertive, but also work well when they are slightly off-dry. As a rule the Alsatian wines can be fuller and show more residual sugar than their German counterparts.
To this BYO restaurant we brought and opened a 1997 Zind-Humbrecht Clos Hauserer Riesling, a white from Alsace; highly aromatic, with a trace of sweetness; remarkably, the fruit in this 21-year old wine was still there, and just beginning to fade, but not tragically so. In the mood to experiment, we also opened a 2015 Do Ferreiro Albarino, a Spanish white, which offered a nose of white peaches, good minerality, and enough acidity to cut the richness of some of the dishes.
It’s fun to continue a family tradition – even if the kids can’t always join in – and enjoy a night out with comfort food at Little Szechuan. You’ll not be disappointed, as they still put out classic Chinese food at very reasonable prices in a soothing setting.
485 Prospect Ave.
Bob Sacks, longtime food and wine buff, reviews restaurants in this bimonthly column. Follow him on Instagram @dinnerwithbob. You can read his reviews here.
This article was first published in the May 10-17, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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