I’ve been miffed for some years that Boston’s suburbs had all the best Sichuan restaurants. Many regional Chinese cuisines are well-represented in town, but China’s fieriest wasn’t our long suit. Thus I was thrilled to learn that Sichuan Gourmet, whose outstanding outposts in Billerica and Framingham I’ve long patronized, had taken over the 120-seat former home of Chef Chang’s House. It deserves an extended Robert Nadeau review, but in the meantime, let this condensed preview encourage you to go now.
Skip all token efforts at American-Chinese cuisine: it is done far better elsewhere. Don’t be surprised when dishes you think you know — dan-dan noodles ($4.95), Sichuan double-cooked bacon ($10.50), ma po tofu ($8.95) — are dramatically different in the traditional versions served here. Expect strong, bracing, but well-balanced flavors of chilies (dried and fresh), garlic (raw and cooked), ginger, and mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns. Sichuan wonton with spicy chili sauce ($4.95) is an emblematic starter, wrapping delicate wontons around a fine pork filling in an astonishing sauce: oily, blood-red, fiery, faintly sweet. Fresh bamboo shoots in spicy wonder sauce ($5.95) are a cool, crunchy wonderment to palates that have only known canned shoots. Steamed bacon with fresh garlic sauce ($7.25) rolls up uncured, unsmoked pork-belly strips in another sauce shot through with neon-vivid streaks of red chili oil — that’s not tobiko on top, but chili-tinted raw garlic: ferocious!
Entrées include stunners like jin gu fish fillets ($19.95), swordfish chunks with copious fresh green and dried red chilies. It’s a hardcore fire-eater’s dish. Shredded beef with hot green pepper ($11.50) centers on the subtle interaction of rich beef with barely tender, mildly fiery fresh green chilies. Pork with yu xiang sauce ($9.95) sings with fresh ginger. Old Sichuan chicken ($11.95) shows great frying technique: cubes of chicken crisply coated with a salt-and-pepper batter with hints of sugar and Sichuan peppercorns. Cumin lamb ($13.95) lightly sauces lean loin in málà (Sichuan peppercorns, chilies, fermented soybeans, garlic) and fiercely aromatic cumin. Drink options include so-so Tiki drinks like Mai Tais ($5.50), beers like Tsing Tao ($3.95), and plonky CK Mondavi wines ($4.50/glass; $20/bottle). Service is brisk and friendly, though insisting this isn’t your first real-Sichuan rodeo may help get the spice up to authentic levels. With no disrespect to restaurants catering to more Western tastes, Sichuan Gourmet is an eye- and sinus-opening experience, one from which you may find it hard to go back to tamer interpretations.
Sichuan Gourmet, located at 1004–1006 Beacon Street, in Brookline, is open Sunday–Thursday, 11:30 am–9:30 pm, and Friday and Saturday, 11:30 am–10:30 pm. Call 617.277.4226.