1275 E. 8600 South, Sandy ; 801-233-0027
This Sichuan Chinese restaurant is a nice addition to the dining scene, particularly in Sandy. Service shines.
Hours: M-Th, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; F-S, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Su, 3-9 p.m.
Recommended Dishes: Sichuan peanuts, shrimp in sizzling rice, Chinese loofah and bamboo shoots.
November 22, 2006
Not just another fiery plate
By Lesli J. Neilson
I love that American palates -- better still, Utah palates -- are expanding to appreciate regional ethnic cuisines. While Bombay Express highlights southern Indian dishes such as dosas and biryanis, Szechuan Garden in Sandy, open just under a year, is concentrating on dishes from Sichuan province. (The latter spelling is preferred by The Associated Press.)
Some may be deterred by the restaurant's name as serving exclusively spicy dishes. While the extensive menu will definitely please hotter palates with its fiery Sichuan dishes, there are many selections for those more familiar with Chinese-American fare. Szechuan peanuts ($4.95) are perfect sweet-with-a-kick mouth-poppers while perusing the menu.
On one visit, my party began the meal with a soup made with egg, shrimp, seaweed and tofu ($8.95) swimming in a delicately cornstarch-thickened broth.
That was followed by a couple of zippy appetizers, the "happy couple" ($6.95), which combines tender beef shank and julienned tripe glistening in a lightly reddish chili oil and Szechuan cold noodles ($4.95), Chinese noodles and sliced cucumbers tossed in chili sauce.
For main dishes, we went with whole pan-fried tilapia served with Szechuan "pickle" ($16.95) -- pieces of pickled peppers and Chinese long beans -- and Chengdu spicy chicken ($11.95). Named for the region's capital, it should have been called Chengdu chilies with chicken. The ratio of chilies to chicken was about 2 to 1 in the chilies' favor. I can tolerate relatively spicy food, but this dish was too much for me. The heat lovers at the table, however, were in heaven.
Shrimp in sizzling rice ($12.95) appealed to me more. The giant rice cake crackled when topped with a saucy combo of shrimp, straw mushrooms, peapods, baby corn and carrots. The dish was a play of textures and flavors rather than that aforementioned firebomb.
Chinese loofah and bamboo shoots ($8.95) was one of the most intriguing dishes. Don't think it's a sponge. Rather, Chinese loofah, also called silk squash or Chinese okra, looks like light-skinned zucchini. Instead of bamboo shoots, these are round layers taken off the conical bamboo rather than being cut into rectangles. When braised with the squash in a translucent, mild sauce, the bamboo becomes limp -- in a good way.
On one visit, I nearly finished the dish myself, but on another visit, some of the squash pieces were unappetizingly bitter. Later, I was told smaller squash are sweeter, but larger squash can be bitter.
We ended that Sichuan dinner with eight treasure sticky rice ($6.95) -- a formed mold of sweet sticky rice with red dates, almonds, sweet bean paste, lotus nuts, sesame seeds and other ingredients. If you like nuts and the Thai dessert sweet mango sticky rice, then you'll love this dessert.
On another visit, my party and I stuck to more tame Chinese-American items like sweet and sour pork ($8.95) and walnut shrimp ($12.95). While the pork came with its requisite glossy pink neon sauce, the meat was dry and lacked seasoning. The breaded and fried walnut shrimp were nicely cooked, and green and red bell peppers added color. Only sweeter candied walnuts could have improved the mayonnaise-sauced dish.
Home-style bean curd ($7.95) sounded innocent enough. Instead, fried tofu triangles with broccoli, baby corn and carrots arrived in a chili-flecked brown sauce. It was one of the hottest dishes we tasted, despite it having no chili icon like others on the menu. In a subsequent fact-finding phone call, I was told the dish is usually as mild as I'd originally thought.
Cashew chicken ($7.95) was a successful mix of wok-fried cubed chicken, crunchy cashews, water chestnuts, celery and green bell peppers.
Service was cordial and extremely accommodating. Servers were quick to refill teapots and drinks and to help explain the composition of dishes.
Many of the soups and other dishes can be made vegetarian upon request. The restaurant also will be open on Thanksgiving from 3 to 8 p.m., but call first to see if there's still space available.
Szechuan Garden is a nice addition to the dining scene -- especially because it's in Sandy and open on Sunday.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.