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Cincinnati Bites
Spring rolls from Pho Lang Thang

Posted Monday, January 6, 2014

Sichuan Chili is a new Chinese restaurant in Evendale featuring two menus: an authentic Chinese version highlighting the spicy cuisine of China's Sichuan province, and a "traditional Chinese" menu, the toned down, Americanized version most of us are familiar with. There are 242 items available, ranging from the recognizable Orange Chicken and Kung Pao Beef, to the more intimidating pork ear, chicken feet, beef tendon, tripe and jellyfish dishes.

The restaurant passes the "Gweilo Sniff Test" with flying colors. That's the test many foodies use to gauge a Chinese restaurant's authenticity: too many Caucasians means the place is likely Americanized to the point of redundancy. While I question this racist dubious standard, I will admit that the majority of patrons here did appear Asian.

My girlfriend and I accompanied three friends for a birthday lunch at Sichuan Chili. After failing to get a seat on two consecutive, incredibly busy Friday nights, we were pleased to finally get a table on our Saturday afternoon visit. Of course, carry-out is also available and, on your way out, you can even buy $4.99 plastic tubs of the restaurant's house-made chili oil.

Of our group, one person chose the American menu while the remainder opted for lip-tingling, authentic Sichuan goodness. Both menus offer a little bit of something for everyone, including --it is alleged-- vegetarians and vegans. At least one other blogger is dubious of that claim, as she'd inadvertently been served a meat dish after explicitly requesting a vegetarian menu item. This seems to be a common issue at a number of fledgling Chinese restaurants --I'm not sure why -- so be vigilant while their new staff learns the ropes.

Our group started off with a round of hot-and-sour soup, scallion pancakes and egg rolls --generic choices, to be sure, but solid, reliable appetizers that would prove to be the least spicy selections of the afternoon. Orders of Ma Po Tofu, Sichuan Bo-Bo Chicken, Sichuan Chicken with Green Pepper, Sichuan Sizzling Beef and the Chicken with Vegetables soon followed.

The dishes arrived fairly quickly and the portions were impressively abundant. The size of the meals helped to quell our initial sticker shock, as entrees average between $11-$13 and most "starters" flirt with the $10 mark. Maybe the higher prices help offset the cost of all the to-go boxes.

The egg rolls were diminutive, tightly wrapped and not too greasy, accompanied by the customarily electric-orange duck sauce. I wasn't one of the people who had tried the soup, but even I could tell from a distance that a great deal of pepper floated in each bowl, a bit too much for my friends to appreciate.

Sichuan Bo-Bo Chicken
Sichuan Bo-Bo Chicken
Ma Po Tofu
Ma Po Tofu

My girlfriend's Bo-Bo Chicken entree was a large dish of chicken stir-fried with sliced English cucumber, prodigious amounts of chilies, chicken and chicken. Did I mention the chicken? While it tasted good, her chief complaint was how disproportionately meaty the dish was.

My order of Ma Po Tofu was a large helping of cubed, silken tofu and pork soaked in a small, hellish lake of chili oil and peppercorn. It was easily the spiciest version of one my most favorite Chinese dishes and is among the best I've tried.

We all enjoyed our entrees on some level, but an overriding theme among the Sichuan dishes was the chef's heavy-handed use of the restaurant's signature chili oil. Maybe that's meant as a not-so-subtle marketing gimmick to help peddle the tubs sold by the door. The star ratings on the menu, which indicate the degree of spiciness of a given dish, also seemed inconsistent, though it's true several members of our group chose to dial-down the heat after the waitress had offered a scale of 1-5.

Sichuan Sizzling Beef
Sichuan Sizzling Beef
Sichuan Bo-Bo Beef
Sichuan Bo-Bo Beef

A separate take-out experience of mine was quite successful, as I enjoyed the intense spiciness of the Sichuan Bo-Bo Beef, which seemed to have a better cucumber-to-meat ratio than my girlfriend's chicken variety. I also loved their sweet chili oil-infused pork dumplings, six fat, savory delights that were well worth the $6.99 price tag.

Overall, Sichuan Chili is off to a fine start, showcasing some electrifyingly spicy dishes while also appeasing sensitive tongues. If you can look past the inherent oiliness of some native entrees, you'll experience some rare, authentic Chinese treasures here.

Sichuan Chili on Urbanspoon
Sichuan Chili

Price: Moderately Expensive ($11 - $16 per person)
Service: Good
Rating: 3.0 out of 43.0 stars

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