Restaurant Review: Restaurant Review
We could not be happier with the arrival of Sichuan Garden, even if it is in Round Rock
Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., June 27, 2008
Sun.-Thu., 11am-9:30pm; Fri.-Sat., 11am-10pm
Sichuan Garden110 N. I-35 #240, Round Rock, 512/255-6952
Back in February of this year, Stephen Xie and family opened Sichuan Garden, a comfortable haven for fans of spicy authentic Sichuan cuisine. It is located very near Origami Sushi, toward the southern end of the strip center that anchors the southwest corner of I-35 and Highway 620 in Round Rock. Inside you'll find the typical collection of Chinese restaurant stylistic adornments, although tastefully done here, with warm wood accents and comfortable chairs. The service can be downright hovering, but for a good reason: They genuinely want to know that you like your food and that you have everything you need. You will have to insist that you like spicy, as they have a slight tendency to dumb it down a bit for the non-native crowd.
Our first twinge of excitement came when a Chinese co-worker said that it was her favorite place in town, which to me spoke volumes. The next twinge came when we saw the menu. Sure, there are the required nods to the sweet and sour/General Tso's/chow mein crowd, but the majority of the menu features authentic specialties of Sichuan province.
The next test was taste. Pan-fried dumplings ($4.95) are exquisite: a thin, delicate pastry nicely browned on both sides, filled with minced pork and scallions, served with a nicely balanced soy-ginger-vinegar dipping sauce. Dragon Wontons ($3.50) present a nice bowl of plump pork-stuffed wontons swimming in a sauce of rich broth, soy, garlic, red oil, and chile. The onion pancake ($1.95) was flaky and oniony but would have been better if it had been browned a tad more. Hot sour noodles ($3.95) were a surprise: a spicy, tangy, delicious sauce was placed atop a bowl of very difficult-to-eat bean starch noodles; we loved the taste but had a hard time getting them down the piehole. That was a sample of only four of a total of 26 appetizers, with many more to test.
Lamb with hot cumin ($9.95) is downright addictive. Lamb is thin sliced on the bias and stir fried with a thick spice paste that clings to each bite; this is dry-style stir fry. Thin slices of celery and jalapeño, onion, and red chile complement the lamb, with the taste of cumin hovering closely. Boiled beef with spicy sauce ($8.95) is another entrée that blew us away. A large bowl of silky textured rich beef sauce surrounds thin slices of tender beef, lots of sliced leek, garlic and onion, cabbage, and celery. The taste is that of a spicy, complex beef reduction with no thickeners used.
Sichuan Garden's version of ma po do fu ($6.95, ordered here with pork) could just be the definitive version in town: a large bowl of cubes of soft tofu surrounded by a rich thick sauce of garlic, hot chile-bean sauce, scallions, minced pork, and a subtle kiss of Sichuan peppercorn. It has richness, spice, and perfect balance. Sautéed duck tongue with double-flavored chile ($11.95) is wonderful – a large mound of succulent duck tongues (the very essence of duckness, with only a small cartilaginous bone in the middle) tossed with red pickled chile peppers, garlic, and more – listed here as an entrée, but it makes a great appetizer as well. Tri-vegetables with garlic sauce ($6.95) is the perfect foil for a meal. Long purple eggplant, green beans, and rectangles of crispy tofu are bathed in an assertive garlic sauce – well-balanced between sweet and sour, garlicky and spicy.
We've tried five of the 88 entrées offered, so more trips are planned. There are lunch specials (23 selections, $5.95-6.50, Monday-Friday, 11am-3pm) for the lunch crowd, and they also offer a dozen soups and cook-your-own hot pots.
Portions are large, service is excellent, prices are right, and the taste is superb. We could not be happier with the arrival of Sichuan Garden, even if it is in Round Rock.