Restaurant Review: Restaurant Review
Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., Jan. 21, 2011
A+A Sichuan China13376 Hwy. 183 N. #100, 258-5445
At the east end of the Galleria Oaks shopping center, where Tea House used to reside, sits A+A Sichuan China, previously known as A+A Sichuan Garden. Let me clear this up immediately: A+A is in no way affiliated with Sichuan Garden at RR 620 and I-35. It is a question asked by many; I've asked it myself. The recent name change from A+A Sichuan Garden to A+A Sichuan China was to quell those questions. A+A opened last fall and is owned by a friendly and outgoing New York transplant who goes by her English name, Cyndi. The front end of the house is managed by both Cyndi and Ling, whom many will recognize from her many years working the counter at Asia Cafe one exit to the east. And though there are many similarities with the menu at Asia Cafe and you will recognize a few of the kitchen staff that used to work there, especially chef Joe (chef Zhou), the differences are apparent to the observant.
The interior is multilevel, appropriately decorated, and comfortable, with both tables and booths. You place your order at the counter and are given a number, and then the food is brought to your table. To the left of the order counter are tea bags for hot tea along with self-serve ice water and hot water and all of the requisite tools for eating (chopsticks, tableware, bowls, plates). You'll see a gent darting in and out with bags of food, a clue that A+A also delivers. The specialty here is authentic Sichuan cuisine. It has a few of the Americanized menu standards – don't expect Moo Goo Gai Pan or lemon chicken, though I'm sure chef Joe could cook it if you had a hissy fit – but the prime directive of reasonable dining is to always order what A+A does best.
The menu has 156 options, including 26 for vegetarians (add 36 more if you also eat seafood). This doesn't include the special hot pots featuring fish, beef, lamb, or seafood for around $25 – basically a shabu-shabu, with a big pot of boiling spicy stock at your table and a groaning board of sliced ingredients to cook at your leisure. A chef buddy of mine had it, loved it, and said it was enough food for five or six folks. A+A also has a dry-pot version, with chicken, shrimp, crab, or rabbit ($28.95), cooked in a tabletop wok.
I've had many wonderful dishes here, with only a few misses. Be sure you order Special #9 from the board, which is stir-fried pork belly with sliced vegetables and green chiles in black bean sauce ($8.50), a huge platter of porky, spicy deliciousness. We tried the homemade Sichuan sausage stir-fried with red peppers, celery, and onion, and it was wonderful. The A+A chefs make their own sausage, and it's rich with great depth of flavor and a lingering sweetness. Beef with bamboo shoots ($8.50) is tender beef slices, garlic slices, and cubes of fresh bamboo shoot in a chile-boosted brown sauce; we all wolfed it down. Lamb with chile ($9.95) comes with thin slices of jalapeño, scallions, and snow peas and is incendiary – and a great combo of flavors teamed with the succulence of lamb.
Pan-fried shrimp with red pepper ($9.95) comes on a bed of celery, onion, water chestnuts, and bok choy, while the jumbo shrimp are coated with batter and lots of crushed dried red pepper. The batter could have been a little thinner, but there's no argument with the taste of the dish. The spicy fish fillet ($9.20) is pretty much like the one at the other place and just as good: battered flounder fillets, wonderfully spicy red oil, and a mountain of steamed vegetables underneath. Dry bean curd with mustard greens ($7.50) is as simple as it is delicious, with nutty strips of dry bean curd and garlicky, just-cooked mustard greens. Mapo doufu (Sichuan-style bean curd with pork, $7.95) is a lusty temple to the gods of chile and ma la (numbing Sichuan peppercorn): superb and perfect on a nippy day.
Beef with cumin sauce ($9.20) is excellent: spicy, tender, and rich, with a blast of sliced garlic and cumin. Sichuan-style sliced duck ($9.94) is moist and flavorful, with well-seasoned crispy skin. Twice-cooked pork with garlic sprout ($8.50) is made with pork belly that melts in your mouth, paired with little shoots of green garlic. The pan-fried dumplings ($4.99 for eight) were plump and nicely browned on the bottom, with top-notch handmade wrappers, but the filling could have used a little more flavor.
Here's the bottom line: No matter what they call themselves, the dishes are authentically flavored, wonderfully spicy, and cooked with fresh ingredients, and chef Joe is a genius. The portions are generous, and the prices reasonable. The staff is friendly, helpful, happy, and truly glad you're there. I love the place, and I will return often.