Sichuan Chowdown at Chili Garden (山城私家館), Milpitas
I attended a Chowdown lunch event hosted by Melanie and the Chowhound gang at Chili Garden. It was nice having the company of fellow hounds and trying many different dishes. Thinking back, it now seems that the place may have had yet another change in ownership or the kitchen staff.
I thought the cold dishes were all done very nicely. Each had its own distinct character and flavors. The Chicken in hot sour and fruit flavor was quite a new taste for me. The lemon flavor and the spicy oil worked well together.
The Spicy pork ear were also done nicely and not overly chewy.
The Couple Beef (夫妻肺片; fu qi fei pian) had good flavors and the right tenderness. Although it could have used a bit more Sichuan peppercorn.
The Chong Qing spicy chicken (重慶辣子雞) here was juicy and tender and had more meat than some other places which are drier and bonier. However, I noticed that the dish had much more oil than the last time.
The water-boiled beef (水煮牛) lacked the Ma-ness which I encountered in my previous visit. The beef though was not over tenderized and retained a little bit of texture. The overall flavor lacked the extra dimension that the Sichuan peppercorn numb-ness would have provided. This dish was also unlike the water-boiled fish that I had previously.
The twice-cooked fish fillet (回鍋魚) was not as good as I had hoped. The flavoring was just light spicy. The preparation reminded me of salt-and-pepper fish fillet but done with red peppers instead.
As others have noted, the Roasted lamb leg with Cumin (孜然羊肉) was decent if the lamb piece was tender. I would stick with the lamb chop or regular lamb meat next time. The cumin flavoring is also not as pronounced as those of China Village.
The Spicy pork intestines were OK The intestines were not deep fried so retained a lot of its fat, which makes the dish a little bit over powering.
The sesame bread and green onion pancakes (蔥油餅)were good and very useful for soaking up some of the spicy flavors.
The Dan Dan noodles (擔擔麵) arrived last and was just ok. The noodles were instant-ramen-like and the flavor was bland.
Overall, the flavoring were spicy but not overly so. Possibly it is to appeal to the mostly high-tech worker lunch crowd nearby so they don’t have to deal with emergency restroom runs in the afternoon. For a more potent Sichuan spiciness, the South Legend restaurant in Milpitas probably does a better job.
Looking back at my previous visit, it is possible that there has been some kitchen or ownership changes even since April. Both the Chong Qing Chicken and Water-Boiled dishes look and tasted different. The flavors are all toned down from before. Even the Chinese name and the take-out menu seems different. Perhaps someone knows the inside scoop.
However, the quality of Sichuan in bay area in general has definitely seen a boost in recent years. I remember several years ago there were barely a handful of Sichuan places. Now almost each town has at least one place and all have the quality to stand on its own.
Chili Garden Restaurant (山城私家館)210 Barber Ct
Milpitas, CA 95035