Saturday, September 25, 2010

Shufeng Garden 8/13/10

Chung King (1000 S. San Gabriel Blvd.) is my overall SGV fav for Szechuan cuisine, which is sometimes problematic, because I inevitably take too long to try new Szechuan joints when they first open. I'd heard great things about Shufeng Garden when they were based in Rowland Heights (Jonathan Gold put their Dan Dan Noodles on his top 99 dishes of 2009), and was too lazy, and never made it out there. So when I saw on yelp that Shufeng Garden had moved to San Gabriel (closer to us folks living within L.A. city limits), I knew I had to give it a try. So with a merry band of feastmen, we headed east on the 10, in hopes of a wonderful meal (knowing that if it was a complete bust, we could hit up Noodle 101 Express for beef rolls and sliced Northern Sausage).

Szechuan food like other spicy cuisines can be a shamanic experience worthy of hyperbole, fist-pumps, and exclamation points. The Szechuan peppercorn is magical. Your lips go numb, the inside of your mouth tingles, you sweat beneath your eyes and combined with chiles/chile oil, delicious flavors are unleashed with a fury that stuns and delights. You'll leave a Szechuan dinner, stunned and shell-shocked, your compass spinning to find north again, walking tall, as though you're Big Mario for the first time in a long while, having finally eaten the mushroom you've been seeking since the game that was this fiery meal began. Ma la is the term for the tagteam effects of the Szechuan peppercorn and chili pepper.

Okay, enough about that. Onto Shufeng Garden, which is on the 2nd floor of a giant strip mall at Valley & Del Mar. The food at Shufeng Garden wasn't as intensely spicy as Chung King, or as teeming with peppercorns. But the flavors were wonderfully nuanced and complex, cooked with a precision that most other places in town just can't match. It's definitely good enough to warrant a spot in my SGV rotation for those nights you need your spicy fix but aren't in the spirit of setting off the 4th of July in your mouth at Chung King or Yunchuan Garden.

Spare ribs.
Fried chicken with chiles. The breading here is completely different than the one at Chung King, a more delicate crust than I've seen before with this dish.
String beans sauteed with garlic.
Mapo Tofu. Superb. An earthiness (from the Doubanjiang beanpaste) sometimes lacking in other versions of this dish. As excellent a Mapo as Chung King's and Tasty Noodle's.
Zhong's dumpling were spectacular. These steamed dumplings were topped with sesame seeds and what appeared to be cracked black pepper, and a sauce that was spicy but not straight chile oil like you'd see if ordering wontons at another Szechuan joint. These straight-up ruled the meal for me, but some of that may be attributed to it being a dish I'd never had.
Water-boiled fish slices tai-an style. This dish was good, but not the equal of Chung King's or the boiled fish fillets at Xiang Wei Lou. I'd consider ordering another fish dish next time.
I seem to remember being listed on the menu as "sliced pork with garlic sauce".

Twice cooked pork. This dish is a mainstay of Szechuan cuisine and is pretty similar at most places around town. But at Shufeng Garden, the pork itself is cooked with such care, that it felt like re-discovering the greatness of the dish all over again. Masterful wok craft.
The aftermatch of delicious. I neglected to try the dan dan noodles. Which means I'm going back.

Shufeng Garden
140 W. Valley Blvd.
Suite 211
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 569-1815