I'd say the best Chinese restaurants probably look the most suspect, and Taste of Sichuan is no different. Sure, there are some really high end ones that play grown-up and glamorous, but usually their food is worse than the divey little Cantonese down the block. This little gem in Beaverton is housed in a defunct Marie Callender's, but despite the new signage, looks pretty much the same as its predecessor. Except that everyone dining inside is Chinese.
Well, at least 90%. Which is a good... no, a GREAT sign. The natives know what they are talking about, and Taste of Sichuan serves up some of the best Chinese food I've ever had. Better than Joe's Shanghai here in New York, better than our Grand Sichuan on 9th Ave. Convincing Dad to get take-out from somewhere other than the abominable nearer-by China Rim was a labor, though. But as it turns out, a labor of love (and gluttony).
They were busy, this New Year's eve night. The phone rang and rang with only a busy signal in response, until finally a chipper voice interceded to tell us that orders would take up to 45 minutes (as opposed to what usually takes 15-20 in these parts). That was okay (Sorry, Dad): I would've waited two hours not to have to eat from China Rim or Chiam again.
We drove the short stint to fetch our vittles, which disappointingly came in black plastic take-out containers, and not those quaint little white boxes. The aromas that hurtled through the doors opened into the cold air more than mollified that upset, though. And our order was ready as they said it would be, neatly stacked box upon box and tightly secured in a plastic bag, just like a good batch of finished laundry.
That bag didn't contain extra soy (you won't need it), no cloying duck sauce (which you always threw out, anyways), but it also was bereft of fortune cookies. This, however, must have been an oversight, because I saw the cartons of cookies being loaded behind the counter, so they must have just been in the middle of restocking. (I know fortune cookies aren't authentic Chinese, but they're SO good...) Anyways, our order was abundant without them. Taste of Sichuan offers a Wild Side menu which we didn't explore (I was dining with less ambitious companions), but a return visit might include live ("until you order") stir-fried crab with green onion and garlic, dry cooked frog or Chong Qing hot chicken... for certain the signature Swimming Fire Fish. It probably will NOT, however, include The Other Parts of the Pig, or Fish Morsels and Intestines Fire Pot (http://tasteofsichuan.com/pdf/Wildside-Menu-4-2012.pdf) Although if its offered here, I bet it's as good as can be.
Three Flavor of Chow Mein is apparently my dad's go-to dish, but I subersively selected the hand shaven noodles over the more pedestrian egg noodles, and there was a palpable tension when he
looked at the dish, poking a chopstick through to find noodles, which masqueraded among the chicken, shrimp and beef, making the mung bean sprouts looking like the only noodly thing. I only scarcely avoided a panic attack when he took at bite... because this rendition of his favorite dish was so supremely superior that the shape and size of the noodles be damned. They were, however, works of art: traditionally carved dan-dan noodles, thick and chewy and coated in a saline, umami-rich glaze with spikes of spring onion. If this was my introduction to Three Flavor Chow Mein, I'd order it every time, too.
The best dish that night, however, was Three Kinds of Mushroom w/ Chinese Broccoli. The broccoli was fresh, crisp and verdant, smothered in a rich, dark gravy with shiitakes, button and oyster mushrooms, sliced into half-moons. I hoarded this dish, unabashedly. I mean, think of all the times I suffered through China Rim. Hunan Prawns in a Black Bean Sauce didn't sport a red chile indicator, but they had a bit of kick. The big prawns were cooked just right, and tasted extremely fresh, jumbled with chunks of red and
green pepper and wedges of onion in a peppery black bean sauce. And while we didn't need an extra vegetable, Mom's favorite dish is Dry Cooked String Beans ( it had a thumbs-up "most popular" indicator, AND it was New Year's eve, so splurging was almost in order). Unfortunately, they weren't quite spectacular, although the beans were fresh and cooked to tender toothsomeness , with a tinge of char and a salty slick of soy... something just didn't amalgamate entirely. That is, not until the next day, when a few plucked cold from the leftovers completely overturned that assessment. Maybe they just needed a little time to.... acclimate. Dry Cooked String Beans Next Day-Style were outstanding. And that's half of take-out Chinese food, anyways, right?