(Da jia hao!)
Welcome to China Focus Blog’s new segment on local restaurants and food! This segment will be covered by Erin Carson and Elizabeth Linn with guest critiquers joining us from time to time. Our goal is to go out and explore San Diego’s Asian food scene and give our personal thoughts and experiences. Who knows, you may discover someplace new to try the next time you’re out looking for a place to eat!
Restaurant: Szechuan Chef
Location: 4344 Convoy Street, San Diego, CA 92111
Parking: Free and uncrowded
Overall Rating: 2.5 / 5
Service / Atmosphere
The dining room is brightly lit and spacious, with plenty of room for large groups. For our group of fifteen, we were able to comfortably share the same table with easy access to the Lazy Susan for optimal sampling of every dish. The wait staff was patient and helpful while we oscillated back and forth on what to order.
I have a large appreciation for Chinese restaurants that don’t marinate your clothes with the scents of heavy stir-fry. Szechuan Chef has a welcoming space for large groups and families, and is meticulously adorned with Chinese-style fixtures. Large groups are notably annoying to serve; however, their waiters didn’t make us feel rushed and the food was put on our table shortly after we ordered.
Despite the wide range of options that were offered, the flavors, colors, and overall Sichuan-style was absent in this meal. The sizzling beef pot had plenty of beef but was lacking in sizzle. The roast duck was salty and a bit tough. The two stews we ordered were by far the most interesting in flavor complexity, with melt-in-your-mouth silky tofu and tender fish filets. Overall, the food was typical of many American Chinese restaurants, but those in the party that came excited for a more authentic experience were left a little disappointed.
Szechuan Chef offers a large menu with the possible intentions of appealing to a variety of customers. However, my taste buds were disappointed when they didn’t experience the anticipated fiery kick from the sizzling beef pot or the cumin lamb dish. It left me feeling like I won a fight only because the opponent held back. But for those with a low-spice tolerance, don’t let the red peppery dishes frighten you!
This setback didn’t dissuade me from trying the other dishes though! My favorite dish of the night was the Sliced Fish with Soft Tofu (not the most creative name). It was also the group’s favorite. The light ginger soy broth excites the taste buds as the fish flakes melt away inside your mouth. You can enhance the flavors further by drizzling the broth onto your rice! Additionally, the cucumber side dish, although not the most impressive dish, was served as a refreshing complement. The cold crunch breaks up all the other oily and spicy flavors in your mouth.
The opaque color and presentation of Chinese cuisine in America make dishes hard to distinguish from one another. While it is necessary to use oils to enhance flavors in cooking, customers should not be finding the ingredients doused in it. If you share the same feelings as I do about excessive oil, avoid the veggie dishes. Besides my oil peeve, the dry reheated duck was a bit too tough for my jaws to handle.
Overall, our consensus on Szechuan Chef is that it is a crowd-pleaser, particularly for those with a low tolerance for the heat normally associated with Sichuan food. It is also a great bang for your buck. Split evenly between fifteen people it cost about $10 per person, a steal for frugal and hungry students.
A wise person once told me that restaurants named “Sichuan” rather than “Szechuan” are authentic to the Sichuan province. I’d advocate Szechuan Chef to hungry folks who are on a budget and looking for a quick run-of-the-mill Chinese restaurant. To be honest, I might go back again but it won’t be the restaurant I crave for when I want Chinese.
Please send comments/feedback or suggestions where you want us to review next!