Fact 1: Everyone knows that if you truly want to know if an ethnic restaurant is authentic, then you need to get the opinion of a native. Fact 2: It is rare to find a good, authentic Sichuan restaurant in the United States. Including the major cities like New York and San Francisco.
I will tell you up front that this review of Sichuan Spice House (8847 Greenback Ln.) is not going to talk about each individual dish, how it was made, what spices and flavors stand out, etc. I'm not qualified to. What I will tell you is this:
1) I was referred here by Hank Shaw, recent James Beard award winner, and someone I trust with an above average knowledge of food in general.
2) The restaurant has a 5 star Yelp rating. I personally dislike Yelp, but even I know it's difficult to find an honest 5 star rating.
3) I went with four Chinese friends who are all here on work visas. Meaning, they grew up in China and have only been in the U.S. for a few years. One of them was from Sichuan province.
So really, I don't need to review it. I just need to tell you that their verdict was four thumbs up. "Pretty authentic but with toned down heat level". Basically, on a scale of 1 to 10 for heat level, they could have taken it wrenched up another six notches. Myself, I like spicy food and with 10 being "I won't even put this in my mouth", this was a 7 for me.
There were six of us total. My four Chinese friends, myself, and then one was a boyfriend who had been to China a couple of times and spoke/understood Chinese. I would say these are opinions to be trusted. We wanted more people so that we could try more dishes. We ordered two appetizers and six entrees and that was pretty much perfect. We forgot to order the one everyone raves about, the Sichuan Style Twice Cooked Pork Belly. Guess it's now a reason to go back.
Jeremy pointed out the Sichuan peppercorns used in some of the dishes. These are known for their numbing qualities. "They produce a strange, tingling, buzzing, numbing sensation that is something like the effect of carbonated drinks or of a mild electrical current." Until 2005, they were banned in the U.S. because they can harbor a bacterial disease that could damage our crops. They are now allowed in as long as they've been heated to 158 degrees to kill the bacteria.
So, without further ado, the pictures with only names of the dishes and maybe a comment on which ones I liked. But the last word is, if you want authentic spicy Sichuan Chinese food, high tail it out to Orangevale. It's worth the gas.
Spicy Sichuan Wontons (12 pieces)
Fantastic. My two favorite items were both of the noodle dishes.
Spicy Tan Tan Noodle
Beef Tripe and Flank Combination
They said this one was very well done. It is served cold.
Sichuan Style Boiled Fish Filet
It looks really scary with all the chilis and chili oil, but it wasn't that bad. They told me the fish doesn't absorb the heat, it is the vegetables that do. So be warned.
Chong Qing Style Spicy Chicken
Fried chicken pieces tossed with chilis
Dried Cooked Green Beans
The must-have veggie pick.
Sizzling Seafood and Tofu Clay Pot
This was their mild dish to counter the hot ones. But they were a bit disappointed in it.
Sliced Lamb Sautéed with Spicy Cumin Sauce
Nicely cooked, but I didn't care for the cumin flavor. They all liked it, though. The biggest contention amongst themselves was that this one was moist where most of my tablemates prefer it dried out, which supposedly is more typical.