Fang’s Kitchen is the latest in a wave of Sichuan restaurants to have graced Los Angeles this year.
Located in the corner of a strip-mall in Monterey Park, Fang's Kitchen opened in October 2014 inside what used to be the Shanghainese comfort food eatery Giang Nan. Once Jack Fang and his business partner saw the vacancy, they immediately jumped on the lease and repainted the interior an appropriate hue of red.
Fang is the head chef. He’s a long-time Sichuan native and has been behind a toque for nearly 20 years. "I studied culinary arts in college," he said. He always knew he was going to be a chef. He hails from Chengdu -—the capital of the Sichuan province and the first city of Asia to be designated an official city of gastronomy. Chengdu folks hold their food in high esteem and Fang, the man and the restaurant, is no exception.
His menu is a whopping 70 item long gem and the focus is largely on classic dishes. They aren't looking to reinvent the wheel; the goal is to be a taste of home. "We want to be very authentic," Fang said. "We want our food to taste like it comes straight from Sichuan."
"We want our food to taste like it comes straight from Sichuan."
Authenticity, though, is relative, and so we chatted with Fang and asked him to pick what he thinks is the best of the best:
1. Bashu Fish Fillet in Hot Chili Oil
Bashu is slang for Sichuan in the Sichuanese dialect. "This is cooked in homemade chili oil," Fang said. The dish’s story starts in 1983, when there was a cooking contest in the Yubei county of Chongqing. The man who won pioneered the shuizhu cooking method. Shuizui translates to water-boiled. The methodology involves poaching raw meat, laying it over vegetables, and then seasoning it with dried chilies, Sichuan peppercorns, and garlic. Hot oil is then poured over the dish, which gives it its signature hue. This cooking method was originally used with meat from land animals and it wasn’t until 1985, that the cook tried it with fish. Today, this dish is arguably one of the signature dishes of the province of Sichuan. At Fang’s, you get two options of fish: sole or catfish. "The sole is deboned and served in chunks. The catfish is fresh, but there are spines," Fang said.
2. Zigong Sauteed Cold Rabbit MeatThe dish has reportedly been a Sichuanese staple for over a hundred years. "There are bones in this dish. It’s served cold with large chunks of chili peppers," Fang said. "I like it because it has a lot of flavors going on: sweet, spicy, and numbing." Zigong refers to a city in Sichuan which is known throughout the country for having an abundance of rabbit.
3. Leshan Bobo Chicken with Sichuan Green Pepper
"The green peppercorns have a floral, numbing taste."
"You can get this with green peppercorns or red peppercorns, but I recommend the green because it’s a much more unique flavor profile," Fang said. "The green peppercorns have a floral, numbing taste." Leshan refers to the rural town in Sichuan where the dish originates from. Bobo refers to the crockpot the dish is usually cooked in. There’s a rustic feel to this dish. The skewers are decorated with chunks of poultry and assorted vegetables. In 1990, Bobo Chicken was named of the best street foods in Chengdu.
4. Double Pepper Fried Mushrooms
The English translation for this dish is off. The mushrooms aren’t fried — they’re just stir-fried. It isn’t all too spicy either. The peppers are just bell peppers and it’s a great, mild vegetarian dish to balance out all the proteins. The dish has an assortment of mushrooms from shiitake to enoki to trumpet. It’s great over rice, and a welcome respite from all the spice.
5. Chinese Rice Cake with Black Sugar Dipping
"This is sticky rice, deep fried and served with sugar," Fang said. The sauce on the side is a small vial of sweetness, meant to be poured over the rice cakes. It's a traditional snack that’s usually served on roadside stands throughout China. "Kids love this. You can order it as an appetizer or for dessert," he said.
Photographer: Wonho Frank Lee