Szechuan Mountain House, a beloved Sichuan restaurant with two locations in New York, quietly opened its doors in the San Gabriel Valley last week. The restaurant is known for its charming ambience and intricately executed Sichuan Chinese dishes, and the team behind it has chosen Rowland Heights’s Pearl Plaza for its first foray into the West Coast.
Szechuan Mountain House boasts a large fan base in New York, and its locations in Manhattan and Flushing frequently make the New York Times’s 100 Best Restaurants list and Eater NY’s list of 38 Essential Restaurants. It’s not uncommon for lines to regularly span wait times of an hour and a half or more. Manager Jerry Wang hopes that the restaurant will be just as well received in LA.
“Our goal is to create an experience for diners from the moment they step into our restaurant,” says Wang. “We want to transport them to the natural beauty and aesthetics of Sichuan and evoke a peaceful, Zen atmosphere where we can use food to tell a story of Chinese food culture.”
The 5,000 square-foot space inside the Pearl Plaza was a feat years in the making. The space sports similar designs to the NYC locations, with koi ponds, cascading waterfalls, bamboo groves, Chinese flower art, calligraphy, lanterns, and ceramics. Presentation is a priority, whether it be in the form of decor or plating.
Zhi Min Zhu, who hails from Sichuan, is the culinary director of all the Szechuan Mountain House locations and is in charge of training all of the kitchen teams. Zhu has been working with Szechuan Mountain House since 2015 at the New York East Village location and has helped train the team at the new Rowland Heights location.
“Many people in the U.S. believe that Sichuan food equals red hot chiles and peppercorn. They think that they should be sweating and crying for help to extinguish the burn, but we want to show people that Sichuan food is more than that,” says Zhu.
Zhu says that they take great care in the selection of peppercorns, all of which are grown in Sichuan. It is not out of the ordinary to use more than 20 different kinds of spices for a particular dish. “We are also dedicated to using free-range chicken and other seasonal ingredients and vegetables,” says Zhu.
The signature dish at Szechuan Mountain House is liang yi pork belly, Zhu’s modernized take on a traditional Chinese dish. Liang yi, which translates to “hanging clothes” in Mandarin, is intended to evoke the image of laundry hung to dry on a clothesline. Together with a slice of cucumber, the thin pork belly is dipped in chile oil with a wad of minced garlic. The translucently thin slices of pork and cucumber are presented draped over a miniature wooden rack above a minced garlic and chile oil dipping sauce.
Szechuan Mountain House offers popular Sichuan favorites like mapo tofu, twice-cooked pork, and kung pao shrimp, as well as classic Sichuan dishes seldom seen on menus in the U.S. Diners will be surprised by the Yibin-style ran noodles, also known as burning noodles, which are chewy, dry noodles that are flavorful, spicy, and salty from cardamine bean sprouts and roasted nut powder. The name “burning noodles” comes from the fact that traditional cooking methods add lard and chile oil to the noodles, which can be ignited without the use of water. In decades prior, people would light up the noodle as a wick for kerosene lamps.
Other hard-to-find Sichuan dishes on the menu include Qian Jiang-style chicken giblets with pickled pepper and mala chicken stew. Szechuan Mountain House also features offal like pig intestine, tripe, beef tongue, kidney, chicken giblets, curdled blood, and fish maw. Not all the dishes are spicy. There is also a wide variety of vegetables, as well as the popular golden baked salted corn kernels with salted egg yolk, which tastes like creamy, buttery, elevated popcorn, and an expansive vegetarian menu.
“I really wanted to stay true to our menu and not make any compromises just to please what we thought the local crowd would find acceptable. For us, this is what a modern-day Sichuan restaurant would actually look like in Sichuan,” says Zhu.
Some other classics include Sichuan dishes like mao xue wang, a stew of ox tripe, duck blood, beef tongue, chicken gizzard and other offal simmered in a peppercorn and chile-laced broth. The crispy free-range laziji chicken is stir-fried with dried chiles, dried Sichuan chile peppers, spicy bean paste, garlic, ginger, and topped with toasted sesame seeds and sliced spring onions.
Save room for dessert: Szechuan Mountain House also features a peach resin dessert on the menu, which is the latest Chinese superfood health craze. The naturally hardened sap from the peach tree, which is rich in amino acids and collagen, is paired with mini mochi rice balls. Other desserts include sesame rice balls in osmanthus soup, osmanthus coconut jelly with sago, and sweet drunken ice jelly.
Szechuan Mountain House is located at 18888 Labin Court, Rowland Heights, CA 91748. It is open seven days a week from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.