NJ Dining: Chengdu 1 (UPDATED October 2009)


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Chengdu 1
89 Pompton Ave (Pilgrim Shopping Plaza)
Cedar Grove NJ, 973-239-7726

I think that by now people realize that I love really spicy food. One of my favorite spicy cuisines is true Sichuan-syle Chinese food, which is characterized by its use of red fire oil (vegetable oil that is infused with red chile pepper essence) and the face-numbing Sichuan Peppercorn, also known as hua jiao (meaning flower pepper, as it resembles a tiny flower) or fagara.

While there are many restaurants in the greater New York metropolitan area with “Szechuan” in the name, the sad reality is that there are very, very few restaurants serving actual regional Sichuan cuisine, New York City included. There are  a few such restaurants  remaining in Manhattan, most notably being the midtown and uptown branches of Wu Liang Ye. Spicy and Tasty in Flushing, Queens is another good example. The much-loved Grand Sichuan International Midtown closed in April of ’07 but some of its sister (and inferior) branches remain.

So when it came to my attention (by way of an excellent post by Melissa Rayworth on the Montclair food blog Barista) that we in fact had the genuine article right here in Northern New Jersey, I knew we had to go.

Chengdu 1 is right down the road from Montclair State University on Pompton Ave, in the Pilgrim Shopping Plaza next to Clearview Cinema

Can you take the heat? Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

This huge vase is now positioned towards the corner front window of the restaurant.

Chengdu 1, Cedar Grove NJ by you.

The main dining room. Chengdu 1 has a lot of older patrons who order American-Style Chinese food off the middle section of the menu (which looked pretty good, but we didn’t order any) because they used to go to the previous Chinese restaurant that inhabited the same space for many years. Don’t pay any attention to this — stay with the front section and the front interior part and the rear of the menu and anything in a section that says “Sichuan”.

OTB Economic Stimulus Dinner 1, Chengdu 1 Restaurant by you.

Sichuan broccoli stems, a complimentary table appetizer that evening (2009)

OTB Economic Stimulus Dinner 1, Chengdu 1 Restaurant by you.

Sichuan Pickled Radish (2009)

OTB Economic Stimulus Dinner 1, Chengdu 1 Restaurant by you.

Peanuts are an emblematic ingredient and snack food in Sichuan. (2009)

Dan Dan Noodles. These are wheat noodles that are tossed with a spicy fire oil and pork meat sauce.

Sichuan Wontons. The Wontons, which were in a chile-laden sesame oil, were at the same time very spicy, garlicky, and also had a sweet, tangy flavor to the sauce, probably due to the use of vinegar and sugar.

Chengdu 1, Cedar Grove NJ by you.

A large plate of Sichuan Wontons for a group order. (2009)

Chengdu 1, Cedar Grove NJ by you.

One patron, who shall remain nameless, has a Spicy Dumpling dipping sauce dependency problem.

Chengdu 1, Cedar Grove NJ by you.

An order of lamb dumplings with dipping sauce. (2009)

OTB Economic Stimulus Dinner 1, Chengdu 1 Restaurant by you.

Kung Pao Chicken Ding, the classic. This uses a western style preparation using soy sauce and oyster sauce, but it also has a LOT of Sichuan peppercorn and red chile peppers in it. It should be noted that the Sichuan Peppercorn was banned from importation into the US until around 2005-2006 because of a citrus canker it carries — a new radiation treatment which eliminates the canker has now permitted the spice to be sold again in the US. (2009)

Corn with Pine Nuts, the only disappointing dish we had. There were no visible pine nuts and the corn tasted like it was from frozen corn.

Chengdu 1, Cedar Grove NJ by you.

Ma Po Tofu, the emblematic dish of Sichuan province. Tofu in a spicy red chile sauce with pork and black beans. Also very spicy and numbing. This plate could easily have served four people — and you’ll need plenty of rice to mop up the spicy but comforting sauce. (2009)

Chengdu 1, Cedar Grove NJ by you.

Ma Po Fish, which uses fish filets in place of pork, an excellent alternative to the classic (2009)

“Spicy chicken rice” which was indeed, quite spicy. The dish is a bit of a misnomer as the “rice” itself is the chicken.

Spicy chicken rice, with pancake.

Potato with Green Pepper. The potato is julienned and stir fried, and has a crispy texture. Its treated as more of a vegetable in this dish than a starch.

Beef with Western Szechuan Flavor. Beef in a spicy brown sauce, I liked this dish a lot.

Chengdu 1, Cedar Grove NJ by you.

“Ants climbing a tree”. A Sichuan cellophane noodle dish with pork, with a strong Sichuan Peppercorn flavor. (2009)

Chengdu 1, Cedar Grove NJ by you.

Fried Lotus Root With Cumin. Crunchy texture, sort of like a jicama. This was a table favorite. (2009)

Chengdu 1, Cedar Grove NJ by you.

Asparagus with Ginger. A great vegetable dish.

Chengdu 1, Cedar Grove NJ by you.

These greens were sold to us as “Baby Chinese Broccoli”. I’m not sure in fact they were Gai Lan but they were indeed very tasty and everyone liked them.

Chengdu 1, Cedar Grove NJ by you.

This is stuffed Chinese Eggplant with Shrimp paste and pork, similar to a Cantonese dim sum dish.

Spicy Lamb.

Chengdu 1, Cedar Grove NJ by you.

Sauteed Spicy Rabbit (2009)

Yangzhou Fried Rice

Eggplant Medallions with Shrimp Paste in Tangy Sauce

Spare Ribs

Salt and Pepper Shrimp

Chengdu 1, Cedar Grove NJ by you.

Jumbo Spicy Shrimp (2009)

Chengdu 1, Cedar Grove NJ by you.

Fried Pork Cutlet with Lotus Root — a friend at a nearby table sent this over, so this is a partial portion. (2009)

Spicy Sauteed Lamb

OTB Economic Stimulus Dinner 1, Chengdu 1 Restaurant by you.

Spicy Lamb, on a different visit (2009)

Chengdu 1, Cedar Grove NJ by you.

Sauteed Long Beans

Spicy Sauteed Lamb Closeup

Chengdu 1, Cedar Grove NJ by you.

Shrimp with Yellow Leeks

Ma Po Tofu, on a different occasion

Sauteed Ginger Shrimp and Chicken

Noodles with Shredded Pork with Yellow Leeks

Fish with Tomato

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Another type of spicy lamb dish.

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Spare Ribs in Red Rice Powder. Messy to eat, but tasty.

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Spicy Shredded Chicken Appetizer

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Pan Fried Pork Dumplings, which we all thought were excellent with a nice and crispy bottom.

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Jade Green Vegetables. A great but simple dish.

Chengdu 1, Cedar Grove NJ by you.

Chicken Blossoms (2009)

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Chicken Blossoms in Kung Pao Sauce. We thought this was an interesting dish, as they take chicken tenders and cut them up so that when they wok fry, they “blossom” out.

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Chicken Blossom Closeup

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Here is a typical Cantonese-style seafood saute in a white sauce that was ordered by one of the less adventurous members of our table. The seafood was cooked perfectly.

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A seafood soup that had the most comforting ginger/vegetable broth.

Chengdu 1, Cedar Grove NJ by you.

Double Cooked Pork (2009)

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Salt and Pepper Squid, which everyone enjoyed.

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Sauteed Snow Pea Leaves, or Dou Miu.

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Sichuan Tripe and Ox Tongue. I didn’t partake in this but I was told it was very spicy.

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Although this is a wet dish, its called Dry Panned Beef. A great dish with lots of Sichuan flavor.

Chengdu 1, Cedar Grove NJ by you.

Here’s a bird’s eye view of the Dry Panned Spicy Lamb.

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This is two different types of shrimp sautes in one dish.

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Shrimp Balls, which we thought were a bit mealy and starchy.

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We ordered the Chicken Rice again — as you can see, the preparation came out a bit different than in a previous visit. Still it was quite tasty and everyone liked it. This may be a case in which a different chef prepared the dish.

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Dry/Fried Spicy Beef. The vegetable is julienned celery and scallion, and this the hottest and spiciest dish we had. The use of Sichuan Peppercorn here is considerable, and there’s a lot of the dried Sichuan red pepper here too. Your face will be on fire and numb at the same time after eating this — an excellent and very true rendition of a classic Sichuan dish.

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These are shrimp dumplings, which I thought were just OK.

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Whole Grouper Fish in a Ginger Sauce. Very nice.

Chengdu 1, Cedar Grove NJ by you.

Home-made Chinese Sausage sauteed with leeks. This tasted remarkably like a pan fried sopressata, somewhat on the gamy side, but no unpleasantly so. (2009)

OTB Economic Stimulus Dinner 1, Chengdu 1 Restaurant by you.

Chile Pepper Saute with Black Chingkiang Vinegar (2009)

OTB Economic Stimulus Dinner 1, Chengdu 1 Restaurant by you.

Lamb Spare Ribs (2009)

OTB Economic Stimulus Dinner 1, Chengdu 1 Restaurant by you.

Sweet Sticky Rice Dessert (2009)

OTB Economic Stimulus Dinner 1, Chengdu 1 Restaurant by you.

Mashed Taro Root Dessert (2009)

King Oyster Mushrooms in Scallion Sauce (Fall 2009)

Salt and Pepper Chile Soft Shell Crab (Fall 2009)

Sichuan Meatball (Fall 2009)

Moon Cake (Fall 2009)

 

 

26 Responses to NJ Dining: Chengdu 1 (UPDATED October 2009)

  1. Luther says:

    Sadly, most (if not all) of the Sichuan peppercorns imported to the US in the time following the removal of the ban were not sterilized by irradiation, but rather by steam treatment. One can only assume that this attenuates the flavor in a significant manner.

  2. caterchick says:

    Unless I am mistaken, there is another ( the original??) Grand Sichuan International in my neck of the woods – 9th ave and 24 or 25th street in Chelsea. Menu is huge with many regional and authentic dishes difficult to find elsewhere. It’s always crowded.

  3. There are three other branches of GSI — Chelsea, Murray Hill and East Village — but none of them compare to the midtown branch. The midtown branch had a special menu, and had the “Freshly killed Kung Pao chicken” which was unique to that location I believe. The other locations are in the same extended family as the one that closed on 48th and 9th, but they are not in the same business group.

  4. caterchick says:

    We have “freshely killed chicken” dishes (which are excellent) in Chelsea too.

  5. hotspicy says:

    You should try the Grand Sichuan on St Marks between 2 and 3rd Aves in Manhattan–it’s has different owners and a different Chinese name and is the restaurant of choice for my parents who were born in China. Also good and worth trying in Jersey is Chen 22 on Route 22 in or near Westfield, NJ.

  6. frugalman says:

    Great write up! Tried them tonight. Very very good. It was spicier than i expected. One thing we tried is the water-cooked lamb or Braised Lamb. Very hot and spicy and good. Also tried the tea smoked duck. smoky and good (not spicy).

  7. Chetamorton says:

    Wow! On Jason and Melissa’s excellent recommendations (particularly Jason’s gorgeous photographs) I decided to stop by and get a menu. Be aware the restaurant really is a bit tucked away in the shopping center all the way over on its left side next to the cinema. I picked up the take-out menu and knew I had to give it a try.

    It’s a multi-page menu and the specifically-Sichuan items are on the first pages as you open it (I can see where one might miss them and think the “ordinary” menu is all there is.

    Again, based on Jason’s recs, I tried several menu items.

    The extremely good first: I ordered the Sichuan Wonton with Red Oil (absolutely loved them and am ordering again tonight); the Dan-Dan noodles (flat-out delicious and ditto); and the Ma-Po Tofu with meat (the first I’ve had in ages that was almost identical to my favorite restaurant Shun Lee’s but cheaper and therefore a bargain).

    Based on above recs and picture I also ordered the Spicy Chicken Rice (the rice being the chicken) which was NOT on the menu. In this I was disappointed. Unlike the item pictured above it was more soup-y than glistening with oil and came with lettuce not pancakes. Since it’s not on the menu and the person taking the order seemed a titch confused, while what came did look in ingredients like the above, it’s possible it was slightly wrong. But I would not order this again.

    I also tried the Beef in Western Szechuan Flavor. It too was a bit of a disappointment. It was again less alluring in the container and definitely bland. While hardly inedible (nothing from this restaurant would be) it is not on my Must-Have-Again list.

    Tonight I try the Kung Pao Chicken Ding with great hopes.

    This restaurant is DEFINITELY worth a trip for foodies.

    Oh, and better yet, if you live in the area: THEY DELIVER!!!!!

    Here’s hoping for a LONG LONG LIFE.

    Alley

  8. Chetamorton says:

    Follow-up:

    The Sichuan Wonton with Red Oil was once again luscious perfection (the sauce is too good to waste and so I add a few forkfuls of their (somehow) delicately seasoned plain white rice to soak up the sauce when done.

    I already know that at the last I shall take the Dan-Dan Noodles into the closet and close the door so I can lick the container (NB: make sure you gently lift the bottom noodles and mix with those on top, as the sauce is well hidden below).

    As for the Kung Pao Chicken Ding … I was unsure how much I liked it with the first bite, but each additional is pulling me in … a definite order again. One note: unlike Jason’s above, mine has small chunks of carrots and celery and does not appear to have onions or green peppers. No idea which is the norm. Alley

  9. The Spicy Chicken rice is on the menu, its in the Appetizers section on the top left of the inner cover of the menu. However it sounds like there is some variation as to how its prepared, depending on who’s cooking it. I hate it when restaurants are inconsistent.

  10. by the way I think there are two Kung Pao dishes on the menu, one called “Kung Pao Chicken Flowers” on the 3rd page on the house special dishes and one on the Sichuan menu,

  11. tracey says:

    Jason
    We just wanted to thank you for this find, we just got back from a great meal. Started with the wontons, spicy tongue, scallion pancake and crab rangoon for our “doesnt eat spicy companion”. and moved on with the Mapo Tofu, dry fried pork, pig intestine hot pot and sesame shrimp for you know who. They can keep the pig intestine with blood pudding but I didnt really have high hopes for that one. The Mapo tofu and dry fried pork were awsome, and the service was perfect.

    Tracey n Karl

  12. Paul Brodsky says:

    Just wanted to say I have gone here twice after reading the reviews. Thought it was excellent. I have found a number of worthwhile places only because of offthebroiler and I love his writing.

  13. SichuanLover says:

    Visited Chengdu 1 couple of times based on the reviews here. I must say that I was not disappointed. Tried Triple Pepper Chicken, Spicy Chicken Ding and Spicy Lamb with pepper sauce. All three dishes were extremely good with the Vegetable Fried Rice. One thing I did not like is the excessive use of Sichuan Peppercorns which was overpowering the taste and aroma of the dish. I love peppers which they did put a lot in all dishes.

  14. […] Chengdu 1 in Cedar Grove continues to delight and impress. […]

  15. charles says:

    Sorry mate, you’re just wrong about the Grand Sichuan locations. The ones in Chelsea, midtown east, st marks all deliver food that is of similar quality to the one that’s closed (they all have their ups and down of course). There is also a midtown location of Szchecuan Gourmet (sp?) that serves real Sichuan food.

  16. Michele L says:

    I used to go to the Grand Sichuan on 9th ave. They had a cold appetizer of turnip, and peanuts in hot chili oil. I’ve never seen this dish anywere else. Does Chendu or any other place have anything similar?

  17. Liren says:

    I’m Chinese and I LOVE spicy food. My god, this is like food porn!

  18. […] chopped up celery as an accent flavor. Here’s one of my favorite traditional versions, from Chengdu 1 restaurant in Cedar Grove, […]

  19. […] restaurant I’ve been to, and this includes the very good local newcomers such as Chengdu 1 and Petite Soochow, which I recommend heartily. I thought I had moved on until I had this dish […]

  20. […] There you’ll see our list of events. Our first dinner is scheduled for Saturday, April 25 at Chengdu 1 restaurant in Cedar Grove, […]

  21. […] OTB Economic Stimulus dinner was a fantastic success. On April 25, 2009, 14 foodies converged on Chengdu 1 restaurant in Cedar Grove, New Jersey for a night of major league, mouth numbing and mucus membrane burning […]

  22. […] Chengdu 1 in Cedar Grove continues to dish out wonderful spicy Sichuan treats. […]

  23. […] and now I regret that mistake. While I wouldn’t say it has the depth that Petite Soochow or Chengdu 1 have with their Shanghainese/Sichuan cuisine, Lotus Cafe is putting out some seriously good select […]

  24. […] Connor started out as a friend of a friend. She and her husband came to one of our dinners at Chengdu 1. Then we saw her at another dinner party, and another. More than once, she brought along some […]

  25. Naresh says:

    Great review. We tried them past weekend and it is very good. Very hot and spicy, but suited our taste. Thanks and will be going again.

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