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
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This huge vase is now positioned towards the corner front window of the restaurant.
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”.
Sichuan broccoli stems, a complimentary table appetizer that evening (2009)
Sichuan Pickled Radish (2009)
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.
A large plate of Sichuan Wontons for a group order. (2009)
One patron, who shall remain nameless, has a Spicy Dumpling dipping sauce dependency problem.
An order of lamb dumplings with dipping sauce. (2009)
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.
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)
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.
“Ants climbing a tree”. A Sichuan cellophane noodle dish with pork, with a strong Sichuan Peppercorn flavor. (2009)
Fried Lotus Root With Cumin. Crunchy texture, sort of like a jicama. This was a table favorite. (2009)
Asparagus with Ginger. A great vegetable dish.
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.
This is stuffed Chinese Eggplant with Shrimp paste and pork, similar to a Cantonese dim sum dish.
Sauteed Spicy Rabbit (2009)
Yangzhou Fried Rice
Eggplant Medallions with Shrimp Paste in Tangy Sauce
Salt and Pepper Shrimp
Jumbo Spicy Shrimp (2009)
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
Spicy Lamb, on a different visit (2009)
Sauteed Long Beans
Spicy Sauteed Lamb Closeup
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
Another type of spicy lamb dish.
Spare Ribs in Red Rice Powder. Messy to eat, but tasty.
Spicy Shredded Chicken Appetizer
Pan Fried Pork Dumplings, which we all thought were excellent with a nice and crispy bottom.
Jade Green Vegetables. A great but simple dish.
Chicken Blossoms (2009)
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.
Chicken Blossom Closeup
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.
A seafood soup that had the most comforting ginger/vegetable broth.
Double Cooked Pork (2009)
Salt and Pepper Squid, which everyone enjoyed.
Sauteed Snow Pea Leaves, or Dou Miu.
Sichuan Tripe and Ox Tongue. I didn’t partake in this but I was told it was very spicy.
Although this is a wet dish, its called Dry Panned Beef. A great dish with lots of Sichuan flavor.
Here’s a bird’s eye view of the Dry Panned Spicy Lamb.
This is two different types of shrimp sautes in one dish.
Shrimp Balls, which we thought were a bit mealy and starchy.
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.
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.
These are shrimp dumplings, which I thought were just OK.
Whole Grouper Fish in a Ginger Sauce. Very nice.
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)
Chile Pepper Saute with Black Chingkiang Vinegar (2009)
Lamb Spare Ribs (2009)
Sweet Sticky Rice Dessert (2009)
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)