Bill Addison reviews Xiang La Hui, a Sichuan newcomer from Chongqing natives Will Wang and chef Ning Du.
Bill Addison says there’s plenty of Sichuan food in the San Gabriel Valley and beyond, but Xiang La Hui is different from other stalwarts. At this new restaurant, he says the point is not to wallop you with spice, but to celebrate the nuanced flavors of Sichuan.
"Cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon ripple underneath the flavor and add a new dimension," he says. "There is a lot going on with this food."
Addison suggests starting with cold dishes like sliced lotus root, vinegary enoki mushrooms, potently garlicky cucumbers or fried pigs ear in chili oil. "It wakes you up!" he says.
The mao xue wang, a stew which hails from Chongqing, is "crimson like so many of those great Sichuan dishes," Addison says. "You dip in the ladle, and all these different cuts of meat and seafood emerge." There are ribbons of pork, beef, peeled shrimp, tripe, and even spam.
He says the “xue” in “mao xue wang” means blood. And there are cubes of jellied duck blood, which Addison says "tastes like silken tofu."
Chongqing-style fried chicken, which is marinated in sweet spices and dropped in a nest of fiery red chiles, is "incredibly good,” he says.
Toothpick lamb is "cumin scented with a halo of spice," and "particularly good here." All Sichuan obsessives should try it because this version is "leading the pack right now," Addison says.