Bona fide, full-fledged Szechuan joint in the heart of Orlando, how did I miss this place before? I eat in Orlando’s ‘Chinatown’ at least once every fortnight since my family fancies and craves South Eastern Asian cuisine, be it Vietnamese, Thai, or Dim-Sum. Yes, I do have a few restaurants that we frequent, one thing we have missed was full throttle Szechuan cuisine, the one where the dishes makes me wince with painful pleasure from the fiery chili heat and numbing effect from copious amounts of Sichuan peppercorns floating in it. You see where I am going with this….The name Chuan Lu Garden is deceiving giving away no indication of what lies within the restaurant walls for serious heat lovers.
You know you are not in an ‘generic’ Chinese restaurant when the expansive menu dismisses popular items like General Tso’s Chicken and Beef with broccoli to the lunch section at the back of the menu. After quickly browsing through the menu (that held minimal definitions of each dish), we ordered Dan Dan Hand Pulled Noodles, Sliced Roast Beef, Stomach, and Tendon with Chili Sauce, Szechuan Double Cooked Pork Slices with Hot Sauce, ChongQing Lazi Chicken, and Fei Teng Yu Xiang. Our sweet waitress assisted us patiently in deciphering the dishes.
I am assuming since we visited Chuan Lu on a week day late lunch, our dishes came rather swiftly. Even without tasting I knew we were in for a treat just by the display of copious amounts of red chilies and Sichuan peppercorns. The Sliced Roast Beef, Stomach, and Tendon with Chili Sauce (true test lies in achieving tenderness with the not so popular parts) and boy was it delicious. Swimming in oil, the chili vinaigrette and the crunchiness of the beef was refreshingly exquisite.
The Fish Filet with Bean Sprout in Chef’s Sauce sealed the deal. It is the yardstick by which I would measure a Sichuan/Schezuan restaurant. Even though the generous pan comes with a mountain of chili peppers and a healthy dose of Sichuan, don’t let this dish scare you. The fish was cooked to perfection, the chef’s sauce was truly sublime. The heat starts off low and slow, allowing the sweetness of the delicate fish to come through before the numbing Sichuan peppercorns kicks in. Another fine example of the truly complex interplay of chilies and Sichuan peppercorns, the heart and soul of Szechuan cooking.
Chongqing Lazi Chicken quickly became one of my favorite dishes largely due to the distinct flavors of citrus and chili. Cubes of crispy chicken, lightly coated, sauteed with a generous portion of toasted red chilies, it was unlike any chicken dish I have had the pleasure of tasting in a Chinese restaurant. I couldn’t stop eating it, and trust me, you won’t be able to either.
The Szechuan Double Cooked Pork Slices with Hot Sauce, a staple in most Szechuan restaurants lived up to it’s reputation. Personally one dish I enjoyed the least simply because of the gelatinous and fat/grease content of the bacon.
One dish which was not that successful was the Dan Dan Hand Pulled Noodles. Especially after the delightful bowl of fresh hand pulled noodles I had the pleasure of tasting in Montreal Chinatown. This one was too doughy and sadly the minced pork presented the foul odor of not so fresh meat.
When Sichuan food is at its best, the fiery heat of the chili pepper hits first and then slowly but steadily Sichuan peppers kick in, this complex interplay makes Sichuan food so intensely exciting. Long story short: Chuan Lu Garden has quickly found itself at the top of my list for Sichuan food in Central Florida (anybody else with me here?)
Fierce but exquisite flavors, great seasoning, and bountiful chili heat and Sichuan peppercorn, what’s there not to LOVE?