YIWEN HU/THE HOYA If you’re looking for a solid Chinese restaurant for take-out or a night with friends, look no further than Sichuan Pavilion. The Dry Stirred Green Beans were a surprising standout, perfectly seasoned and very authentic.
If you’re looking for a solid Chinese restaurant for take-out or a night with friends, look no further than Sichuan Pavilion. The Dry Stirred Green Beans were a surprising standout, perfectly seasoned and very authentic.

Personally, I’ve been extremely reluctant to step into a Chinese restaurant in Washington, D.C., fearing I would find inauthentic dishes and decor. In my defense, I wasn’t in charge of picking the location for my latest friend reunion, which turned out to be K Street’s Sichuan Pavilion.

As I walked into this Chinese diner, I was already prepared to silently blame the person who had chosen this locale. However, I left the casual Asian restaurant pleasantly surprised, having actually enjoyed the meal.

As suggested by its name, the restaurant specializes in the Sichuan branch of Chinese cuisine, which is particularly known for its spice. In reality, the establishment offers dishes from a variety of Chinese cuisine subcategories, although it does not feature any of the better known signature plates of Shanghai and Cantonese food. The ambience, decoration, furniture and food all suggest a rather familial and casual dining experience. Although there are tables for small parties of one or two, the majority of the customers come in groups of five to eight – making the restaurant a great spot for a family meal or a big get-together. The more the merrier because the large plates served at Sichuan Pavilion really are meant to be shared.

While we waited for the final member of our group to arrive, we studied the menu with special care. While most of the dishes listed indeed appear to be authentic — as far as ingredients and appearances could attest — a handful of others seem to be whimsical, more interpretive combinations of classic elements. After much deliberation, my party of five, all of whom are native-born Chinese, ordered six dishes, which we hoped would be as authentic as their names and descriptions suggested.

We started our dinner with a bowl of eight pork dumplings in Sichuan sauce ($4.95), a dip made with spicy oil. While the waiter claimed that the dish was a portion for one person, I still would not recommend ordering multiple servings if it is intended as a shared appetizer and not a personal entree. Most of the dumplings arrived to the table with their outer layers broken and consequently, their fillings exposed. However, I did find them flavorful, although the spice had been considerably tuned down, probably to appeal to a wider segment of patrons.

The five entree dishes overall proved rather authentic and tasty, but the consistent complaint was that they were all a little too greasy.

The dry stirred green beans (Gan Bian Si Ji Dou) ($10.95) surprised me the most. I had entertained low expectations for this vegetable dish. However, it was perfectly salty and savory; more than anything else we ordered, it truly resembled its counterpart back in China.

Shredded Pork with Fresh Chili Pepper (Jian Jiao Rou Si) ($14.95) was another star of the table. Normally indifferent to this dish, I found myself picking up one slice of pork after another with my chopsticks, unable to resist the flavorful temptation. The Kung Pao squid (Gong Bao You Yu) ($16.95) was good, but not memorable. The Kung Pao sauce, more diluted in texture than what we were used to eating at home, also tasted rather different. Needless to say, I prefer more authentic Kung Pao sauce, which is usually a bit stickier, a little sweeter and a lot more flavorful. On the other hand, the squid itself, cut into small and curly rectangles, was delightfully fresh and crispy.

The spicy chicken with peppers (La Zi Ji) ($14.95), possibly the most well-known Sichuan dish, was authentic, but again unimpressive. The chicken in this dish was first deep fried and then stir-fried with red peppers, which deprived the meat of a tender and juicy texture while rendering it way too oily and heavy for my taste. I couldn’t help but compare it to the spicy chicken my mom used to make me, even though I was well aware that this comparison was probably unfair.

Our final dish, braised tofu (Hong Shao Dou Fu) ($12.95), had a mediocre taste. In fact, this dish was an awkward “in-between” — the texture of the tofu was neither soft nor firm; the taste of the sauce was neither familiar nor foreign. To be fair, the dish wasn’t bad. I simply lacked the interest required to pick up a second piece from the plate.

Of course, when evaluating the quality of this Chinese restaurant, I lowered my standards. Therefore, I do consider the Sichuan Pavilion worthy of a visit for those who are curious about real Chinese food. At the very least, as a Chinese restaurant in a foreign country, Sichuan Pavilion does offer, on average, fairly authentic and very delicious food.

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