Friday, November 20, 2009

CLOSED! chinese: i strongly recommend XIAO SHEN JI

CLOSED a/o 2014

No. 45, MingSheng E. Road, Sec 4, 2 FL
SongShan District
(02) 2713-3232


Kid friendliness: no high chairs

Visit reviewed: 9/26/2009 and 10/29/2009

If you're looking for spicy flavors of Sichuan (or Szechwan, the spelling I grew up with), you can try Xiao Shen Ji, a non-descript, but authentic eatery on the second floor of MinSheng East Road area with a blink-and-you'll-miss-it red sign flagging the entrance. Newly opened in August, the casual space is brightened by the orange felt chairs and clean decor.

Each time I've gone, the room is packed with customers that it can be hard to waive down someone to take your order. The second time we went during lunch, the wait staff seemed to be frantically running around the room and we asked three times if we could get someone to take our order. So we just helped ourselves to the small appetizer dishes on the side near the kitchen to munch on before we could grab their attention. This spicy soybean dish packs a huge punch in a small bite. There is also a cold blanched soybeans wrapped in soybean skin and sesame sauce appetizer that is quite good.

The large menu of affordably priced dishes is two pages of small Chinese type, so you might have to take someone that reads Chinese with you to this meal (if you don't). The menu includes small bowls of wontons and noodles, as well as a range of stir fried dishes, vegetables and hot pot.

I liked everything that was ordered both times I went and that's a measure of a good restaurant, especially one where you are sharing family style. I should just start a category called "My Grandma's Finds," as this is another one of her successful picks for our occasional family dinners. What's best about the places she picks are that they are usually delicious meals for can't-beat them prices.

Be sure to get the tightly wrapped wontons (NT$65) which you can get with or without the vinegar accented, blood red chili sauce. Here it's called tsao shou on menu.

I also strongly recommend getting the spicy stir fried eggplant which looks scary soaking up all the red chili sauce, but is balanced out by the slight sourness of the vinegar. The first bite slightly burns my mouth, but I built tolerance to the heat and it ended up being addicting in the end.

My favorite was the first dish to arrive to the table- the fen zhen fei chang steamed intestines and yams buried underneath a soft, couscous-like rice. Or if you don't like the chewiness of the intestines, you can get it with fork tender pork or fen zhen pai gu.

For those who cannot eat spicy foods, there's quite a bit to choose from as well. They did a wonderfully fluffy scrambled egg with shrimp for which you'll probably want a bowl of white rice to go with it.

Or the sesame shreddred chicken salad, which can be a refreshing alternative to all the chili flavors going on.

One family favorite is the stir fried green beans or gan bian si ji dou. The healthiness of them being vegetables are balanced out by the fact that they are fried in oil to make them tender and wrinkly before being stir fried with garlic and seasonings.

Are you getting full yet? We're not done yet! You can see that it's definitely the type of restaurant that you'd benefit from taking a large group so you can try a little bit of everything. This post is the combinations of two different meals, but there was some overlap.

I was a little scared to try the gong bao ji ding (NT$200) with the huge slices of fat chili peppers mobbing the diced chicken. But it turned out to be one of the best kung pao chicken I've ever had- the chicken was slightly crispy from being stir-fried and had a fragrant spiciness that was not overwhelming.

The first time, we ordered hot and sour soup which had a strong pepper flavor and silky slivers of tofu and pork blood. Flavorwise of the soup and ingredients, I liked the soup from Xiao Nan Men better.

It was a clear broth with meatballs, bamboo and cucumber was at the next lunch. The soup can be a light flavor to balance the spicy dishes, though some of my friends didn't like the starchiness of the meatballs.

All in all, a great place to try something new (or familiar, depending on how much Szechwan cuisine you usually eat). I'm still thinking about slow burn and sour notes of the eggplant and the chewy fattiness of the intestines, which were my favorite dishes.

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