Chinese take-out night was one of my favorite dinners when I was a kid (sorry, mom). Chinese night meant steamed dumplings, fried rice, hot and sour soup, and Golden Wok.
Recently, the long running Chinese-American food establishment changed hands. It now has a new chef, a new owner, and a new name: Sichuan Bistro.
I asked Sichuan Bistro’s new owner, Changsong Gao, about some of the changes that were made. The biggest difference seems to be the focus on region and type of Chinese food. Whereas Golden Wok previously offered typical Chinese-American food, Sichuan Bistro offers the same, but with a Szechuan-focused menu. I learned from Gao that Szechuan cooking is the oldest known cooking style in China, and is increasing in popularity in the country itself.
“This is because of the many different flavors and textures it covers under one style of cooking. Authentic Szechuan Cuisine is what our restaurant aims for. You can tell a huge difference in the customer base by how many Chinese students come and eat here now. [It] is ten times more than before, and many say that this restaurant’s food could place in the top 75-80 percent tile even in China,” Gao explains.
Gao also told me that they are focusing on more quality and fresh ingredients that you would be hard-pressed to find in typical American style Chinese food. Sichuan Bistro’s dry spices are imported directly from the Sichuan Province in China. They also buy much of their produce from organic farmers in the State College community.
The main goal of Sichuan Bistro is to provide locals (and especially students) with authentic Szechuan cuisine. As Gao states, “Many students here have complained about not having a place to go to eat authentic Szechuan cuisine, or even authentic Chinese food, for that matter. I feel our restaurant can do that.”
Gao explains that tradition is also seen in the name of this eating establishment. “Bistro entails a fusion of international cuisine, if I understand the word correctly, and I believe this is where we need to bring Szechuan cuisine, to international recognition. Just like Beijing used to be called Peking, Sichuan is the correct way of spelling Szechuan that many Americans recognize as hot and spicy food. We thought keeping true to the origins of the food was important, hence the name.”
The main specialty of the Sichuan Bistro is something called a “dry pot” dish. I can best describe it as the Chinese version of Mexican fajitas, at least in the way that it is presented. First, you can select from a range of meats including fish, beef, chicken, and pork. Your protein is then stir-fried with a variety of fresh vegetables in a spicy oil-based sauce. It arrives in a small pan that is being heated from below even while it sits on your table throughout the meal. I personally loved the presentation of the dry pot, because not only was it quite dramatic, it kept the food warm until I came back for seconds.
Gao is quick to point out that not all Szechuan food is spicy — balance is key. However, if you can’t take the heat, you may tell your waiter and the chef will alter your dish accordingly.
Although I was originally afraid at the loss of my cherished Golden Wok and all my related childhood experiences, I am pleased that such a restaurant has replaced it. The dry pot is a wonderful mixture of spices, smells, and textures, and the sauce that it comes with is very light when compared to other Chinese food. The pots run around $15 (or a little more depending on your type of meat) and is perfect for a fun night out with friends, as it is easy to share (and could easily feed three people). I was also able to get my hot and sour soup, and I have to say that it was just as good as when I would get it from Golden Wok.
Overall, the transition from Golden Wok to Sichuan Bistro was quite a successful one, and although the physical restaurant itself hasn’t changed, my ideas about Chinese food have.
Sichuan Bistro is located on 332 W College Ave, and is open from 11:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 9:30 p.m. on Sunday.