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Bird with a Buzz

Get your chicken spiked with Szechuan peppercorns and do some tongue tripping

My smug satisfaction turned to disappointment when the three-pepper chicken arrived. Digging around in the sauce, I couldn't see any Szechuan peppercorns. And then there was the chicken itself. It was cut into tiny pieces, each with a bit of bone inside. Every time I took a bite, I had to stick my fingers in my mouth to fish out the bones. So that's what Katy was worried about when she asked me if I was sure I wanted Chinese chicken!

The Chinese like chicken on the bone. They also eat their shrimp with the shells on. It may sound weird to us, but Chinese food authorities explain that since there aren't any dairy foods in China, chicken bones and shrimp shells are eaten for the calcium content. Meanwhile, the Chinese can't figure out how we can eat anything that smells as disgusting as cheese.

When Katy Zang came by the table to see how I liked my chicken, I didn't dare complain about the bones. But I did ask her why I couldn't see the peppercorns. She replied that the peppercorns used in this dish were powdered. But she volunteered to take the plate back to the kitchen and add some whole peppercorns.

After kung pao chicken with Szechuan peppercorns (front, with moo shu pork), the fizzy tongue sensation doesn't go away.
Troy Fields
After kung pao chicken with Szechuan peppercorns (front, with moo shu pork), the fizzy tongue sensation doesn't go away.

Location Info

Map

Szechuan Garden

9013 Westheimer Road
Houston, TX 77063-3603

Category: Restaurant > Asian

Region: Outer Loop - SW

Details

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fridays; 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturdays; and 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sundays.

Pan-fried dumpling: $4.25
Kung pao chicken: $7.95
Orange beef: $8.95
Szechuan style beef: $8.95
Moo shu pork: $7.95

9013 Westheimer, 832-252-1888.

When she came back, I was halfway satisfied. I got my Szechuan peppercorns, but I was still stuck with a plate of bony chicken. I asked Katy Zang if next time, it would be possible to get a boneless chicken dish from the English menu with some whole peppercorns added.

"No problem," she replied. But I wondered why there weren't any Szechuan peppercorns on the English-language menu items to begin with.

"English-speaking people don't like Szechuan peppercorns," she said. At the time, I objected to this broad generalization. But now I have to admit that she's probably right.

My companion on that first visit wouldn't touch the chicken dish, both because of the peppercorns and the bones. She got the orange beef, big cubes of beef fried in cornstarch and coated with a spicy sauce that contains a lot of dried orange peel. It was quite good, though not very unusual.

I also took the Szechuan beef from our second visit home and ate it when I could actually taste it. The tender chunks of beef wok-tossed with red and green bell peppers were pleasant enough, though a little light on the spices.

Szechuan Garden seems to cover all its bases with mild, Texan-friendly beef dishes, peppery and authentic-tasting regional Chinese dishes, and Szechuan exotica if you can read Chinese. Chile heads should order a dish with one of the little pepper symbols next to it on the menu and tell them to make it extra-hot.

And if you happen to be one of those freaky Anthony Bourdain types who's willing to eat weird peppercorns that light up your mouth like a Christmas tree -- then ask them to make you some spicy chicken with whole Szechuan peppercorns in it.

Just don't complain when the buzz lasts longer than you want it to.

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