Chong Qing Mei Wei Szechuan Restaurant (Irvine) - Interrupt

>> Sunday, March 11, 2012

Date of Dining: 3/11/2012
Price: $8-15 per dish
Location: 5406 Walnut Ave, Ste C, Irvine CA, 92604

The Quick Bit:
+ flavorful authentic Szechuan cooking
+ nice cold dish selection
+ nice upscale interior
Δ Seasoning in the dishes seemed a bit uneven

One question I get asked often is where I would recommend for people to eat Chinese food. After clearing up what exactly is entailed from "Chinese food" and discovering that the person wants spicy food, I ask how far they are willing to drive.
With the "closing" of Ba Ren, I'm left with only recommending that people drive up to Irvine. Due to Ba Ren's closure, I figured I'd go ahead and get this story out to close the loop.
Chong Quing Mei Wei restaurant is one of a two restaurant chain (the other is in Lake Forest but I've never been to that location). They focus entirely on serving Szechuan food, and the level of spice on the menu is pretty much 1 or 2 peppers on the dishes. Like most Chinese restaurants, the service may be seen as lacking when compared to western standards, but I found the service to be above average for a Chinese establishment.

When dining at a Chinese restaurant, there is an old joke that there are two menus where the English-speaking order off one menu while the Chinese-speaking order off a completely separate menu. While that is not the case here, the cold plate appetizer section is probably more of an unknown thing.
What looks like a hot plate area for Chinese takeaway is actually a refrigerated section for pre-prepared Szechuan favorites. Diners are able to select three dishes for $7.50 or $6.50 (all vegetables). This is highly recommended for the uninitiated, more so because these dishes were prepared very well.
cold plate - (left to right) seaweed salad, pigs ear terrine, beef tendon terrine
The pigs ears were the best item on the plate. They were a delicious mix of cartilaginous crunch, gelatinous goodness, and savory pork flavor. While the beef tendons were flavored well, they seemed to be slightly under-done and could have used a little more time to become more tender. The seaweed was a nice mix of spice, oil, and umami to cut the richness of the meats. I would say the pigs ears are good enough to order every time while the other two dishes could be rotated out during future visits.

wonton tossed in spicy chili sauce
The dough of the wontons tasted a little thick, but it was rectified with the deep complex flavor of the chili sauce. The chili sauce contained a depth in flavor and chili that really flavored the wontons and elevated their flavor. I found myself enjoying the chili sauce on its own without the wontons.
fish and tofu
The fish and tofu is featured prominently on an insert as one of the signature dishes. While the dish was certainly good in its own right, I preferred the boiled fish dish (that is similar), which I had on a previous visit. The Szechuan boiled stew dishes are very tasty as they contain a nice deep savory complexity in the soup coupled with the heat of the chilis and the complexity of the fermented beans. The fish and tofu were cooked to be very soft and delicate, which made eating the dish a pleasure.
twice cooked pork with leek
This was my favorite dish of the night. The pork in the dish was pork belly, which was the perfect element because of the combination of meat and fat flavors. However, the star of this dish was the tofu (or maybe bean curd to be technically correct). The texture and the way the tofu soaked up the flavors of all the elements really made it the tastiest element in the dish. Overall, I felt this dish was the most complete dish as it contained a the spice, savory complex sauce, and textural contrast.

As my recommendation for Chinese Szechuan food now in both the Orange County and San Diego areas, I really enjoy the food at Chong Qing Mei Wei. While the high was not as high as the best I've had at Ba Ren, what is being served at Chong Qing Mei Wei is a very tasty product that remains consistent and affordable.
For being my go to Chinese restaurant recommendation, Chong Qing Mei Wei gets the kilobit award


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gastro bits is a blog that juxtaposes the geeky with the foodie; it is an attempt to be educational about food, yet entertaining at the same time.
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