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China VillageChina VillageChina Village
Dungeness Crab with Salted Tofu; Stir-Fried Water Spinach with Chili and Garlic; Szechwan-Style Spicy Beef Stew in Claypot

AnnabelName: Annabel
Occupation: Accountant
Location: Kensington
Favorite Restaurant: China Village
Reviewed China Village: Tuesday, August 8, 2006

There are hundreds, maybe thousands Chinese restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area, but there is only one authentic Sichuan restaurant serving the real deal — that restaurant is called China Village and it is my selection for Check, Please! Bay Area. Nestled in the middle of the charming and tree-lined Solano Avenue, China Village is our favorite neighborhood restaurant in Albany.

Sichuan food has intrigued and enraptured the Western palate for ages. It is one of China’s most celebrated cuisines but it is also often a misrepresented one. Many of the Bay Area Chinese restaurants specialize in Cantonese cuisines because a large amount of immigrants from Southern China and generations of Cantonese chefs have evolved with California influence. Many restaurants call itself “Sichuan” or “Szechwan” for “hot and spicy” dishes — the most famous one is Kung Pao Chicken — but they lack sophistication and authenticity. The native chefs from Sichuan, a Southwest province of China, claim the cuisine boasts 5,000 different dishes. Sichuan food is not just about the kick of fiery red chilies and numbing Sichuan pepper. The native chefs there use unparalleled flavoring techniques to create at least twenty combinations of distinct flavors, from a sour-sweet, melting “lychee flavor,” to a punchy, seductive, “fish-fragrant flavor.” We’ve been enjoying this particular Sichuan restaurant for its distinctive, authentic, and innovative cuisine, and the flavors from this “Land of Plenty”!

China Village serves full banquet dinners, which usually consist of many courses, as well as a large selection of a la cart dinner dishes, lunch specials, and weekend brunches, called “Small Eats” (a variety of Sichuan snacks for breakfast or lunch). The décor is simple with wall art of paintings and Chinese calligraphy of some famous poems referencing Sichuan. Service is efficient and friendly. The wine list is short, but accommodating to the foods and the price is reasonable. What else can match the bold flavors but a bottle of good Riesling! All dishes are served family style for sharing and the portions are large. It also has many vegetarian and non-spicy dishes on the menu. The chefs can prepare any spiciness at customer’s request. The restaurant does make some unusual desserts if you still have room after a big meal. For example, the Eight Treasure Sticky Rice Pudding is well balanced and not overly sweet. Its pan-fried version is actually very rich and satisfying. The restaurant also serves a complementary dessert of sweet sticky rice ball soup, which has warm sweet sake and lees.

A few of our favorite dishes from China Village are:

1. West Sichuan Style Spicy Fish Filet: This dish is the most popular one from the large menu selection. When the waiter appears with a large covered soup tureen, you’ll think “Goodness, that’s a huge soup bowl.” He opens the tureen cover. You see “thousands” of hot-oil-roasted red chilies floating on the top. Your jaw drops! The waiter then skillfully skims off all of the chilies, places them in the tureen cover and takes them away. Now you see this creamy white broth with big chucks of pale white fish filets and slippery thick cellophane noodles. The waiter ladles the soup, fish, and noodles into your soup cup. Take a sip of the soup, and you’ll be surprised how delicate it tastes! It will take you to the faraway province! The chicken broth is lightly seasoned by the roasted chili pepper, which gives it a smoky, but not fiery, spicy taste. The fish filet melts in your mouth and the cellophane needles are silky smooth and chewy to the teeth. You’ll have a second cup, I bet.

2. ChongQing Style Spicy Chicken Wings (aka “Thousand Chili Chicken”): These are the best a**-kicking Buffalo wings you ever tasted! The chicken wings are well-marinated, then fried with red dry chili, Sichuan pepper corn, sliced ginger, and garlic. The wings are hot and spicy with a hint of sweetness. You will feel the “pins and needles” kind of spiciness on your tongue. The wings are crispy from frying, but not greasy. They are the best beer buddy!

3. Sichuan Style Spicy Boiled Beef : The name in Chinese just means “beef boiled in water.” Don’t be fooled! The native Sichuanese people joke that the outsiders, who are wary of the fiery local flavors, order this dish in restaurants in the hope of eating something mild or soothing. In fact, this is sensationally hot! A dish based on lashings of chili bean sauce and finished off with a sizzling pile of ground chilies and lip-tingling Sichuan pepper. This dish is intensely flavored. It is not for the faint-hearted, but if you try it and you’ll get hooked on the bold flavor.

4. Stir-Fried Water Spinach with Chili and Garlic: This is one of the seasonal dishes that depend on the vegetables. We tried the water spinach or Ong Choi, English pea sprouts, or cabbage. They were all very fresh and cooked perfectly. When these dishes appeared on our table, the veggies were still shiny green and crunchy, never over cooked. One important note here, they were well picked over. We can tell the attention and care that the chefs have put into these dishes.

We have been dining here on a weekly basis for many years. China Village is truly the “everyday” restaurant for its distinctive, authentic, and innovative Sichuan cuisine. So, for you daredevils out there, try the real thing and add some good spice to your dining experience!

JeffName: Jeff
Occupation: Stage Lighting
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Pacific Café
Reviewed China Village: Wednesday, August 16, 2006

It was nice to get out of the San Francisco fog. It was a warm and sunny day in Albany. We found parking easily, even though it was 4 pm. It was a large and spacious restaurant but there was only one other couple dining there at that time of day. In the absence of vocal chatter, the loud hum of the aquarium pump and refrigerator cabinets was distracting. We had ample room for our food on the glass-topped table and the waitress was ready to serve us at any time. The menu was copious, with 218 choices in their repertoire!

We asked the waitress about MSG in their appetizers and were alarmed to discover that everything had been pre-prepared with MSG. We declined the appetizers. Although we were reassured that our entrées could be made without MSG, our food arrived too quickly for us not to have doubts. Our suspicions were confirmed when we both got headaches shortly after leaving. I ordered the Village Specialty with Lamb and Cumin, which the waitress said was popular. What arrived was a large pile of shredded meat and the rice was fluffy, not sticky, and was difficult to handle with plastic chopsticks. My sweetie ordered Chicken Chow Fun, which consisted mostly of noodles, one piece of broccoli, and very little chicken. The portions were huge but simplistic. We decided against dessert and walked down the street for some ice cream. My favorite thing about my meal was their selection of fine California wines. I had a Sterling Merlot with my lamb.

We know of better Chinese restaurants to recommend to our friends.

JeremyName: Jeremy
Occupation: Finance Editor
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Chez Nous
Reviewed China Village:
Monday, August 21, 2006

Okay — wow. China Village is a whirlwind of flavors, colors, courses . . .sort of controlled chaos. I really enjoyed it, though not every dish was to my liking. There were four of us (adults, anyway, and they were fine with us bringing the stroller in for our son, and gave us a huge table to accommodate the extra space). All four friends who aren’t shy about sharing, we tried to sample as much as we could, since none of us had been here before.

Let me first say that the staff was friendly and very kind to recommend dishes to us. They made sure we were okay with spicy (WE ARE), and were extra careful to ensure that the spice levels were appropriate. I wonder if they’d have been as communicative if the place were crowded, but as we were one of only four parties, they paid us plenty of attention.

They started us off with a small dish (amuse bouche?) of what was kim chee or some offshoot — a spicy, marinated cabbage. One of the best-paid dishes of the night was the very first one they brought: the tofu with peanuts. The smooth texture of the tofu went perfectly with the crunch of the salty peanuts and green onions. It was really nice. The other appetizer was also great, the cold rabbit was spicy and chewy, tasting of what we thought was star anise.

The beef dish was one that the host had recommended, and I’m not entirely sure what it’s called on the menu. It was spicy with chilies, but maintained its excellent flavor through that spice. Similarly, the duck was really good, and hot. It pulled from the bone with ease and had a lot of underlying flavor. It was probably my favorite of the main courses. The braised pork was not really something that wowed me — it was okay, but not really to my taste. The bok choy that was stewed with it was tasty, though. Overall, my dining companions liked it much better than I did.

The sesame fry bread was fantastic; a dense, chewy bread that also incorporated flavors you’d find in fried onion cake or similar. It was an interesting choice for a starch with the meal; we got it instead of rice as recommended by the host.

China Village: Reviews 21 July,2015Check, Please! Bay Area

  • Susan H. & Roger B.

    Thank you, Annabel, China Village is our favorite restaurant too! The first time we walked into China Village we knew we had arrived at a very special Chinese restaurant. Most of the clientele were Asian and eating dishes that did not resemble typical California Szechuan fare. After that first exposure to mouth-watering, spicy dishes like Home Style Pork Shoulder, we have become weekly customers. John (owner), George, Peggy, and Bobby have been encouraging us to try something a little different and little hotter each week for the past two years. We have built up quite an appreciation for the heat and spice. In fact, we are considered by our friends “addicted” to the food at China Village. Their extrordinary dishes are full of the freshest ingredients and created by masterful chefs like John (owner). Contrary to Jeff’s comments during the interview, I would highly recommend some of our favorite plates of simmering, succulent fish, meats, and vegetables such as Hot Pot Fish (with peppers and simmering cabbage), Home Style Pork Shoulder, 1,000 Chili Chicken (chunked chicken wings) or the shrimp (served in the shell and deep-fried like the chicken), special combination homemade noodles, and Pea Sprouts cooked in garlic (or any seasonl vegetable). And just for fun, try the thick or thin style sesame bread instead of rice!

  • Jason M.

    My wife and I took my Mom out for her birthday and tried China Village for the first time this past weekend and had very mixed results. The waiters were attentive when we first got there, but after taking our order it went downhill quickly. Our soup came very quickly and was excellent. We were about half way through our first bowl and two entrees came immediately. We were confused by the pacing of the meal and thought our appetizers would/should come next, but by the time we finished the soup, our next entree had arrived. We had Hot Sour Soup, Szechuan Prawns, a fried garlic lamb dish & a chicken dish that were all outstanding. Our appetizer came as we finished the entrees (lamb dumplings) and I asked about our main entree (Crab in a Clay Pot) and the waitress ran off and brought back a pork dish we hadn’t ordered. She turned and dropped it on the table next to us and ran off again, coming back with the clay pot. The crab was outstanding!!! We were stuff, but forced ourselves to enjoy the dish and take home the leftovers.

    The bottom line is that the food is absolutely outstanding! We decided that we shouldn’t go on a Friday night and should just aim for mid-week so we don’t get the chaotic hit-and-miss service next time. I’ve already been raving about China Village to our family/friends and will go back for more experimentation and hopefully better service!

  • Linda A.

    Do NOT go to China Village for lunch, unless you are looking for a lot of food for little money and don’t much care how it tastes.

    I went with a friend about three weeks ago. There were only about ten people in the place – it was 1:30, and they seated us in the back, right next to the cold drink refrigerator with a VERY loud compressor. We asked to be moved to a table by the window.

    The luch menu has a good number of selections, many of them spicy. My eyes were caught by spicy green beans with either chicken or beef. That’s one of my favorite dishes, ever since I worked in SF and used to go to a little restaurant in the Tenderloin.

    Lunch came with soup, salad, main dish, rice, tea, and “seasonal fruit” (an orange slice) – all for $5.99

    First came the salad. Two minutes later, came the soup, two minutes later came the main dishes. Soup (hot and sour) was tasty, but not special. Salad was iceberg lettuce leaves with a peanut dressing. My chicken with string beans was ample, but the beans had been boiled AT LEAST early in the day, and had been on a steam table for HOURS before being added to the wok with the chicken.

    Disappointing – I had expected better on Solano where there are so many really good Chinese restaurants.

  • Yvette

    This restaurant is the best Chinese food I have ever had including in SF. Thanks to CPBA I have discovered this fantastic place. I have eaten at many of the other Chinese restaurants on Solano Ave, but until now I was never moved. These are not the typical Chinese dishes you might find other place, so try something different. It’s not the cheapest, but completely worth every penny.

    Go and eat at China village!!!!

    Get the fish soup with the 1,000 chilis (I can’t remember the name). The cumin Lamb is very good along with the spicy roast crab. Great place. It’s a 10.

  • Angela

    My husband and I had a VERY unpleasant experience at China Village. The ambience was horrible, the staff was rude and the food …ahem….”stayed with us” for far too long.
    We went around 2pm on a Sunday, when the lunch/brunch crowd was leaving. They sat us at the worst table next to cooler/bathroom area. When we asked the busboy if we could move to one of the (many) empty tables, he said NO. Figuring that it must have been a language barrier problem, I again asked the maitred/manager person, AND HE SAID NO TOO!!!!! We couldn’t believe it, and sat there looking at each other, stunned. Never had we felt so unwelcome anywhere. We discussed what to do for a couple of minutes and as I gathered my jacket, purse and keys to leave, suddenly the “manager” had a change of heart and told us we could sit ‘over there’.
    I should have followed my instincts and gone to another place to eat, but the review on this show was so glowing, we decided to stay. ‘At least the food will be great’, we thought. We thought wrong.
    The “manager” turned out to be our waiter and he was surly and rude. He didn’t walk away from our table after he gave us got our menus, he just stood there waiting for us to order. We hurriedly ordered what we recognized on the menu, for fear we might take to long actually reading the menu and trying something new. When he brought the food, he literally threw it on the table.
    I swear, I have never had such an experience in a restaurant before. It ruined our whole Big Day Out (and for days after we couldn’t stop thinking about it). We don’t get to go out to eat very often, and when we do, we want to be treated as if our patronage is valued….no wait…we want to be treated like we’re human.
    We WILL NOT give this place a second change, sorry.

  • robert

    China village is one of my favorite restaurants for brilliant flavors. I have only eaten their lunch menu once and was not impressed. So I have only ordered a la carte from that time on and it has been always fabulous.
    Some of my preferred dishes include the pepper covered fish soup, onion pancakes, Village special lamb (with cumin) chicken in a clay pot, the vegetarian calamari and on and on. All the dishes have distinct flavors and one can appreciate the thought and creativity of the chef.
    Sorry for those who had a bad experience, we have not had a single bad one.

  • Ronnie A.

    My family’s first experience at China Village had been quite positive. I ordered the combination fried rice, seafood claypot, spicy fried chicken wings, and a hand made noodle dish. I have to say that it has been quite a long time since we’ve tasted Chinese food this good! In my opinion, China Village stands out from its competitors because they use fresh ingredients and most importantly, the dishes truly has taste. The combination fried rice was quite flavorful that my 7 year old son didn’t ask for soy sauce for the very first time. As for the seafood claypot, the freshly prepared fried tofu they used had soaked up all the sauce, making the fried tofu juicy and moist in the inside. – Yummy! In addition, I thought the calamari used in the seafood claypot was going to be tough and chewy but not at all. In fact, the seafood claypot was so well prepared that my wife and I finished eating all of it. It was that good! I ordered the handmade noodle which was quite unique because I never had fresh noodle served in a Chinese restaurant before. Lastly, the spicy chicken wings were to die for. They weren’t too spicy that my son was still able to eat it and they were definitely full of flavor, different from any other spicy chicken wing I ever tasted. The only draw back to the spicy chicken wing dish was that we didn’t know the dish takes time to prepare and by the time it arrived to our table, we were almost finished eating. My son and I was only able to share a wing and the rest we took home. I wished we had that as our first dish instead of our last. Overall we had a wonderful experience in China Village and we look forward in going back to try their other dishes.

  • yvette

    what’s the matter with that loser jeff? you get a headache after eating chinese food and assume there is MSG? if you had a headache after eating greek food would you think of MSG? MSG doesn’t even give you headaches, that’s a myth. he probaby had a headache from his “sweetie” (who obviously doesn’t order anything except The Chicken) nagging him all night long. What a racist jerk.

  • Carole Levine

    your review of vignette was a little too late. It’s closed!

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