I'm happy that Brooklyn has real Sichuan restaurants at all, the strange thing is that both of them happen to be in unlikely spots (and if you're aware of more than these two, please spill the beans). Bay Ridge's Grand Sichuan House has always been good to me but I've been meaning to try Bensonhurst's Bamboo Pavilion for eons. I finally got around to it this weekend and I still can't declare either a winner; the food is comparable. I would only give GSH the edge for being slightly closer to me.
Neither is big on atmosphere, though both are a small notch up from typical Chinatown fluorescent bulbs and formica. Actually, Bamboo Pavilion has an interesting solution to keeping the tabletops free of impossible-not-to-splash chile oil: a plastic hospital-green disposable tablecloth that they grab all the plates up in bindlestiff-style.
The most tangible difference was that BP seemed to have a lighter hand with the Sichuan peppercorns, or a weaker batch, perhaps. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, the Sichuan food I've had in Hong Kong (I've never been to Chengdu…one of these days) is so wildly metallic and buzzy that you lose all sense of taste.
The "banchan" (I don't know the word for small Chinese dishes that come with a meal) was an unexpected extra. I've never received more than peanuts at any other Sichuan restaurant. Here, there was also cold, smoked duck and pickled bean sprouts.
The tripe and tongue in chile oil was spicy and perked up by the cilantro and chopped peanuts, but like I said, no extreme mouth numbing effects.
James always orders dan dan noodles, though I'm content with just a plate of chile oil drenched offal to start. These were served warm. I've never been able to get a clear sense of optimal dan dan noodle temperature since I've encountered hot, room temperature and cold versions. Even sticking to ground pork or beef isn't consistent. This was pork.
Nobody can beat the cumin lamb at Little Pepper, but I'll always give a lamb dish a chance. This was hot and contained lots of oil-softened leeks and red pepper slices but the meat needed some char. It appeared to have been coated in flour before sautéing but didn't get enough time in the pan, which resulted in some doughy patches.
We wanted seafood and were hesitant to try the fish with hot bean sauce after being told, "Americans like this one." That made me want to pick one of the piscine delights only labeled in Chinese characters that was displayed in the free standing photo flip menu, instead. I actually have no idea what species this white-fleshed fish was, but it was what I expected: delicate meat smothered with a strong chile sauce, toban djan. Don't expect the saltiness of fermented black beans, the beans here are favas. Favas seem so greenmarket and now, and well, European, but they grow in Asia too.
Green beans with pork are a basic, always welcome vegetable. You have to have at least one non-meaty item. The whole back page of the picture menu was devoted to dishes using wild mushrooms. The strict focus on fungi was kind of cool but I balked at prices in the mid-teens because I am cheap that way. I would consider swapping a mushroom creation for a fish preparation if I go again.
Bamboo Pavilion * 6920 18th Ave., Brooklyn, NY