Amazing Sichuan at South Legend with a weird Austrian

For Chinese New Year, Rona and I headed to our favorite Sichuan restaurant in the South Bay - South Legend on the border of Milpitas and Fremont in an Asian shopping plaza (where else?!). The food is amazing, and very inexpensive. In fact, in this economy, they've actually been lowering their prices.

As my gastronomic preferences have evolved over the years, I've oscillated between a few different types of Chinese cuisine. First, it was the americanized P.F. Chang and Asian-fusion style food. Don't like it anymore. Then I got into more authentic - first Shanghainese - with their delicious soup-filled dumplings, and otherwise heavier meat dishes with lots of brown sauce that pairs well with heavier new-world Pinot Noir and even Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Then I preferred Cantonese - with their dim-sum, fantastic seafood dishes and pan-fried noodles (amongst other things) that pair well with more elegant new and old world Pinots. Eventually, I graduated to Sichuan. There is just something deep, expressive, and fun in the chili and Sichuan peppercorn infused dishes, and especially at South Legend. These fiery dishes overwhelm most wines, and typically demand high sugar and penetrating flavors to tame the heat.

The whole fried bass fish in spectacular not-too-sweet, sour, and spicy Sichuan bean sauce. Special for Chinese New Year.

The place was unusually packed, but then again it was Chinese New Year - Year of the Rabbit - and the Chinese know where the good food is! I brought a bottle of a strange Austrian white wine from Heidi Schrock called Reid Vogelsang (2009) - a combination of Welschriesling, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), and Gelber Muskateller (a type of Muscat grape). Halbtroken (meaning "slightly off-dry" or "half-dry"), with strong, ripe fruit that tastes like candied lemon and pear, with hints of bitter citrus peel, flowers and spice. An interesting and original wine, it certainly did not suffer of shyness. Reminiscent of Riesling, though heavier and stronger, with a surprisingly long finish, but lacking the elegance and precise acidity that I enjoy in a good Riesling. Flavor-wise, I was "meh" on it, until I paired it with the food. Turned out, with Sichuan it mostly worked, particularly with milder dishes, but halbtroken did not have enough sugar to stand up to the spice of the whole-fried bass. I could see it pairing well with strong but not so spicy dishes, that traditionally enjoy baked fruit pairings - like turkey or pork, or even foie gras. At ~$23/btl, it's more of an education and specialty item for me than something I'll necessarily run out and buy a case of (this was a trade sample). Clearly, though, based on this dinner and my other recent encounters with obscure Austrian grape varieties, Austrian whites go far beyond the dominant Gruner Veltliner and Riesling, with versatility to pair well with a wide range of foods, and even compete with Rieslings and Gewürztraminers at the Sichuan table.

If you go to South Legend, be prepared for serious spice. It will knock winter cold right out of your chilled bones! You must order their mapo tofu (see photo below) and their boiled fish fillet in fiery sauce (similar sauces in both, so don't order them at the same time unless you have a lot of people). The whole fried fish in spectacular not-too-sweet, sour, and spicy Sichuan bean sauce is so complex and full of flavor, and tender on the inside, for $15 it is incredible. As an artistic digression, I liken the bean in sauce to oak in wine - when done well, it adds a deep layer of complexity to the dish. The 3-veggie dish (see photo below) consists of strings of cucumber, radish, and carrot, and is a refreshing counter-balance to the other plates. The more people you have in the party the better. Try their pickled veggies (radishes and cabbage) appetizer as well - the chili oil and vinegar sauce in that cold dish is so tangy and delectable, I have no idea how they do it!

Mapo tofu (left) and three-vegetables (right)


Anonymous said…
Sounds fantastic Gary. Let's put an offline together, sample some vino, eat some good grub. Great information about this resto. Thanks.

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