Without a GPS unit or an internet map, it would be difficult to find Szechuan Bean Flower, a Chinese restaurant that, being so hidden away in Issaquah, surely has to be concerned about customer volume. You can’t even see it driving along Gilman Blvd, the main drag past Gilman Village that parallels I-90. From what I gather, this is the third venue for the restaurant, having started out on Aurora Avenue in Seattle, then moving to Snoqualmie, before settling in 2010 at its current address. Still, the reviews on the popular internet rating sites have been good.
We joined friends here for lunch today. When we arrived, there was only one other table occupied by customers. And by the time we left, there was still only a single table being served. Like I said, getting enough customers is a challenge here.
The lunch menu sports 40 items, ranging in price from $6.99 to $8.99. Three of us ordered from it, while the fourth person picked something from the regular menu. With the lunch menu, you get rice and a choice of soup (egg flower or hot and sour). Our friends said the addition of corn made the egg flower a very good version. Spicier than most, deriving its heat from chiles rather than white pepper, hot and sour soup (☆☆½) didn’t have the characteristic vinegariness that I like.
The sauce in my wife’s Cashew Chicken (☆☆☆) had an uncommon tartness from pickled celery that she disliked but that I thought was really interesting. Also in the mix were marinated chicken, cabbage, red bell peppers, water chestnuts and cashews.
I ordered my Chopped Pepper Hot Fish (☆☆☆½) at a spiciness level of 4 out of 5, which was plenty incendiary. The waitress asked me if I was sure. “Yes.” All I can say is that the kitchen didn’t hold back. Quaffing down hot tea with it was a minor miracle. Mild white fish fillet pieces were combined with chopped jalapeño chiles, crushed red chile peppers, green beans, pickled vegetables, shredded romaine lettuce and green onions, all tied together with a very savory sauce. This was one of the better Chinese fish dishes I’ve had in a while, even as it burned its way through my system.
One friend selected Kung Pao Fish (☆☆☆) from the lunch menu. The cabbage and onion pieces were cut rather large, stir-fried with fish fillets, unskinned peanuts, red bell peppers and green onions, but the overall dish was tasty. At a moderate spice level, it was enough to open up the sweat glands.
The last item, one that our other friend ordered from the regular menu, was Chongqin Spicy Chicken (☆☆½), a dish that gets authentic treatment at places like Szechuan Chef, Spiced and Spicy Talk Bistro, all on the Eastside. It is distinguished by not only a liberal amount of whole dried red chile peppers but equally liberal amount of Szechuan peppercorns. This last spice lends Szechuan dishes its tongue- and throat-numbing spiciness as well as an intensely floral taste that many diners may have difficulty getting used to. Szechuan Bean Flower’s version does not follow this recipe. While there were dried red chile flakes, green beans and scallions, there was a marked absence of the peppercorns, smattering of dried chiles and saltiness from a generous hand with soy sauce. Even so, the dish had its virtues.
With 191 items on the regular menu, it will take time for a diner to go through it. You wonder if a menu this large leads to many dishes being minor variations of the same ingredients. Still, Szechuan Bean Flower doesn’t dumb down to American tastes, especially in the spice department. One notable exception is the reluctance to use Szechuan peppercorns, which is actually understandable. Szechuan Bean Flower is a good enough restaurant worth trying again.
Szechuan Bean Flower
525 NW Locust St
Issaquah, WA 98027