Get A Different Take On Sichuan Fare At Chef Liu Restaurant On Bellaire
American diners generally expect Sichuan fare to be defined by spicy, mouth-numbing, floral flavors with a bite. However, those intimately familiar know that these qualities—as compelling as they are—are just a narrow aspect of the region’s cuisine.
Recently opened Chef Liu at 9398 Bellaire Boulevard, operated by chef Mingchu Liu and Shanquan Li, seeks to broaden the Sichuan offerings in Houston—although all the well-known, pepper-laden dishes are available, too. With spices imported directly from China through SNS Foods, Liu creates Chongqing and Sichuan dishes that taste like they did in his birthplace. We were asked to try the restaurant’s most popular dishes, and the texture and flavors did not disappoint. The large menu offers plenty of options for guests, but the following dishes are excellent starting points.
- Gele Mountain Chili Chicken (also known as Chongqing Chicken), can be ordered two ways: the more traditional bone-in rooster (Liu sources free-range birds) or with boneless chicken breast. The dish uses aromatic Stars-in-the-sky chili peppers to create a spicy dish that builds heat the more chicken you eat. Note that the peppers offer flavor during cooking, but should not be eaten alongside the chicken—instead, do as owner Shanquan Li suggests and take them home to cook with them again.
- The Pickled Veggie Fish Soup offers a surprising flavor combination. Thin slices of pickled ginger mingle with pico chili pepper and delicate white fish, surrounded by a tangy broth. Sip the broth by itself, then spoon out the contents over a bed of rice. The sour and spicy combination is superb and filling.
- You can’t eat at a Sichuan restaurant without trying the chef’s version of Mapo Tofu. At Chef Liu’s, Sichuan peppercorn powder is used extensively to offer the telltale numbing, tingly kick that the dish is famous for. Variations on spice and protein are available, so meat lovers and vegans alike can partake. Eat the silky tofu mixture atop white rice to temper the heat.
- Balance heavier mains with a classically prepared Sichuan vegetable dish: stir-fried green beans. Made with chili oil, Sichuan peppercorns, scallions, garlic, ginger, and preserved mustard root, the idea is to create flavor that permeate the vegetables as they cook. The result is a crunchy bright mix that packs a punch but serves as a respite to the spiciness of previous dishes.
- For dessert, opt for the sweet sesame congee. The dish uses black sesames, peanuts, Goji berry and sweet rice wine. Eaten at the end of the meal, this light traditional dish helps to relieve some of the impact from any previously consumed spicy dishes.
To get the most out of the meal, don’t be afraid to ask servers for recommendations and be honest about your tolerance for spice. For more information, or to make reservations, call 281-501-1840. Chef Liu’s hours are Mondays through Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Fridays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Lauren is a food writer and editor with a background in cheese and a penchant for pontificating on the joys of eating and drinking.