Spice up your life – specifically, the part of your life that goes from mouth to tummy – with some authentic Szechuan cuisine.
Sandwiched in between Asian fusion eatery Koi and Phoenix Inn Chinese Restaurant lies Peppercorns Kitchen, Evanston’s newest arrival on the Szechuan scene. You may be thinking, “Wait, isn’t there another Szechuan restaurant just around the corner?”
Yes, Lao Sze Chuan may be a few steps away, but according to the manager of Peppercorns Kitchen, Lily Ma, her three-week-old restaurant has more authentic food than the competition, noting that Peppercorns imports many of its ingredients directly from China. Ma says that although the restaurant hasn’t been around for long, she’s already seen outrageous crowds — we’re talking lines out the door for dinner on some nights.
Once we stepped inside Peppercorns, we saw a clean, sleek, bright space embellished with colorful red bamboo lanterns. A server greeted us right away, asked if we wanted iced coffee or hot tea and handed us an extensive menu featuring everything from rabbit to tofu to frog (yes, frog), including a mix of both extremely authentic Szechuan cuisine and more “Americanized” Chinese dishes. For example, you could chow down on some stir fried pork lip, or you could spring for the classic General Tso’s chicken. Your choice.
We weren’t exactly feeling brave, so we ordered spring rolls as our appetizer. The portion had only two rolls per plate, and it came with an orange sweet and sour sauce. The spring rolls were incredibly crispy and flaky, crumbling nicely as we bit into them. They were a bit oily, but they were neatly wrapped and were filled with savory flavors.
After the appetizer, we ordered the house fried rice, orange chicken, Mapo tofu and sweet and sour shrimp. All of the food was presented beautifully. As the heaping plates kept coming out, we realized right away that we had ordered way too much.
The fried rice was full of lots of different, tasty ingredients, including chicken, shrimp, egg and more that gave the dish depth of flavor. It also went perfectly with all of the other dishes.
The orange chicken, garnished with orange peel, was placed in a neat pile and glazed with a sunset-colored sauce. The sauce was savory, but had the slightest tang of zest and sweetness. This was definitely our favorite dish of the afternoon.
Fried perfectly, the shrimp was accompanied by a vibrant red sweet and sour sauce that accentuated its flavor. The shrimp were large and not at all chewy.
The Mapo tofu was the only more traditional Chinese dish that we ordered, and, by our American standards, it was definitely authentic. The tofu, which was soft and silky, was doused in hot pepper sauce, making our eyes tear up after each bite. Thank goodness for the pot of tea on the table. Although we didn’t eat a lot of it, we appreciated the traditional Szechuan-style plate.
Although the bill was expensive, the food was well worth the price. Between both of us, we could barely finish a quarter of our meal. Based on the quality, authenticity and variety at Peppercorns Kitchen, we will soon be back for more.