Whenever I’ve discussed authentic Chinese food– not the Americanized stuff that 90% of local restaurants produce– the universal response has been: “Go to Sichuan Bistro”– yet I never had. When I discovered that it was but a few minutes from my office I felt pretty stupid– this supposedly great place is so darn close? When a coworker, Ann, suggested we do a group trip– I jumped on it. Ann assured me that this was the most authentic food in the city. I trusted her opinion.
Sichuan Bistro is, like many good restaurants in Mason, located in a strip mall. It’s pretty unassuming– you’d miss it if you weren’t looking for it– and seats about 30. Their lunch rush is crowded with folks bearing P&G tags (their office is down the street), and from many different international communities, based on the number of languages we heard as we sat down.
There are two menus for lunch and dinner– one Americanized, one traditional Chinese. We took both, and between the five of us, got dishes from both menus. Ann got the special, which was diced fish with vegetables. I had a spoonful– it was amazing– lots of very distinct, fresh flavors and textural contrasts– sweet, still firm corn, soft fish that had an almost buttery flavor, and just a hint of heat. I think many Americans forget that Chinese food is not the syrupy, salty stuff they get from most take-out joints. This dish, I think, is so symbolic of authentic Chinese cooking– simple ingredients prepared in a way the brings out complex flavors.
A vegetarian in the group got a soup, based on vegetable broth, pea pods, mushrooms, and bok choy. I had a spoonful of this, too– it was as bright and colorful tasting as it was in the bowl– very good and light.
I rounded out the trio of traditional dishes with a hot tofu dish. I asked for it to be moderate heat– and it was really, really spicy, but again– simple. Tofu, garlic and tomato– it was delicious (even if it burned my lips.
The surprising thing– well, it shouldn’t have been surprising, after eating the traditional dishes– was that their Americanized food was good, and not prepared in the sugary, salty, greasy way so many Americanized dishes are made. Two people got combination lo mein– and though it was heavily doused with soy, the dish was not sitting in a pool of grease like so many lo mein dishes can. The vegetables were fresh and crisp, and the bite of pork I got was quite well seasoned.
Another friend got the General Tso’s chicken, which, while fried, did not have the sticky-sweet sauce of most places; it was a lot lighter and had more vinegar tang. It’s one of the best General Tso’s I’ve had.
If you haven’t been– go. It’s easily the best Chinese experience– authentic or Americanized– I’ve had in Cincinnati, and I can’t wait to go again.