Alvin Garden –
Spicy Sichuan/Hunan food is kinda like crack. It looks unappealing and unattractive if you haven’t had it in a while, but once you have a taste, there’s something about it that entices you back for more. I speculated that this might be because of some unknown (to me, at least) element in flower peppers that make food containing them so addictive. My mother-in-law went a step further by joking that all sichuan/hunan restaurants added morphine to their dishes to keep customers coming back.
After our meal at S.W. Pepper House a few days ago, each of my wife, mother-in-law, and I have been clamoring to eat their hot and spicy dishes again. My wife and mother-in-law had actually planned on eating there for lunch on Sunday, but they decided against it because we had an early dinner reservation at Glowbal for my daughter’s birthday.
Once Monday came and there were no other events standing in their way for a lunch at S.W. Pepper House, they asked me if I wanted to join them. I told them that the spice level was just not satisfying enough at S.W. Pepper House and that we should instead go to Alvin Garden, where the portions were larger, the food even more flavourful, and most importantly, the intensity of spiciness higher. They agreed and were both actually really excited about the prospect of having food that was even spicier than that served by S.W. Pepper House.
We arrived at Alvin Garden at about 12:30 PM to find the restaurant practically empty, except for a table of two diners who were just about to leave.
They had a page of lunch special in their menu, but we weren’t interested in the smaller portion sizes and the limited choices. We wanted to be able to choose the dishes we wanted to eat and we wanted to stuff ourselves silly with them. Therefore, we ordered exclusively from their regular menu.
All four dishes that we ordered arrived very quickly. A little too quickly if you ask me. The speed at which they arrived had my mother-in-law wondering if parts of the dishes were pre-made.
The first dish that we got was the Country-Style Fried Pork With Green Chili.
The dish came exactly as it’s English name described: fried pork with a lot of green chilis (with some garlic and a few red chilis mixed in). We had ordered this dish because its picture in the menu looked really appetizing, but the dish we got did not resemble the picture at all. At first we were a little apprehensive because the dish didn’t look that appealing, but our apprehension disappeared after we each had our first mouthfuls. The green chilis were crispy and spicy while the pork was tender and full of flavours. The thickness of the pork slices were also just right, and so was the ratio of meat to fat. The dish went especially well with rice, with the rice adding another firm textural dimension to the pork and the chilis.
The second dish we got was the Pan Fried Spicy Chicken.
This was exactly the same dish as the Deep Fried Chicken with Chilis that we had at S.W. Pepper House, only with a different name. The thing that I noticed immediately was that this version was way more spicy. It had more red chilis and there were way more chili seed scattered across the pieces of fried chicken. The pieces of chicken in this version were smaller than the pieces of chicken in S.W. Pepper House’s version, though there were more pieces of chicken here. Each piece chicken was adequately fried to a solid crispiness, but the meat was a little dried out. Some of the pieces of chicken were also chopped so finely that there were sharp shards of chicken bone contained in them that had to be carefully separated from the meat.
Dryness and bone issues aside, the pieces of chicken were very spicy and very flavourful. They had way more flavour and were way less salty than the ones from S.W. Pepper House. We all agreed that despite being inferior in texture, this spicy fried chicken was an overall better dish than the version from S.W.Pepper House.
This dish was so tasty that we finished every single piece of chicken, leaving a pile of red chilis when we were done.
My mother-in-law then asked a question that had never crossed our minds, but that really intrigued us. Were the red chilis edible and were they meant to be eaten? We summoned our server and posed the question to her. She wasn’t sure how to answer and basically gave us an answer that could go either way. I then asked her if she would or has eaten the red chilis themselves and she said that she has personally never eaten them. Then she mentioned that she has seen other employees eat them, but only straight after the red chilis came out of the fryer. She said that the chilis become stale in a very short amount time and that the chilis on our plates had textures that were no longer palatable.
The third dish we got was the Pork Tripe with Leek Flower.
This dish was ordered by my mother-in-law, who always orders tripe if it is on the menu. This was another very enjoyable and satisfying dish. The flavours were bold and rich, while the textures were harmonious. The extremely aromatic leek flowers paired very well with the spiciness of the red peppers. Both the leek flowers and the peppers were perfectly matched with the unctuous, smooth, slightly-chewy-but-also-very-easy-to-bite-through tripe. The dish was again not too salty and it had the right amount of spiciness. At no point did the spiciness of the dish overwhelm the great flavours of its components.
The last dish we got was also the largest (both in surface area and in volume) dish of our meal: Dongting Broiled Fish in Chili Soup.
This dish was a flower pepper and red chili flavour explosion. Compared to the boiled fish dish that we had at S.W. Pepper House, the flavours of this dish were orders of magnitude more intense. It was very spicy and very numbing, but it was equally intensely flavourful. It’s hard to describe the flavour of the dish in words, but it was like I could taste several different types of spiciness in the dish. And the aromas of the flower peppers were omnipresent in every bite and with every different flavour of spiciness.
The fish was simply sublime. It was as non-fall-apart tender as the fish at S.W. Pepper House but it had non of the freshwater-fish fishiness that was present in the version from S.W. Pepper House. The fish here was a pure, tender textural vehicle that carried the incredibly complex spicy flavours of the soup. We had no trouble finishing every single piece of the fish in the bowl, but we had a lot of trouble finishing the soup. I think each of us only had half-a-spoonful, and we forced that half-a-spoonful down like it was the most bitter cold medicine we’ve ever tasted. It was not that the soup was bad; the soup was actually so good on the fish that we wished that they had included more pieces of it. It was just that the extremely oily and spicy soup was not something that we were used to having.
Spicy food begets the desire for more spicy food, and it was the very good spicy food from S.W. Pepper House that brought us to the awesome spicy fare at Alvin Garden. Every single dish we got was a winner in both the texture and the flavour departments. As large as the portions sizes were, the three of us had no trouble finishing every dish (minus the chilis and the spicy soup). We will definitely be back for another meal. And it will probably be quite soon because as I’m writing this post, my mouth is salivating again at the thought of Alvin Garden’s spicy food(crack)…
“Hi, I’m not a food blogger and I’m an addict”