So we dropped by the old Tien Jin/new Sichuan River for lunch on Saturday, just to try it out. I was curious, since there seemed to be some affiliation with A+A Sichuan China, and I had heard that it was a renegade defection (ironic, since that’s what created A+A from Asia Café), but also heard that it was a completely sanctioned and affiliated expansion. Turns out neither is true. One of the principals of A+A has partnered as an investor with the Sichuan River owner, but has not left A+A. The menus are different, and the stuff that they both do is even different.
Michael and Johanna Chau had run Tien Jin for the last 21 years, cranking out their fine version of Hong Kong-style Cantonese, one of the very few cooking this style in Austin. Their youngest son had just graduated high school, and Michael wanted to complete his Chinese Medicine degree, so they sold to the new folks. The name outside hasn’t changed, and nothing inside has either, except for the desktop-printed menus. They have two: an American-Chinese standard item menu, and the Sichuan menu. For a peek at the Sichuan version see here:
There is also a lunch special menu, pictured here:
From the American menu we ordered their Hot and Sour soup ($1.50 - SP3) which has a nice rich, porky stock (but no actual minced pork), and good balance twixt hot and spicy, and sour It is a good version and the stock is rich and complex. The Wonton soup ($1.50 --SP1) features a rich chicken stock, with a homemade dumpling skin; the filling is a little on the bland side.
Steamed dumplings ($5.95 for 8 -- AP8) have a pierogi-like texture on the homemade skins (a little dense, a little thick). The filling is a little under-seasoned, but the dipping sauce is excellent, with good balances of vinegar, sweet, ginger, salty soy, and zippy chile oil. Oddly, the homemade chile oil has zero ma la flavor, that spicy numbness that is generated by Sichuan peppercorn.
From Sichuan menu world we chose Stir Fried Smoked Pork ($10.50 -- PK6) smoked pork belly slices with leek, garlic, and onion, fried red chiles, red oil, and a little brown sauce. It was excellent, with great mouthfeel from the baconossity. A minor complaint: the pork skin on the edge of the pork belly was a little on the tough and chewy side.
Fried Chicken Leg Meat ($9.50 – CK20). Finally, some boneless chicken thighs are being served by someone, and not that crappy chicken breast! The dish was loaded with sliced jalapeños, onion, garlic, zucchini slices, and brown sauce. It was a hit.
Ma Po Dofu ($8.25 – VG8) is listed as vegetarian, so ask for ground beef or pork if you want it included; we gave them the option and got ground beef. The dish has excellent flavor, with a good balance of richness, garlicky savory taste, bean paste and chile. It is a really good version.
Thankfully when we were there, we were one of only two tables of Caucasians, and the rest of the half-filled restaurant was filled with native speakers; that’s always a good sign as far as I’m concerned. It’s the same as lots of pickups and big rigs parked outside a roadside diner.
The interior can use some work, but the place is clean. Portions are large, and service was excellent considering she was running solo with a half-full dining room. I will definitely go back, and welcome some spicy Sichuan food in south Austin for a change, instead of having to go way north or northwest. But dudes, we need some MA LA!
4534 W Gate Blvd, Ste 105
Mick Vann ©
Previous review of Tien Jin:
Previous review of A+A: