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Chuan Xiang Qing: Rice capades

Rice capades

From secret specials (lung, anyone?) to the heights of spice, Chuan Xiang Qing has plenty for all
Photo: Marianne McEwen

Chuan Xiang Qing woks the wok as the newest addition to Montreal's continually burgeoning Chinese scene

I never thought I’d write this, but it keeps getting better and better for Chinese pleasures in Montreal. From bakeries to restaurants to massage parlours, variety and quality abounds. I got distracted yet again in Chinatown (the old one, not the new one around Concordia) on my way to visit a new Cantonese place when I caught sight of an intriguing downstairs restaurant on the corner of De la Gauchetière and Clark that didn’t even have a sign.

Chuan Xiang Qing is indeed pretty new: It’s been open about a month. As with most Chinese places I like to frequent, it has the ambience of a telemarketing boiler room. But its 60 or so seats were packed, mostly with Asians. How does word get around?

The menu is mostly a mix of Szechuan and Hunan. While many of dishes were x-ed out and unavailable (which meant I had to forgo the crispy pig feet), there was still plenty to choose from. I know I’m picking the low-hanging fruit here, but Chuan Xiang Qing’s poorly translated menu has some good potential band names: "Pork Soup Burn"; "Stinky Tofu Juice"; "Fish Channel"; and my personal favourite, "Griddle Squid should be." I couldn’t agree more.

Mapo Doufo was very nice, even with the ground pork withheld for a vegetarian twist. The large irregular cubes of soft tofu were firm yet creamy – everything soft tofu should be – and the piquant chili bean paste-infused sauce was loaded with more pickled red chilies. It was nicely topped off by a sprinkling of powdered Szechuan peppercorns.

A dish listed on the menu as "Lron Shrimp" turned out to have nothing to do with Scientology except that it cost money. It arrived in a sizzling cast iron pan shaped like a cow. This was a pretty straight-up offering, just small juicy shrimp and lots of sliced onion in oil, but it was surprisingly tasty. Maybe that had something to do with the milky-but-not-actually-milk white residue at the bottom of the cow (I don’t get to say that too often).

I felt the need to get my poum-on, so I opted for some lungs in chili sauce. It was marvellously tasty, even if it turned out to be a cold dish, which was a bit of a surprise. The earthy lungs were not radically different than the rest of the offal rainbow (liver, heart, etc.) in their softly cartilaginous chewiness. The intense and pungent sauce was loaded with heat, star anise and approximately a pound of Szechuan peppercorns. Numb numb numb!

Spicy eggplant turned out not to be too spicy at all, nor did it have any particular character. Like the shrimp, though, it was perfectly decent: just long slices of Asian eggplant sautéed with mild green finger peppers in a copious amount of oil, some broth, and lots of garlic. Very pleasant.

So while not everything was an unalloyed success at Chuan Xiang Qing, it was a very good meal, and I’d definitely return. As with all good Chinese restaurants, I always wonder at what I’m missing by not being able to access the hidden depths of the Chinese-only specials (there are apparently a lot of prepared cold dishes on offer). Of course, if they’re not hiding the lungs, then maybe the good stuff is actually up front for the taking.

Chuan Xiang Qing
51A de la Gauchetière; 514-875-5390
Dinner for two, before tax and tip: $25-$35
Questions? Comments? Bitter rants? jkarpati@hour.ca

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