Review: Jincheng Restaurant
1569 Dresden Row – (902) 431-8588
Date of Visit: July 5, 2014
When I was planning my recent trip to Halifax, I did some searching interesting Chinese restaurants on the internet but was unable to come up with anything beyond the highly westernized types I like to call ‘Chop Suey Joints’. It was thus with a measure of pleasant surprise that I came across this tiny little hole-in-the-wall Sichuan place just a few minutes walk from my hotel. The name, which means ‘Cheng Capital’ refers to the city now known as ‘Chengdu’, and as the menu explains, the establishment specializes (very ably and well, as it turned out) in the spicy cuisine of Sichuan’s capital…
Ambience and Service
As already mentioned, Jincheng is very small and is clearly what one would call a ‘Mom and Pop’ operation. When I arrived during the noon-hour, the distaff half of the management was seated at one of the restaurant tables processing a HUGE bag of dried chilies while her young son ‘helped’ and chattered enthusiastically about everything. It was she who served me when I was first seated but sadly, the language difficulties were a bit too difficult to overcome (I wanted to ask questions about the dishes rather than just point at items on the menu) and so her husband (who also doubles as the cook) took over. Notwithstanding that little glitch, I have no complaints about the service and enjoyed a pleasant meal thereafter. The restaurant itself is not cramped despite the size and is very bright, airy, and clean. The only possible criticism I could possibly make is that it so sparsely decorated as to be austere and just a little homely touches here and there might make it a bit more inviting.
By the way, although the paper menu provides a link to a website for the restaurant, it appears not to be active (nor was different URL I found for the same establishment at another food directory site). Accordingly, no online menu is available as of this time. Briefly, the choices are heavy on Sichuan dishes and there are quite a few items you won’t find in more westernized Chinese restaurants, such as Pigs ears and tripe. Also, quite a few of the main course dishes (Kung Pao Chcken, Yu Xiang Pork, Mala Chicken etc.) are available in reduced portions and served with rice for less than the larger serving alone.
Preserved Sichuan Pickle Soup – The menu further identified the specific pickle in Chinese characters as 榨菜 (zhàcài), which is a hot, brine pickled mustard tuber. I almost regretted ordering the dish once it arrived as even the small size I selected turned out to be quite substantial. The broth was fairly straight forward without a lot of depth on its own abut the restaurant was exceptionally generous with the shredded pork, which actually came in equal amounts with the carrot and scallion. There was, unfortunately, not a lot of pickle (which is a bit surprising as it is generally quite cheap) and consequently the soup was not quite as spicy hot as it might otherwise have been. Beyond that, there was a nice little touch of sesame oil in the background and, on the whole, I liked the soup. Rating: 3 out of 5.
Dumplings – These came 8 to an order and were identified on the menu with the Chinese Characters for Jiǎozi but were more specifically the type usually know as 鍋貼, or ‘potstickers’. They were piping hot, stuffed with chopped pork, cabbage and ginger, and they came with a side dish of minced garlic in black vinegar for dipping. Personally, I think a little red oil would have been better for dipping, either alone or added to the vinegar, but I didn’t think to ask for any until I was almost finished. On the whole, I didn’t think these were better than my own but I have not tasted many that were much better and have eaten plenty that were much, much worse. Rating: 3 out of 5
Sichuan Home-Made Pickles – These were identified further by the Chinese characters 泡菜 which refers to vegetables ‘quick-pickled’ in brine just until a little sourness starts to develop and then served while they still retain a crisp texture and fresh colors. This particular dish consisted of pickled daikon, celery, carrot, scallion and sliced Jalapeno served in red oil with chopped ginger and garlic. I also thought I saw a few fragments of Sichuan Peppercorn husk but I couldn’t detect the characteristic numbing effect. These were very good, with a great fresh taste, but if making this at home I would likely omit the jalapeno as the red oil heat was more than enough for me. Rating: 5 out of 5:
Spicy Chicken leg – These were advertised as being available at $4 apiece and spiced with cumin. When I ordered a couple, the chef asked how hot would I like them and, in a moment of carelessness (perhaps lulled into false security by the first couple of dishes), responded with a casual ‘Oh, pretty hot’.
I have to say, first, that the legs that arrived were beautifully cooked with a terrific crispiness and a depth of taste with the cumin chili and salt was excellent. Unfortunately for yours truly, the blast of chili heat was enough to curl my nostril hairs and, I am pretty sure, left me with a faint tan… In any event, for the first time in many, many years, I had to admit defeat in the face of blinding culinary heat and couldn’t finish. Despite that, I thought these excellent. Rating: 5 out of 5.
Jung Cheng is a very pleasant little restaurant and there are enough interesting things on the menu top attract aficionados of Chinese food in general and Sichuan cuisine in particular. The quality of my meal was excellent and I will happily return to sample more of the varied dishes available. Rating: 4 out of 5.