Mala Sichuan Bistro
BY MIKE PUCKETT
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Mala Sichuan Bistro has two locations: the original in Chinatown off Southwest Houston’s Bellaire Blvd and the other near downtown in Montrose. I visited the Montrose location – and boy, was I in store for a Chinese treat! It was truly an evening spent in Sichuan – without ever leaving the comforts of home. I do recommend!
If you aren’t familiar with Sichuan or Mala, don’t let that deter you from trying this wonderful restaurant. You are missing so much if you do. Enjoy the adventure, you will find that it is not that adventurous, it’s just good!
The Montrose location is right in the middle of the culinary action in this part of town. You can literally throw a stone from the parking lot and hit one of a number of fabulous eateries. But, you know what happens to those who cast stones…
So, we decided to take a little vacation and just walk through the door. The first thing you notice as you walk in is the beautiful Sichuan art painted on the large wall. The server mentioned that the artist had been contracted from Sichuan and all the images were authentic to the culture. Just another element that makes this restaurant something special.
As it happened to be the Holiday Season, we were also greeted with a large Christmas tree made from Tsingtao beer bottles. What a creative idea! We all got a kick out of it.
We started off with a couple Tsingtao’s and wasted no time ordering the small plates. With all the reader recommendations, it was easy to figure out exactly what to try. It was such a beautiful night in Houston that we decided to have our meal on the patio. Our very attentive server delivered a foursome to the table. My eyes widened and my jaw dropped. What a beautiful presentation!
Although all the apps were delicious, my favorite had to be the Garlic Bacon. Imagine a dish of hand-crafted pork belly, cooked and chilled, wrapped around slices of cucumber, then slathered with a mixture of ground garlic, a sweet and spicy soy sauce concoction, and red chili oil, and finally garnished with julienned green onion. Right off the bat, I could tell where this night was going to take me. Vacation! This app is a must-try here at Mala.
Next up were the Dan Dan Noodles: a custom-made noodle boiled and mixed with mala spicy sauce and sesame paste then topped with boiled spinach, Yibin preserved vegetables, spiced ground pork, and green onions. This is a dish I crave at least once a month. Very tasty.
What Chinese experience is complete without dumplings, right? Well, the Red Oil Dumplings were the perfect combination of sweet and spicy. House-made, pork-filled dumplings slathered in a mix of red chili oil, ground garlic and a sweet and spicy soy sauce concoction, then topped with sesame seeds and green onions. Remarkably beautiful, just have a look at the photography and see for yourself. That’s one thing that is consistent here – everything is beautiful.
To throw in a little vegetarian flare, we had the Cucumber Salad: wedges of fresh Persian cucumber tossed in ground garlic and sesame oil. Just as delicious as it looks!
Wow, so far everything has been incredible! This would be the perfect place to spend Craft Beer Friday. Oddly enough, they have an extensive craft beer menu and these small plates would definitely go great with them during Happy Hour… take note!
Of course, we ordered family-style as it is the best way to truly experience a restaurant. We chose the Aromatic and Spicy Chicken, Water-Boiled Fish Fillet, Mapo Tofu and Mongolian Beef.
The Spicy Chicken was built with bite-size, dark meat chicken pieces, battered and deep-fried, then flash-fried in the wok with dry red chilies and aromatic, spicy seasonings. Awesome! I didn’t find it super spicy, but a couple of people at our table said they felt it was. So, if you like it hot – then go for it. You will love it!
I wasn’t sure how much I would like the Water-Boiled Fish Fillet made with fresh tilapia. Boiled fish is not something I would normally order. But, that is why I don’t always go with my instinct and follow the advice of the chef and locals who frequent the place. The dish is made by braising the fish with garlic and ginger bits in Sichuan-fermented broad bean paste. This fish mixture is then poured on a base of steamed Napa cabbage and leeks, topped with garlic bits, green onion, and red chili powder and finished with a splash of boiling oil. This is such an amazing dish – the flavors are very apparent and in-your-face. I am so glad we ordered this for sure!
The Mapo Tofu was a mixture of soft tofu cubes – braised to perfection – with fresh leeks, fermented broad bean sauce paste and fermented black beans sprinkled with ground Sichuan peppercorn. A great soup and one that has received many recommendations from our readers. So, if tofu is your thing, then this is where it’s at!
Of course, I ordered the Mongolian Beef. It has been my go-to since I was little. The Mongolian Beef was prepared with tender beef slices stir-fried with large green onions, ginger and garlic, then combined with a savory brown sauce. Such great garlic-flavored beef… and the ginger makes it pop. So good!
So, my Sichuan experience here in Montrose is a perfect example of what makes the Houston culinary scene one of my favorites. Every nationality is represented in this city – and Mala Sichuan Bistro definitely has you covered when it comes to Sichuan, China. No matter which location you choose, you can be assured it is the right choice.
PHOTOGRAPHY: MIKE PUCKETT
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