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Tonight we ate at Chilli Garden in Medford Square, and it's good. Really good. If you're an old Boston-area fan of Szechuan Chinese cuisine, quite-possibly-blows-Mary-Chung's-in-its-glory-days-out-of-water good. (Heresy, I know.)

There are two notable ways in which Chilli Garden distinguishes itself. First, there's a sizable list of specialties on the menu that are all new to me, a longtime lover of Szechuan cuisine. Second, the use of pepper is distinctive; instead of usually oily very hot peppers for just the effect of their heat, the red peppers are toned down, but full of distinctive flavor, and peppercorns are also used for spice. So, when I actually bit into one of the many red peppers that accompany the whole fish with spicy sauce and peppercorn, my taste buds did not go nuclear; instead, there was a pleasant, if multi-kilowatt, sensation of mint or tea or something, but not just searing heat. I was expecting the “wontons with chili sauce and vinegar” to be sometime like the “suan la chow sho” that I loved at Mary's, but it was not quite the same, but in a good way. Instead of a soy and sour-dominated sauce that you get in that dish (at least at Mary's), I was presented with a red broth, which looked hot but instead was pleasantly smokey, not unlike the effect of chipotle. We also enjoyed the complementary simple chopped cabbage appetizer that was offered before our food arrived.

We will have to come back for more. O spied some ma po tofu on another table and it didn't have that “gloopy” look to it, and there other things that we saw that just looked good, even if we could not identify them.

I wonder what Iron Chef Chen Kenichi would say if he could taste this food.

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