Fellow foodies, I am writing this post from the parking lot of Great Wall.  We’ve just eaten and are still digesting one of the best meals we’ve had in Birmingham.  Partially because we are too full to drive, and partially because couldn’t bear the thought of you going one more day without knowing about what we just experienced, we are putting this post up in real time.

If you read our blog, you know that we are huge fans of Great Wall on Greensprings.  In our prior posts here and here, we talk about how owner Sunny hired a new chef from Shanghai last year.  This brought a level of sophistication and authenticity to Birmingham’s Chinese food scene.   I know people have strong opinions on this topic, but I’ll just say that in my view, with this addition, Great Wall became the best Chinese restaurant in Birmingham.  Hands down.

So I was intrigued when over the past year, Sunny mentioned that she was trying to recruit a Szechuan chef.  Szechuan food is known for being very spicy and distinctive, and there are few (if any-I’m only aware of one, maybe) places to get authentic Szechuan food in town.  Recently, one of my fans (thank you, Chip!) tipped me off that the new Szechuan chef had arrived and I needed to go check it out.  That brings us to tonite.

I have to admit, it was hard not to order our old favorites:  soup dumplings and chicken with eggplant in hot pot.  But we stuck to the plan.  We asked our server about the Szchuan menu and a nice young man who has waited on us before came to the table carrying a sheet written only in Chinese, which he described as their secret menu.  I later learned from Sunny that although she generally doesn’t believe in secret menus, as we explained here, she has kept this one off the main menu so that people don’t accidentally order something that is much spicier than they bargained for. 

Our new friend proceeded to give us what I can only describe as the most amazingly heartfelt and detailed explanation about every dish on that secret menu.  He told us exactly what made each dish special and unique, and by the end, we of course wanted to try it all.  Sunny came by and gave her advice too.  In the end, this is what we ordered:

First, the Dan Dan noodle appetizer.  This is a pretty classic Szechuan dish.  Hot chili oil, thin noodles, and ground pork.  Fairly spicy and very flavorful-the noodles just soak up the flavor of the sauce, and the ground pork is a nice mild contrast.  Fantastic. 

 
Next, cumin pork ribs.  I mean, for town that prides itself on pork BBQ, I have to say-these are the best ribs in town.  And they are nothing like any ribs we’ve ever had before.  Slightly crispy on the outside, but fatty and succulent on the inside, they fell off the bone immediately.  The cumin flavor is light and not overwhelming, but gives them an incredibly unique flavor that I know I’ll be craving sometime mid-week.  They are cooked with chilies, green peppers, and peanuts.  I ate a spoonful of this mixture and wow-pretty spicy, but nothing I couldn’t handle.

  
Now for two rib close ups.  Mr Foodie is very proud of these photos.  They show off just how meaty these ribs were.   

   
Then the fish.  Pieces of flounder battered and deep fried in such a way that the coating was crispy but also just thick enough to sink your teeth into.  This came as a huge mountain of fish, topped with bread crumbs that were seasoned with garlic and chilies.  We were eating the somewhat spicy breadcrumb mixture on its own.  The best fish I’ve had in as long as I can remember.  

  
And finally, the braised veggies.  Braised eggplant, green peppers, and potatoes, slightly salty and slightly spicy.  Served in a metal dish atop a flame.  A nice light contrast to the rest of the meal.   

  

So foodie friends, this is another recurring theme in town.  Sometimes, the restaurant you think you know everything about still has secrets, or secret menus, to reveal.  

Visit soon and post your favorite Szechuan secret menu dishes in the comments!