Little Szechuan Chinese 
We have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to Chinese. One of the more popular ethnic cuisines in Richmond (trailing only Italian), it is not one we regularly seek out. And American Chinese restaurants fill an important lunchtime niche. They’re an easy sell to friends & coworkers and everyone knows what to expect… they probably have a favorite dish that is certainly on the menu. Best of all, while you can find great ones, it’s hard to find a truly bad one (Achievement Unlocked!). And before you get the wrong idea, Little Szechuan on Staples Mill is a good one. This day we chose Little Szechuan based on a strong Urbanspoon rating and visited with two work friends, Mike and Stephen (with a “ph”).
Adam had the Spicy Szechuan Beef with brown rice and hot and sour soup to start. The soup had a very good broth base that was the not too hot and had plenty of flavor. The sauce of the beef was not too heavy which our main problem with most American Chinese food. It was tasty, but what he really liked was how fresh the veggies were. Still had some crunch to them and their own distinct taste when most places cook them to mush.
I ordered the lunch special Twice-Cooked Pork, which according to the menu was a “two pepper” dish but I found it to be barely spicy. Similarly, Stephen ordered the Kung Pao Shrimp, which was also good but also not spicy enough. Desired food heat is a personal preference and a restaurant has to be careful to meet the lowest common denominator in this respect. The best restaurants will engage you in a conversation to match the food to your expectations, but that didn’t happen here. Too bad, because it would have improved the meal. The vegetables were fresh and crispy and cooked perfectly, neither over- nor underdone. And our standard barometer for Asian food, hot and sour soup, was excellent. I wanted to love my main dish more than I did, and I feel it was correctable with better communication. A tip for future visitors.
Mike ordered the Shredded Chicken in Garlic Sauce with fried rice and hot & sour soup. He found the chicken and soup to be very good. He also remarked that while the fried rice was typical, it wasn’t overly greasy as it can be at other places. Mike was also impressed with the vegetables and could clearly taste the celery and peppers in the chicken and they were crunchy but not raw.
The visit was only marred by an awkward checkout process. The check was delivered to us on a tray and we waited a long time for someone to return and take our cards, when we were supposed to go to the front of the restaurant. A minor disconnect in expectation that we will be prepared for next time (as will you, Dear Reader). Little Szechuan was a cut above the crowd and a worthy destination for a group of stomachs looking for a crowd-pleaser.
Lunch topics: work, Desert Bus, focus groups and survey design, Napster & Kazaa, file sharing in college and at LAN parties, gaming AdWords freebies to supersize your Dropbox account, tutoring as a business, favorite places we have lived, Applying for medical school residencies, iOS 7, Android