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Szechuan Showdown: Sorgho Rouge vs. Cuisine Szechuan

Posted by Stefan / October 3, 2010

sorgho 1.jpg Conventional wisdom holds that there's no good Chinese food in Montreal. More precisely, the dismissive barbs of stowaways from Toronto and New York distort the landscape of available options. I'll grant that there's a conspicuous number of generic Asian fusion joints that serve greasy, forgettable fare. But among the rabble are several places that hold their own against the best I've had in other cities, and you don't have to go to Chinatown to find them. The Concordia ghetto supports several restaurants that specialize in regional Chinese dishes, including two with a Szechuan bent: Sorgho Rouge and Cuisine Szechuan.

Building on Amie's excellent throwdown series, I set out to find the best downtown Szechuan food. The star of the show, and the crux of my comparison, is shuizhuyu (spicy boiled white fish). The dish, notable for intense spiciness and an abundance of tongue-numbing Szechuan pepper, is not available at most Chinese restaurants in the city. It's certainly a change from the more common items on downtown menus, and you know you're in for a treat when the waiter warns you, with genuine concern, that the shuizhuyu is "spicy, for Chinese people." I have yet to be dissuaded by their ethnic stereotyping. Both Sorgho Rouge and Cuisine Szechuan serve it for $11.99 in portions intended for two people. Despite a shared base of ingredients (white fish, bean sprouts, chillies, Szechuan peppers), the shuizhuyu varies significantly between restaurants.

Best shuizhuyu: Cuisine Szechuan.

The shuizhuyu at Cuisine Szechuan comes out on top. Although the broth is more hot and oily, shuizhuyu is not eaten as soup so most of the oil stays in the bowl. And hidden in all that oil is a rich, smoky depth that gives the white fish a strong, distinct flavor. It'd be hard to dismiss it as derivative, and impossible to call it bland.szechuan 2.jpg Cuisine Szechuan's shuizhuyu.

Sorgho Rouge's shuizhuyu (pictured at the top) also has much to recommend it. Despite generating less enthusiasm, it's not merely an inferior take on the same dish. The broth is lighter, less oily, and more subtle. Cilantro stems give it a refreshing finish, and the toned-down hotness might appeal to some diners. They also used an aromatic spice that I couldn't identify but that helped to distinguish it from Cuisine Szechuan. Unfortunately, the fish was more bland and the broth lacked its competitor's richness. But given their quality and the differences between them, it'd certainly be best to try both and pick a personal favorite. sorgho 2.jpg Sorgho Rouge's yu hsiang pork.

Best pork: it depends.

Hard to pick a favorite on the pork front. The yu hsiang pork at Sorgho Rouge was generously portioned and delicious. In contrast to similar dishes at other places in the area, it's not just a plate of fried pork doused in over-the-counter sauce. Beyond its gluttonous exterior I found plenty of subtle flavor. At Cuisine Szechuan we ordered twice cooked pork. It consisted of thinly sliced pork belly served with a mix of vegetables in a pleasant chili sauce. I preferred the sauce at Sorgho Rouge, but I'm partial to pork belly. Can't go wrong with either dish at either restaurant, and there were plenty of other options for those willing to experiment.szechuan 4.jpgCuisine Szechuan's twice cooked pork.

Best rice: Cuisine Szechuan.

Call it pedantic, but if you're paying $2 for a bowl of rice it better be soft, warm, and flavorful. Cuisine Szcechuan's rice beat out Sorgho Rouge on freshness and flavor, though that may have been a matter of little more than timing.

Best vegetable side: Cuisine Szechuan.

The cards were stacked against Sorgho Rouge on this one. We ordered a simple cabbage with garlic sauce at Sorgho Rouge, and it turned out to be baby bok choy in a watery garlic sauce. It was fine, but by no means worth $6.95. At Cuisine Szechuan we ordered yu hsiang eggplant, which is easily the best I've had in the city. Eggplant agnostics often complain about bitter flavor and stiff texture. Neither plagued this dish. It was sweet, spicy, soft, and--thanks to an abundance of fresh ginger--refreshing.


Although we didn't include soup in the comparison, Cuisine Szechuan's hot and sour soup exceeded expectations. Like their shuizhuyu, the soup had a difficult to place smokiness, and like their yu hsiang eggplant, it boasted wonderful hints of fresh ginger.

I have no trouble recommending either place, though I prefer Cuisine Szechuan. Other dishes worth trying: cold chicken appetizer, fried cumin chicken, garlic eggplant, and beef with oyster sauce. Even the chow mein, which falls outside their regional specialty, is served in a tasty broth. Cuisine Szechuan's has a substantive menu and a friendly staff. It's low-key and unpretentious. At its best it will alienate boring eaters (pork ear, anyone?) and give fans of Szechuan specialties a reason to celebrate. szechuan 3.jpgCuisine Szechuan's yu hsiang eggplant.

Cuisine Szechuan
2350 Rue Guy
(514) 933-5041

Sorgho Rouge (formerly Oui & Oui)
1862 Maisonneuve West
(514) 933-2288

Photos by Mike "Lock 'Em Up" Lockner.



Sheena / October 3, 2010 at 07:32 pm
This is a great post - on the exact subject my boyfriend and I frequently discuss... living equidistant from both places. Sorgho Rouge has amazing Szechuan beef hotpot - the beef is better there than cuisine szechuan. But both are amazing and have much to recommend them!
Amie / October 4, 2010 at 04:10 pm
Nice post and nice pics!
mika / December 10, 2010 at 02:18 am
agreed that (most) chinese food here is terrible, but hong kong restaurant in chinatown is amazing - i'm not saying that you have to go to chinatown to get good, "authentic" chinese food, but this so happens to be the case with this restaurant.
i've spent some time in china and can say that hong kong serves some pretty yum and as-authentic-as-it's-gonna-get-in-montreal food, including szechuan dishes - and they even have general tao for those who are into that kind of stuff.. ;)
Belmont / January 20, 2011 at 11:21 pm
My Chinese friends told me the Cuisine Szechuan changed the cook! I will try the new cook's meal tomorrow!
Jen / January 31, 2013 at 08:25 am
Do you guys know what happened to Sorgho Rouge? In that address has sprouted a Korean BBQ place instead :(
kanchipuramsarees / January 22, 2019 at 03:35 am
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kanchipuramsarees / January 22, 2019 at 03:35 am
nice post
golu dolls / January 22, 2019 at 03:35 am
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herbal powder / January 22, 2019 at 03:35 am
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