It can be rare enough for a restaurant to excel in any one category, but for a dining spot to consistently hit it out of the park in several categories--including food, drink, atmosphere, service, and price--well, that is almost unheard of, especially when you're talking about suburban eateries. And while you would think that such a place would be incredibly popular with lines out the door nearly every night, Sichuan Garden II in Woburn proves the exception to that rule, as it is a restaurant that typically has plenty of seating available--unless you plan to go to the bar, which is quickly becoming not so "hidden" (more on this in a bit).
Sichuan Garden II is located in what would appear to be a rather unremarkable part of Woburn, just north of the rotary where Routes 128 and 38 intersect and in an area filled with restaurant chains, chain stores, and medical and business offices. But right in the middle of it all is the restaurant, which happens to reside in the beautiful Baldwin Mansion, an historic structure that dates all the way back to the 1600s. The interior is simply gorgeous, with the downstairs section including a dark and charming bar along with similarly cozy dining areas, while the upstairs has more rooms for dining along with a second bar that was recently added to an elegant old space that was formerly used for functions. The original bar area downstairs is perhaps Sichuan Garden's signature space, with the dark woods, romantic lighting, creaky floors, and welcoming bar making it one of the most interesting places to drink in the entire Boston area.
By now you've probably figured out that there is a Sichuan Garden "I" and there indeed is, with it being located on Washington Street in Brookline Village (and which also includes Blossom Bar within it now). Many of the dishes offered there are also offered here, including a savory wonton soup, outstanding pork dumplings with a red-hot roasted chili vinaigrette, similarly hot dan dan noodles with minced pork and buzzy Szechuan peppers, garlicky baby eggplant, a simple but delicious spinach with garlic, white-hot glass noodles and minced pork (this one gets hotter as you eat it, by the way), sauteed prawns in a moderately spicy garlic sauce, and beef filets in a tea sauce that can be ordered mild or hot. The Woburn location features some interesting specials as well, with a real highlight being the lacquered duck, which is a sort of stew with crackling duck skin, moist meat, bones that add lots of flavor, mushrooms, sprouts, and more. Unlike the Brookline location, a number of basic Chinese-American items are offered here as well, including excellent takes on boneless spare ribs and crab rangoon. And then there are the drinks; mixologist Ran Duan is a genius when it comes to cocktails, and is getting not only regional recognition, but national as well. A few drinks offered here--depending on the season--have familiar (and not so familiar) names such as Birds of Paradise, Jupiter, Jack Sparrow, Bobby Burns, Bergeron, Strawberry Rhubarb, Agave Rose, The Montague, a pina colada, Trader Vic Mai Tai, Elixir de Vie, Campbell Town Rock, and Ramos Beer Fizz, all of which are expertly created by Ran and the bar staff. The beer list at Sichuan Garden II is also of interest, with a "secret" stash of beers possibly being available here and there, so it may be worth your while to ask what they might have out back. Prices for food are generally reasonable, while drink prices are mostly decent as well, especially considering the quality of the drinks.
Sichuan Garden II has been getting quite a bit of press over the past few years mainly because of Ran's sublime cocktail program, but it remains a bit of a hidden gem and is literally easy to overlook (from the outside it looks more like a museum than a Chinese restaurant). Perhaps it won't be as under-the-radar in the future, but for now, it remains generally uncrowded--and a place that really does have it all when it comes to a memorable dining experience.
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