Tag Archives: Chuan Cafe

Chuan Cafe Spices up College Town

The sign outside the door of College Town’s new Chuan Cafe reads “Never Spicy Enough,” a statement some prospective diners may interpret as a challenge and others as a cue to order with caution.

Both are right — and wrong.

Chuan Cafe serves Sichuan cuisine, which is known for the heat of its chiles and numbing Sichuan peppers. The menu has a category for Super Spicy food and also indicates heat with the number of peppers but you can express your preference for more or less spice at the counter. You’ll want to ensure you’re on the same spice scale as the kitchen. If you have a timid palate, try the sesame chicken, vegetable dishes, fried rice or dim sum.

Chuan Cafe is an offshoot of the restaurant, Chuan Guo Wei, located in Chendu, the capital of Sichuan province in southwestern China. Tallahassee was picked for the restaurant’s first venture into the United States, partly because of family connections here, said manager Michelle Lin.

 

The Setting

The cafe is a natural for College Town. The place is contemporary, with a laid-back vibe, decorated with wood, exposed brick and industrial accents.

You order at the counter and are notified via buzzer when your food is ready. There’s no rush to leave. Seating includes a few communal tables with upholstered chairs and banquettes, perfect for study groups, and smaller tables around the perimeter of the room. On our visits, most of the diners were Asian, generally considered a sign the food is pretty authentic.

There’s free WiFi, and Lin notes that diners are welcome to graze, study or just read a book.

Dig In

When I stopped by the restaurant earlier this week, my third visit, I chatted with José Mendoza, an engineering professor at Florida State University, who’s already become a fan of Chuan Cafe. He was enjoying a meal of white fish with hot chile sauce, included on the list of Super Spicy dishes. “I’d eat here everyday if I could,” Mendoza said. “My wife is Chinese and she really loves it.”

I particularly liked his description of the tongue-tingling taste of Sichuan peppers. “They have an after-flavor that’s numbing,” he said, comparing it to the lingering flavor of a good cup of espresso. “It’s very pleasant.”

Incidentally, the Sichuan pepper is not a peppercorn but the dried rind of the berry-like fruit of the ash tree. You’ve likely tried it before because it’s one of the ingredients in Chinese five-spice powder (along with star anise, cloves, Chinese cinnamon and fennel seeds).

Along with its spiciness, Sichuan dishes are also sweet, sour, salty and smoky. There’s a Sichuan saying for this complexity, which translates to: “Each dish has its own style, a hundred dishes have a hundred different flavors.”

Chuan Cafe doesn’t have a hundred dishes but there are sure plenty of choices.

One of the best deals is a combo meal for $8.99. It’s served, Bento-style, with segments for a stir-fry or steamed dish, soup and dim sum. I had the “Giant Meatball,” a large orb of tender, ground pork that has a slight kick, served in a sweet-and-sour sauce. My sides were a flavorful cup of wonton soup, though similar to what you’d find at most Chinese restaurants, and plump pan-fried dumplings. Other dishes available as a combo include Kung Pao chicken, shredded pork with garlic sauce and spare ribs with sticky rice.

On another visit, my son, who loves spicy food, was happy with his aromatic bowl of Ma Po Tofu, a classic loaded with chunks of tofu and a sprinkling of ground pork and scallions. It had plenty of heat but it’s not a scorcher for those who prefer to fire up their taste buds.

– Chuan Cafe

House-made dandan noodles were also delicious, coated with a peanut and pepper sauce, topped with chopped pork and scallions.

The sesame chicken strips are a fun, shareable snack boosted by an orange sweet-sour sauce. For a light dish, try the Chinese crepe, made with egg and flour, filled with savory pork and scallions.

Sadly, the dim sum menu has already been scaled back but you’ll still find pan-fried and steamed dumplings plus binge-worthy pan-fried pork buns, soft on the inside with a slightly crisp doughy shell.

For dessert, try the “brown sugar rice crispy,” which brings strips of sticky rice pan-fried with a crisp coating, dipped into a brown sugar sauce for a sweet ending.

Chuan Cafe doesn’t yet have its beer and wine license but it’s not exactly hard to find a watering hole in College Town.

Prices

Soups $5.95 to $8.95; combo meals $8.99; noodles $6.95 to $8.95, entrees $6.95 to $11.95; vegetable dishes $8.95 to $10.95; dim sum $6.95 to $7.95; desserts $4.95 to $5.95.

Bottom line

Discover the bold flavors of Sichuan cooking at Chuan Cafe. Servings are generous, flavorful and the place has a casual, breezy atmosphere that will make diners of any age feel welcome. With dishes priced under $12, it also pays to be adventurous.

Tallahassee Table Rating
(Neighborhood Fare, Worth the Drive, or One of the Best)

Worth the Drive

Rochelle Koff writes about food and dining at TallahasseeTable.com, and on Facebook, @TheTallahasseeTable and Twitter @tallytable. Reach her at TallahasseeTable@gmail.com.

When you go …

Chuan Cafe
619 Woodward Ave., Tallahassee
850-727-0228
Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

 

 

 

New TLH Restaurants


Barbecue. Bundt cakes. Super berries. Tallahassee has a new spate of restaurants — including chains, dessert spots, a sub shop, ethnic restaurants and a food truck — that have opened in the past two months and a few more will be opening by summer’s end.

Most of these are smaller, casual places, not of the ilk of a Blue Halo or Table 23, which opened last summer. Still, these are new places to discover and Tallahassee loves to try new restaurants.

Keep in mind that all that love can overwhelm a new spot. Places used to be able to open quietly but that’s unlikely these days. One bad batch of beans can doom a restaurant. So the idea is, give a new location a chance.

Here are the spaces we’ve come across.We’ve likely missed some new gems or promising places to come. If so, please drop us a note at TallahasseeTable@gmail.com.

Chuan Cafe:   This College Town newcomer boasts authentic Chinese cuisine with the slogan “Never Spicy Enough.” But if you’re spice-averse, don’t cross this place off your must-try list. The super hot dishes are marked and there are plenty of other choices, especially the dim sum. The Szechuan category includes roast duck, beef tendon with chili sauce, and bean jelly with Szechuan-style sauce.  Another bonus: Chuan Cafe, with a sleek contemporary decor, is open for lunch and dinner daily. 619 S. Woodward Ave.; 850-727-0228.

– Joan-Manuel Pouparina

The Goodberry: This cozy nook, which opened June 17, specializes in popular açaí bowls. The South American berry, touted for its health benefits and its tart-sweet flavor, is the star attraction in sorbet, garnished with granola and a choice of other toppings, including fresh fruits, chia seeds, dates, bee pollen, Nutella and a Brazilian nut topping called pacoca. Owners Joan-Manuel Pouparina and Ariel Sonnino, both recent Florida State University grads, also serve smoothies and avocado toast with garlic, red peppers, feta, cherry tomatoes and a balsamic glaze. Sweet indeed! 1325 Thomasville Rd.; 850-778-5167.

Lemongrass: The pan-Asian restaurant, from the same folks who owned the former Far East Cuisine in the Carriage Gate, have moved to the Centre of Tallahassee. The new, classier digs offer lovely art work, a sophisticated soundtrack and relaxed lights. Vietnamese and Thai dishes and sushi dominate the large menu. Specialties include Vietnamese beef stew, a bánh mì for lunch, curries and rolls. Finish with a cold — or hot — glass of sake. 2415 N Monroe St.; 850-765-0672.

LOL Nachos:  This place is a nacho bar that also serves other Mexican fare like tacos and burritos, but why the LOL? The restaurant is also a comedy club with shows Tuesday and Saturday nights.    2401 West Pensacola St., Unit D;  850-597-8372.

Nothing Bundt Cakes: If the term “bundt cake” makes you feel warm and fuzzy, you’ll be happy to discover this new shop devoted to the nostalgic dessert. These rich cakes are drizzled with a cream cheese-based icing and come in varied sizes: an eight or 10-inch cake ($21 and $31, additional charge for decorations), $3.99 bundtlets and bite-sized bundtinis (available only by the dozen). Ten flavors are available, including a gluten-free version and flavor of the month. Marty Newman, who opened the Tallahassee branch of the franchise on June 1, said there are 40 design options for special occasions. Despite its name, the shop sells some travel mugs, cake plates and gifts. 346 S Magnolia Dr.; 850-765-5188.

OG Subs: The sub shop originally opened in the fall, closed briefly and reopened June 23, so we’re including it in this roundup. OG is quickly getting a reputation for having the best subs in the city. No argument here. If you’re from South Florida, you’ll be excited to hear that one of their owners and several employees used to work at the venerable LaSpada’s Original Hoagies in SFla. You’ll find the same quality meats here (and meat tossing — trust us, it’s fun). 444 W College Ave.; 850-553-1352.

Thai Kitchen: Amy and Alex Soonthonthom spent many years helping a relative open Thai restaurants around the country. On June 1, they opened their own establishment, a modest 32-seat storefront providing a range of traditional dishes like coconut soup, Pad Thai and assorted curries. Shoppers in the plaza will find lunch is a bargain, including an entree and cup of soup or salad (dine-in only) for $8, $10 if you pick shrimp. The couple, natives of Thailand, will eventually offer sushi as well. 1400 Village Square Blvd.; 850-999-8960.

Wild Cajun Seafood & Oyster Bar: Childhood friends and Louisiana natives Derreck He and Tim Tran opened the seafood restaurant July 5 in the former home of Zin. Wild Cajun specializes in low-country boils — “Dirty Buckets” with shrimp, snow crab, black mussels, sausage, crawfish, red potatoes and corn.  You’ll also find po boys, seafood by the pound, baskets and crawfish étouffée. 1225 N Monroe St.; 850-567-2992

– Rankin Tacos

Rankin Crunchy & Confused Tacos: On May 28, Roger Rankin left his seven-year job working in the state’s radiological emergency program, which is charged with planning the response to a nuclear power plant crisis. A month later, he was planning something entirely different: menus. Fulfilling a longtime dream, Rankin, with his wife, Bridgette, opened this food truck, featuring a beloved fried taco recipe created by his grandmother in West Texas. Rankin Crunchy & Confused Tacos prepares the dish the way his grandmother did, cooking the meat and shell together. The truck offers five or six signature tacos, including Southern fried chicken, chorizo, lamb or beef or you can build your own. Tacos are served with a side of Texas-style beans and flat tater tots. You can catch Rankin’s food truck Saturday at Deep Brewing or check his Facebook page.

Willie Jewell’s Old-School BBQ: Tallahassee’s newest barbecue spot, which opened July 19, is a spinoff of the historic Bono’s barbecue chain, born in Jacksonville in 1949, created by Joe Adeeb and Josh Martino. As for the intriguing name, Willie Jewell Daniels was a homeless girl who came to live with the Adeeb family and proved to be a fine cook. The Tallahassee branch, owned by Chip and Amanda Evans, features pork and brisket smoked for 12 or more hours over live oak. “All the meat arrives raw and we smoke it,” said Amanda Evans. Also featured: St. Louis-style ribs, turkey, sausage and chicken plus classic sides like mac ‘n cheese, Brunswick stews, fried pickles, fried corn, fried okra and baked beans. 5442 Thomasville Rd.; 850-629-4299.

 

Pappas Diner: If you love an old-fashioned Greek-American diner, with dishes like pancakes, pastrami and spinach pies, you’ll be eager to try this new eatery from Sprio Pappas, who previously ran diners in South Florida. Pappas is open in the former home of the Village Inn. We could use a Greek diner in Tallahassee so fingers crossed. 2531Apalachee Pkwy.; 850-391-9585.

Opening Soon

– SoDough

SoDough: Midtown is getting a new bakery specializing in quiche, donuts, cupcakes, muffins and other pastries (but no bread; not yet, at least) in the old Lenny’s Subs sites. The bakery is a project from For the Table Hospitality, the group that owns Madison Social, Township and Centrale in CollegeTown, specifically Matt Thompson, managing partner at Madison Social, and Lauren and Mike Poulos. We’re excited about their plans for specialty donuts. It’s expected to open in early August. 1306 Thomasville Rd.

– Tin Lizzy’s

 

Tin Lizzy’s Cantina: OK, it’s another taco joint but it sounds like a fun fit for College Town. Owners/founders Chris Hadermann, John Piemonte and Mike Evertsen all met while students at FSU and later opened their first taco restaurant in Atlanta’s Buckhead area in 2005. The Tallahassee branch will be the 14th in the chain, with other links in Atlanta and South Carolina. Don’t expect Tex-Mex or Mexican-style tacos. Tin Lizzy’s “FlexMex” style stars items like a low country boil taco with shrimp, chorizo, corn, tater tots; one with Korean barbecue; and skillets including the Cowboy with fried chicken, bacon and baked beans. Other items include quesadillas, entrees and salads. It’s expected to open near Township by the end of August. 619 S. Woodward Ave.