Cocktail nerds in Boston are familiar with Ran Duan’s compelling two-generational family story. He taught himself bartending at his parents’ pair of Sichuan Garden restaurants, then vaulted to international fame and awards on the strength of his classic Tiki-inspired original cocktails. Having already added two gorgeous destination craft-cocktail bars (Baldwin Bar and Baldwin & Sons Trading Co.) to his folks’ second restaurant in Woburn, he just remodeled their Brookline Village original. The new Blossom Bar at Sichuan Garden likewise centers on elegant, exotic drinks and traditional Sichuan fare.
Duan’s specialty cocktails feature craft and classic Tiki hallmarks like high-quality spirits, fresh juices and spice syrups, careful choices of garnishes and ice shape/size, and an emphasis on tropical flavors, here leaning South American. Thus, the Angie Valencia ($13) combines aguardiente (the Colombian anise-scented cane spirit) with grapefruity amaro Aperol and citrus over coarsely crushed ice garnished with mint and papaya. It’s weird and bracing and lovely. The Big Sur ($13) blends vodka, Licor 43 (a vanilla-fragrant, herbal Spanish cordial), lemon and pureed cupuaçu, an Amazonian fruit that tastes like chocolate and pineapple, yielding another complex, sweetish fascinator. The Broken Spanish ($14) blends tequila, avocado, coconut, lime and Thai basil into a trippy riff on a piña colada; that salty/crunchy/nutty coating on the rim is crushed chapulines (Google that). The Girl from Ipanema ($14) shakes up cachaça, crème de menthe, vanilla, passionfruit puree, lemon and egg white into a pretty, foamy confection, like a fruity Brazilian riff on a pisco sour. This is brilliantly conceived and executed bartending from both Duan and his lieutenants.
The team also deftly handles orders from the Tiki canon like Jet Pilots and mai tais (albeit without the kitschy ceramic mugs), as well as classics like Negronis and martinis. There’s a 10-deep list of wines ($9-$13/glass, $36-$52/bottle), and a half-dozen beers running from usefully neutral lagers like Tsingtao ($5) to richer novelties like Maui Coconut Porter ($9).
Blossom Bar’s menu distills the greatest hits of the original Sichuan Garden’s traditional Sichuan fare and adds a few American-Chinese cliches for the less adventurous. Dan dan noodles ($7.50) with minced pork and spinach swim in an oily, pungent vinaigrette-tinged crimson with searing dried chilies (discard these, as they’ve already imparted their heat and flavor) and the strangely numbing-cold heat of Sichuan peppercorns: hair-raising in its ferocity. A similar mala (chili/Sichuan pepper) accent underscored with copious garlic, ginger and a subtle sweetness heightens the pleasure of slightly chewy pork dumplings with chili vinaigrette ($7.50). Sweet and pungent ribs ($11) provide useful contrast with a generous pile of tender, bite-sized chunks of bone-in pork in a salty/sweet glaze. Cool but not cooling is cucumber with garlic sauce ($9), julienned cukes and a lot of crushed peanuts with more garlic and mala intensity in the oily dressing. A stuffed tofu-skin crepe ($10.50) bulging with shiitake mushroom and bamboo shoots offers another sizable, mild respite from the fire-breathing courses.
Duck gets showcased brilliantly in a pair of entrees, starting with Chengdu duck stew ($31), half a tea-smoked duck hacked into pieces and served in a luscious mahogany broth scented with five-spice powder. Shredded duck with spring ginger ($23), peppers and onions delivers the smoked-duck fat-bomb joy without the bones. Back on the hot-hot-heat tip, Chong qing dry hot chicken ($17) yields fried-chicken crunchiness without a lot of batter, plus another pounding mala blast. A different, milder chili heat and flavor is conjured out of shredded beef ($17) with fresh green cayenne peppers in a soy garlic oil sauce. Wok-roasted shrimp and scallops ($25) appears on a lot of tables, boasting beautifully fresh shellfish if not the most amazing fry job, and it could use more salt. Ma paul tofu ($14), the stewy mix of soft-tofu cubes, minced pork and scallions, throws another bloody mala punch; you’ll need some white rice ($1.50/$3) for relief.
Vegetable dishes include pea pod stems ($12.50) that are actually green bean leaves, a quality offseason substitution with a judicious load of garlic, and eggplant with spicy garlic sauce ($14.50), tender Japanese eggplant and green peppers in garlic and soy with just a dash of capsaicin fire. If the intensity of traditional Sichuan flavors isn’t your bag, there are American-Chinese standbys like nicely browned, thick-wrappered pan-seared pork dumplings ($8) and hoary old dishes we didn’t sample such as crab Rangoon ($9), General Tso chicken ($16) and beef & broccoli ($18). The room is newly done up in high mid-Mod style, with plain solid woods and mint green walls. The task-juggling
staff (tonight’s maître’d is tomorrow’s bartender, etc.) is smooth, affable and enthusiastic.
Much as I enjoy the originality and deliciousness of Duan’s cocktails, and followed the staff’s exhortations to pair them with the consistently excellent Sichuan fare, I’m not entirely sold on boozy beverages—however complex and finely wrought—with dinner. I’m still likelier to enjoy those outlandish, slightly sweet, beguiling concoctions by themselves first and then switch to refreshing Asian beers with food. Whichever way you go, Blossom Bar at Sichuan Garden winningly combines ancient immigrant traditions and fresh local ideas into memorably insistent flavors. Between your glass and your plate, it’s practically the American dream. ◆
The Big Sur
The Broken Spanish
The Girl from Ipanema
Dan dan noodles
Cucumber with garlic sauce
Stuffed tofu crepe
Chengdu duck stew
Chong qing dry hot chicken
Ma paul tofu
Pea pod stems
Blossom Bar, 295 Washington St., Brookline (617-734-1870) blossombarbrookline.com; Liquor: Full; Hours: Sun.-Thu., 5-10:30 pm (bar till midnight); Fri.-Sat., 5-11:30 pm (bar till midnight); Parking: Metered street spaces