I tried to go to Cantina Ranchero in Emerson, just to give it a shot (knowing that I wouldn't be very impressed). Really I did. But they looked closed, even though they probably weren't. Quickly losing interest in rolling the dice, I headed down the road to Joyce Chinese Cuisine. Glad I did.
Our first meal was mostly hits, with one dud. This meal, while just two dishes, was spot on.
I love mung bean noodles, and the Mum [sic] Bean Noodle w. Spicy Pepper Sauce reached out to me. These big fat silky hard-to-handle noodles are sure to flop around your chopsticks, sending sauce and oil onto your shirt. Don't let this deter you. Soldier on. That sauce is composed of the sweet and fermented flavors of black beans, numbing Sichuan peppercorns, scallion, and down below on the bottom is bright red chili oil. If your wardrobe is anything like mine, your shirt will be better for it. One of my favorite dishes and executed well here.
I'm a sucker for pickled peppers in Sichuan food, and in pretty much all food if I'm being honest. The Stir-fried Fish Fillet w. Pickled Pepper seemed like a very good way to go. The dish comes out in a large cauldron, atop a portable cooktop. This cooktop keeps the sauce bubbling and hot hot hot. I'm not sure the hot hot hot is all that necessary, so I turned it down down down halfway through the carnage.
This dish was excellent. All sorts of textures, with pieces of ginger, garlic, greens, mushrooms, some other stuff that I couldn't identify, and a good amount of pickled peppers. In your mouth those peppers explode with a blast of bright vinegar and spicy pepper. All kinds of stuff going on in your mouth with this one. I like that. And you could make a meal of the fire-water-broth-oil-soaked rice when you're done.
The pieces of fish are ridiculously tender. I'm not sure how they go about cooking fish like this. But I'll try to figure it out tonight with the leftover fire-water-broth-oil, which I of course brought home.
This dish could be a good entrée into Sichuan cuisine for your friends who like spicy food, but aren't too sure about tripe and intestines and slices of pork belly and Sichuan peppercorns.
The place is clean and bright, somewhat upscale, and service has been completely diligent and pleasant during my two visits. Water is refilled without asking. Food comes out in a reasonable amount of time (like, fast, in my experience, which squares with my experiences at many Sichuan restaurants)
Having authentic Sichuan like this in that part of Bergen County is a blessing. It seems that I'm not alone in this thought, as the place had a good amount of diners during a weekday lunch.
I'd like to see some other Chinese cuisines represented in this area of NJ. We've got plenty of Sichuan, some Shanghainese, and Hong Kong. But China is a vast place with many regional cuisines. Someday, maybe.
Joyce Chinese Cuisine : 478 Kinderkamack Rd : River Edge, NJ : 201.261.8858 : BYO : Park around back and come in the back door (and then up the stairs).