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If the old rule about eating only at international restaurants where the natives eat is true, then Sichuan Chinese Restaurant (11588 Westfield Blvd., Carmel, 317-844-7559) must be one of the most authentic ethnic eateries in central Indiana. Stopping in on a recent weeknight at this storefront eatery in a slightly timeworn Carmel strip mall, we were the only people not chattering away in Chinese or some other Asian language. Clearly this is a favorite among immigrants longing for a true taste of home. But even if you do not speak Cantonese or Mandarin, you can get a pretty inspired array of stir-fries and noodle dishes with plenty of chili oil, that ubiquitous Sichuan staple, to wake the palate. Feel like some “rabbit dices” or the “pork kidney stir fry”? Then ask for the Chinese menu, and you will have over double the choices, some of which are translated into English and many more of which are written out in Chinese on the back of the menu. Having come to love Dan Dan noodles from other area Sichuan restaurants, we ordered them as a starter, along with more ubiquitous crab Rangoon, no doubt a popular item on Sichuan’s lunchtime buffet. The noodles looked like so much dry spaghetti until we stirred up the dark, rich, sinus-clearing sauce from the bottom. The crab Rangoon were generous, not-too-greasy wontons stuffed with a fresh-tasting filling that actually did seem to contain a little crab. For entrees, we went for one of the house specialties, scallops in garlic sauce (which promised that no garlic would linger in the customer’s mouth), as well as Mongolian chicken and an eggplant dish our waitress recommended from the Chinese menu. The big, meaty scallops did indeed have a spicy sweet sauce that, while redolent of garlic, lacked the bitter pungency of other Asian dishes we had eaten. Slices of white-meat chicken in a drier sauce with crisp slices of sweet onion made for a nice contrast, and the delectable, not-too-viscous sauce on tender strips of eggplant drew the two dishes together deliciously with plenty of white rice. With a short selection of Asian beers and a friendly staff standing by to tend to your needs (and not look askance when you ask for a dish that natives might eat,) Sichuan is definitely worth forsaking your neighborhood takeout for the drive north to Carmel.
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