Sampling Sichuan Spices

dining_omeiThe popular O’mei on Mission continues to dazzle diners with its array of flavors

For more than 30 years O’mei Restaurant has served its classy renditions of Chinese cuisine on busy Mission Street. It had been some time since I had visited, and was looking forward to its special brand of spiciness.

We were offered a dinner menu, a specials menu which included seasonal Chinese vegetables, and the express menu which included noodle bowls, sautées and chow mein.

We chose two appetizers ($3) from a tray of six. String beans were mixed with plenty of garlic. Tanned and lacquered cashews were polka dotted with black and white sesame seeds for a sweet and salty snack.

Red Oil Dumplings ($8.95) are a family favorite. Six steamed, plump pot stickers were stuffed with a smoothly minced filling of pork and vegetables. There was a hint of sweetness in the spicy crimson sauce.

The flavorings in O’mei’s chicken dishes include rosemary with mushrooms (not spicy), mustard with apples, and apricots with almonds. Sichuan Gan Bian Chicken ($14.45) was our chicken of choice. Dark meat, lightly battered and dry-sautéed, was tossed with sweet water chestnuts, thin bamboo shoot tips, frilly cloud ear fungus, and plenty of bright red chilies in a light, syrupy Pixian chili sauce with sweet and tart flavors.

O’mei offers a unique array of fried rice dishes including smoked chicken, Sichuan bacon, and Chili Fried Rice with Thai curry, chilies and cilantro. Our traditional large serving of Shrimp Fried Rice ($11.95) included corn, peas, and scrambled egg with pieces of prawns.

Beef is cooked with numerous interesting ingredients such as fresh orange sauce with Sichuan peppers and cumin-tomato beef with Silk Road spices. The menu warned that Spicy Simmered Beef and Greens ($15.45) had a “spicy-numbing broth.” It did indeed bestow a pleasant flame. Tender flank steak, zucchini, perhaps a bit of bok choy, long green strips of onion, dried red chilies and salty, fermented beans were topped with a generous mound of minced garlic.

In closing, house-made desserts to cool a Sichuan-tingling tongue ($3.50 to $4.50) include black sesame or banana ice creams, and I was pleased to find no service charge on my bill.

O’mei Restaurant, 2316 Mission St., Santa Cruz, 425-8458. Beer and wine. Open Tuesday through Sunday 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. with dinner from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m.


On Sunday August 21, the International Calamari Festival will return from hiatus to India Joze on Front Street. The restaurant, which recently celebrated its first anniversary, is a smaller reincarnation of the original one on Center Street, but remains absolutely marvelous.

Chef Jozseph Schultz, who describes his creations as “world-spanning cuisine,” orchestrated this festival for at least 17 years.

Besides sampling the incredible textural, taste and flavor combinations that Schultz is known for, I expect the festival to be part performance art, with Schultz and his staff at the helm of high output woks making quick work of cooking the delicate seafood, and part history lesson demonstrated by the flavors of ancient cuisines.

Advance purchase of tickets is required.

International Culinary Festival, Sunday August 21, 5 p.m. until 8 p.m., 418 Front St. Advance tickets available online or at the restaurant. Visit indiajoze.com/festivals.shtml#calamari

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