La Canela and Sichuan Pavilion in Rockville: Double the Pleasure

I’m doubling up on this blog post by reviewing two restaurants at once. They may not seem like a perfect pair at first glance.  One is Peruvian.  One is Sichuan.  Their common thread?  They are located minutes away from each other in the Rockville Town Center area.  I ate at both restaurants in the same week and had shrimp dishes at each.  Think of it like a Groupon with a two for one deal. Except you don’t really get to take advantage of a discount.

I declare the Monday night of Labor Day Weekend “daily deal night.”  This means that we have to dine somewhere that will reduce by one the pile of coupons which is becoming unmanageable in a folder in my car. My husband and I decide to use our Groupon for the Peruvian restaurant La Canela, based on its Rockville Town Center location.

We arrive at the restaurant separately, as I’ve attempted to have a shopping spree on Rockville Pike.  I can’t find a thing to buy, which makes me mildly grumpy. While I wait  for my husband to arrive I decide to order the La Canela house cocktail. The drink is made from Pisco (a classic Peruvian brandy) with cream and cinnamon.  The cream and cinnamon tease me into thinking I am drinking a cappuccino. I chug down half the drink before I realize that Pisco packs a strong punch.  I need some food to alleviate some of my sudden inebriation.

The altered state results in some indecision.  I choose seafood soup to start, which features shrimp.  I am leaning towards a beef dish for my entree.  I can’t decide if I’ve earned the right to some red meat.  I’ve overindulged in my eating throughout the weekend (what else is new) so I end up blurting out “shrimp” when it comes time to order, forgetting about the soup with shrimp I’ve just ordered.

I start with the soup.  This is a combination of perfectly cooked shrimp, corn, potato, and peas in a nicely seasoned tomato-based broth.

La Canela seafood soup

My entree arrives.  Perfectly cooked shrimp flecked with chives, in a beautiful tomato-based sauce. Sound familar?  It’s startlingly similar to the soup. Both dishes are appetizing but I do wish my server had steered me away from the duplication.

La Canela shrimp and tacu-tacu

I thoroughly enjoy the accompanying side which is tacu-tacu, an Afro Peruvian dish made from beans and rice.  The flavors are a welcome diversion from my duo of shrimp.
My husband begins with tiradito- thinly sliced pieces of flounder with a light dressing, garlic, and chives.  This is a refreshing dish, particularly when paired with a bite of avocado.

La Canela tiraditu
His entree is trout with a crispy skin.  He likes the texture and the flavor but it’s not a very complex dish.  It can best be called satisfying.
La Canela trout

Once the $60 Groupon is applied, we’re left with a balance of $10 plus tip.  Not bad. The question is how would I feel about La Canela without the Groupon?  Good question.  La Canela is a solid choice for a pleasant dining experience in Rockville Town Center when you’re looking for something a little outside the box.  But watch out for the Pisco!

The next night I find myself back near Rockville Town Center at Sichuan Pavilion to meet a friend I haven’t seen in several years.   She works nearby and it is a perfect chance to try the place that Washingtonian‘s Todd Kliman recommends when I ask on his weekly chat if there is anywhere in the area that compares to the wonderful Peter Chang China Grill in Charlottesville, Virginia.  (here is a link to my blog post if you missed it)

According to Todd:

Probably the best is Sichuan Pavilion, in Rockville. I ate there recently, and am still thinking about a sensational plate of fish with spicy pickled cabbage.  This is a foundational dish of Szechuan cooking, and you can find any number of variations on it in the cafes, diners and restaurants that make up the sprawling new Chinatown of north Rockville. But nothing like this.  For one thing, it’s not served whole, with bones. The kitchen renders the fish — a flounder, in this case — into easy-to-eat medallions. They’re either poached or braised, and have a lusciousness you rarely find in fish at any level. I would be happy with just a plate of beautifully cooked fish, but the kitchen adds a few handfuls of finely sliced pickled cabbage and bands of green onions, too.
Killer. Just killer.

It goes without saying (doesn’t it?) that we order this dish.  We also order scallion pancake and creamy custard shrimp. Have I forgotten about my over-shrimping the night before?  Apparently so.

I like the scallion pancake because it isn’t greasy and it is light on the salt. My friend misses the salt and reaches for the shaker.

Our server isn’t able to tell us much about the shrimp, mostly because her command of English isn’t quite up to par. She does tell us it has a mayonnaise-type sauce.  We take a leap of faith.  The dish ends up being heavily fried. The sauce is slightly sweet and creamy.  This isn’t a bad dish, but there is nothing compelling about it.

I have high hopes for the flounder with sour pickled cabbage and peppers.  Indeed, it packs quite a punch. The pickled cabbage and peppers provide a nice contrast in texture and flavor to the red-pepper laden fish. I have to agree with Todd Kliman. It’s a pleasure to have pieces of deboned fish.  They are smooth as silk.
Unfortunately, we have assumed this is a vegetarian dish. Because of the communication issue when ordering the shrimp, we don’t ask. However, we have leftovers and now I want to be sure so I can give my husband a taste when I get home.  He doesn’t eat meat, nor does the friend I am dining with.  The server doesn’t seem to know exactly what’s in the dish.  She returns to the table a few minutes later and tells us there is duck in the broth.  My friend grimaces but it is too late now. On the plus side (for me), I have lunch for the next day.

Sichuan Pavilion’s menu is filled with dishes that sound intriguing.I am holding off on assigning my usual numeric rating until I can visit again, hopefully with some additional dining companions in tow.

Despite ordering two similar dishes at La Canela and one dish that didn’t knock my socks off at Sichuan Pavilion, I am content in the knowledge that I have experienced two different but equally appealing restaurants in Rockville. Sometimes you just have to go double or nothing. 

La Canela, 141 Gibbs St., Rockville, MD  
My rating (on a 1-5 scale):  3.4 

Washington Post review

Sichuan Pavilian, 410 Hungerford Drive, Rockville, MD 
My rating (on a 1-5 scale):  tbd

Zagat rating:  23

 La Canela on Urbanspoon

Sichuan Pavilion on Urbanspoon 


  1. Jen @ Savory Simple says

    I'm really enjoying reading through your reviews. I live across the street from both of these places and have never been wowed by either, though I had high hopes for Sichuan Pavilion when I saw how interesting the menu was. Spice Xing definitely has the best options on the block.

    If you're ever in the area again and looking for a sweet treat, Cake Dreams is a few blocks away and has some of the most amazing buttercream cupcakes.

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