Middling Report from Szechuan Gourmet
Szechuan Gourmet came recommended (IIRC it's on 39th in midtown) but results were mixed. I come from LA, where szechuan in the San Gabriel Valley is a bit of a religion. At Szechuan Gourmet, the spicy szechuan noodles were pretty damned good and the seafood salad was pleasant. but my friend ordered "amazing spicy chicken" which was gloopy and americanized, and the fried szechuan lamb i ordered was dry and uninspiring. perhaps i didn't order correctly.
I just went for lunch last Tuesday and I liked it very much:
The ubiquitous cold sesame noodles, like those at Wu Liang Ye, were satisfyingly spicy and relatively light–unlike the leaden peanut-butter monstrosities one finds in most “Szechuan” restaurants. The dry sauteed long green beans were mildly spicy and had an appealing nutty, roasted flavor. Interestingly, there were a number of dishes that are not on the menu at either Wu Liang Ye or Grand Sichuan, Manhattan’s main Sichuan contenders. The house special baby rib pot featured a fairy light brown sauce with a nice blend of star anise and Sichuan peppercorn as primary spices, though the ribs themselves were a little scant in the meat department. The waitress tried several times to give us an escape clause from the “Beef Chen-Style (Very Spicy).” The dish had four peppers next to it on the menu, the spice equivalent of a XXX rating. The waitress said, “Very spicy, you sure you want?”
“Yes, no problem. That’s fine.”
Still, she returned several minutes later to give us a last chance. “Chen-du beef. Very spicy. It’s OK?”
It was very OK. My lunchmates were a bit worried when they saw the dry crushed pepper coating on the beef slices, but actually it wasn’t as spicy as the ma po tofu at the Lexington branch of Wu Liang Ye, and the flavors were much more complex. The dish featured a nice mix of vegetables, including enoki mushrooms.
For a while, I was hooked on Szechuan Gourmet, but the inconsistency is a nagging problem. I became enamored with the frog there; for bone gnawers like me, it's a treat.