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Szechuan Gourmet - latest trip

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My uncle was in town and wanted chinese food, so we decided to go to Szechuan Gourmet, which I debately think is the best sichuan food in the city right now...this trip was good although i thought it was lacking with previous trips, which is probably b/c of what we ordered. Here's what we got:

- Sichuan wontons - these were good though not great, simply wontons in hot oil and some soy sauce...i think the version at GS is better mainly b/c i like the wontons better there (nice skin, better filling)
- Dan dan mian - pretty good, but again i actually like the version better at GS, the noodles were fine, but it was the sauce, not enough tang and too salty
- Cucumbers in hot oil - i really like this dish at SG, but it wasn't as good as previous although still very good. I think it was the cucumbers themselves, previously when ive had it they were sliced small and tasted very delicate, but for some reason they were bigger and just tasted a bit off
- Dou miao - this was great, i dont know what this is called in english, but its kind of like spinach...really great, sauteed with some garlic, not too oily or garlicky
- Jia chang dofu (home style tofu) - awesome, fried tofu in a thick spicy black bean sauce and i asked them for beef in it, the beef was veyr good, nice and tender slices
- Hong shao niu rou (red cooked beef) - this was on the specials board, so even though its not really a sichaun dish i figured it would be alright since it was on the specials board...HORRIBLE, i mean this was literally the single handed worst dish i've had at a chinese restaurant in years...beef ribs were ridiculously tough, sauce was a watery gravy with no flavor...never order this no matter what u do

Overall, it was a good meal with the exception of one dish, but i still really like the restaurant...i shouldve gotten the cumin lamb, which i always get (its awesome)

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  1. No argument - Szechuan Gourmet is one of the tops in Manhattan.
    One of my favorite dishes there is stir-fried pork belly with chili leeks.
    It's the closest version I've been able to find to a similar dish that used to be served at the now-defunct Dynasty restaurant that was on 110th and Broadway (although, as I recall, at Dynasty they weren't afraid to call the meat bacon).

    2 Replies
    1. re: racer x

      I think their shredded pork is better than the pork belly. The leeks/garlic slices are always sort of undercooked while the pork belly is overcooked.

      1. re: racer x

        Absolutely. Strangely enough the water cooked beef they serve there is also the closest to Dynasty's version.

      2. So what are their best dishes? Also, when you say best Sichuan food in the city, does that include Flushing, Queens? Thanks for this review, I really must try it.

        25 Replies
        1. re: Brian S

          no when i say "city" i'm talking about manhattan only, flushing obviously has better options that you are definately well acquianted with (you've post alot haha)

          i think their cumin lamb is outstanding, i like their dou miao, cucumbers in hot oil, water cooked beef, i had a great intestine dish although i can't remember what its called. I've been there about 4 times and ive found some great dishes, but i'm pretty sure there are a lot more. Interestingly everytime i go there its gotten more and more popular (always more crowded) and its been all chinese clientele

          1. re: Lau

            It seems to have picked up some of the clientele from the Grand Sichuan on 9th and 51st after it closed.

            1. re: fgf

              its unfortunate they closed...that was the best GS branch by far

              1. re: Lau

                I've always preferred the Chelsea branch.

          2. re: Brian S

            Yes, SG has the best Szechuan food in Manhattan in my opinion. Best dishes? My idea of "best" might not match your idea because we'd favor different things. That's why I always prefer to avoid anointing certain dishes as "must haves."

            Hole in the wall restaurants might only be good at one or two things but full fledged restaurants ought to have great kitchens that are able to turn our great dishes across the board. SG meets those criteria and their atmosphere is lightyears better than GSI.

            Make 2 or 3 visits and order around the menu. Trust your own taste and don't depend on tipsters. You'll do just fine.

            1. re: Bob Martinez

              I like your recommendations. I recently ordered something you recommended three years ago, "Enhanced Pork", and it was fantastic.
              www.chowhound.com/topics/241445
              Even if the poster favors different things from me, his recs are still of value because it's all too easy for me to fall into a rut of ordering the same things.

              1. re: Brian S

                OK, because I like you I'll give you one. :-)

                Double Cooked Sliced Pork Belly with chili leeks. It's a great dish.

              2. re: Bob Martinez

                Frank Bruni reviewed Szechuan Gourmet in today's NY Times and awarded it 2 stars, the same ranking he gave to Spicy & Tasty. Well deserved.

                http://events.nytimes.com/2008/07/23/...

                1. re: Bob Martinez

                  Dammit, there goes my "midtown great Chinese food" secret!

                  1. re: Bob Martinez

                    good review...he found alot of the good dishes too (i love the cumin lamb)

                    1. re: Lau

                      I love the cumin lamb as well -- it's great. Funny, I think I've ordered all but two of his recommended dishes. I can only guess that he's reading our CH reviews.

                      The review says lunchtime is busy, but actually I've never been for lunch, only weekend dinner (Fridays, Saturdays) and there's usually a wait for a table around 7:30, 8pm...luckily they do take reservations.

                    2. re: Bob Martinez

                      They're definitely feeling the effects of the review. I called to place an order 10 minutes before the restaurant opened up so I'd avoid waiting forever for my food. Usually, I get the food within 20 minutes. Today, I had to wait for 55 minutes for my order to arrive!

                      1. re: Miss Needle

                        The food is generally the same -- ordered dan dan noodles, mabo tofu, prawns with asparagus and pork and braised fish in chili miso with the exception that the prawns (a dish I have ordered numerous times) were swimming in oil like it was mabo tofu. I'm sure this had to do with them hurrying to fill all the crazy number of orders. I think I'll wait a bit before ordering from them again. Lunchtime was always chaotic before the review. I'm kind of scared to see what it's like today.

                        1. re: Miss Needle

                          Give it a few days for the neophytes to try it once and then forget about it.

                          1. re: ESNY

                            Yeah, I'm going to probably wait a week or two. They also forgot to pack a container of rice. Can't really blame them though. The delivery man told me they were getting slammed.

                          2. re: Miss Needle

                            I would agree to wait on ordering or even going there for lunch. I stopped by to pick up a menu around 1:30 today and the line was literally out the door.

                          3. re: Miss Needle

                            If you want your order fast, just do pick up. I place an order and in the time it takes me to get there, about 5 minutes, my food is bagged and waiting on the counter already. My coworker ordered at around 11:30, just right after they opened and said it was quick like usual.

                            1. re: SomeRandomIdiot

                              Normally, I would pick it up, which is what I usually do. But I just can't at the moment. So it will have to be delivery for a while.

                              1. re: Miss Needle

                                end of the day, you want them to get slammed b/c it will keep them in business...hate when a restaurant u love goes out of biz b/c no one knows about them

                                1. re: Lau

                                  I'm really happy for them. They've always been very good to me, even when I call them (as they can't recognize me that way). I've had not-the-best experiences with a lot of Chinese restaurants on the phone. SG has always been so sweet and nice.

                                  I thought they were doing really well before (but I could be wrong). During the day, you had the huge lunchtime crowd. During the evenings (weekends as I don't think I've been there on a weekday evening), it's been pretty packed with mostly Chinese customers. I just hope SG can handle the new influx.

                                  1. re: Miss Needle

                                    now that i think about it, ure right the people at SG are incredibly nice now that i think about it esp for a chinese restaurant

                                    the only place that is that nice to me is GS on st marks but thats b/c the same waiter has been serving me at that branch and the old hell's kitchen branch for many years

                                    1. re: Miss Needle

                                      Every time I've been there for lunch (I mostly do take out) there has been a wait for a table and a handful of people lingering around waiting for their take out. I usually go between 12:30 and 1:30. Could only imagine what it was like today.

                                      1. re: Miss Needle

                                        Actually I hated dealing with those two disgruntled women up front who took care of the takeout. Rude and impatient, especially when I needed a coupla secs to remember all the names of the stuff I was picking up. Was pleased when both of them were replaced in recent weeks.
                                        The lunchtime crowd seemed to be smaller the last few times I went for takeout. There were empty tables and noone waiting upfront for takeout.

                              2. re: Bob Martinez

                                If the Manhattan Szechwan Gourmet and Spicy and Tasty get two stars, how is the original Szechwan Gourmet in Flushing doing? I thought it was comparable, if not better, than the Manhattan branch. It's been over a year since I've been, and I'm not sure if I've heard anything about the Flushing branch in that time. Bruni does mention it, but I wonder if he's actually compared them or simply relegating it to the second tier. Hard to read between the lines.

                            2. re: Brian S

                              Brian, you really need to check it out. Make sure to try the mapo tofu.

                            3. Is Szechuan Gourmet better than WuLiangYe? Is that possible? (Where is it located?)

                              I have heard of more than one instances of Chinese nationals who would dine at WuLiangYe every day during their stay in NYC. WuLiangYe has an interesting menu (compared to the mostly unimaginative and unchanging menus in almost all Shanghai and Cantonese places.)

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: newportt2004

                                i like it better although WLY is very close. Its on 39th bet 5th and 6th. Something to note is that people tend to compare SG, GS and WLY to see whats best. While i think SG is probably the best right now, i do think each of them has certain dishes that they make best. For example, I think the mapo dofu at WLY is the best, wontons in red oil are the best at GS etc etc. Also, if you really like sichuan cuisine (and it sounds like you do), highly recommend going to flushing as its better there (xiao la jiao, spicy & tasty and a new place that Brian S is recommending Chengdu Heaven or Chengdu Tian Fu). Flushing is well worth the trip (LIRR takes 15 mins from the city, dont take the 7 it'll take an hour)

                                Also, i think that the statement "compared to the mostly unimaginative and unchanging menus in almost all Shanghai and Cantonese places" is a sort of unfair statement b/c Wu Liang Ye is simply a different type of chinese cuisine from a different province, the dishes they serve are the generally most classic (and generic) sichuan dishes, i've been to chengdu (capital of sichuan) and the breadth of the cuisine is far greater than what you see here. If all the people that came to the US from china had been from sichuan you'd probably saying the opposite because then all the chinatowns would be filled with sichuan restaurants that arent that different from each other (instead you have a bunch of cantonese restaurants like that). Also, i think people dont always order the right stuff at cantonese restaurants and hence get alot of food that is pretty mediocre. Cantonese done right is probably one of the best chinese cuisines (my opinion obviously). Though i do agree on shangahinese restaurants in the city, but thats mainly b/c none of them are very good period (as opposed to being unimaginative)...one exception i think the sheng jian bao (fried tiny buns) at moonhouse are very good (passable in asia)

                                1. re: newportt2004

                                  I've only eaten at Wu Liang Ye a couple of times, whereas Szechuan Gourmet was pretty much a weekly meal. In my opinion, however, there's no comparison -- Szechuan Gourmet all the way.

                                2. Is this restaurant affiliated with Szechuan Gourmet in Flushing? Both have the same Chinese name (and the Chinese name is not Szechuan Gourmet) and both have menus with the exact same scrollwork and flowers design on the top.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Brian S

                                    yes its a direct branch of the flushing Szechuan Gourmet

                                  2. I've been a fan of WLY so I'm very interested in trying Szechuan Gourmet. Is there anything you can recommend that I must try?

                                    1. i've tried a few szechuan restaurants in nyc (including wly and others - not szechuan gourmet yet though). to be honest none of them have been as good as a place i used to go to in san diego called spicy city, where i got what was just about my favorite dish ever - "fish in hot water", which was basically fish fillets and cabbage in a giant bowl of soupy oily spicy goodness. i guess my question is, what would such a dish be called at szechuan gourmet or wu liang ye? have you tried it?

                                      hmm, also, i'm curious if anyone has had any success eating szechuan food and not regretting later that night or the next day - it seems like anything soooo oily and spicy can't be good for the stomach. any suggestions on how to eat szechuan and not feel the pain!?!

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: aahnnt

                                        I've seen the sui zhu ru ("Fish cooked in water") at Wu Liang Ye. Maybe you can describe it to the waitress.

                                        Lau, dou miao are called pea shoots in English. Yum.

                                        Speaking of yummy vegetables, where can I get a great hollow vegetable dish (khong shin cai)? The GS I always go to never has it.

                                        1. re: aahnnt

                                          They call it "braised fish filets with napa and roasted chili" I've never had it there, but I have had it at three places in Flushing and loved it each time. Most places have different names for it in English, though no one calls it "water-cooked",whicb is the Chinese name.

                                        2. How is the eel here? Anybody try it?

                                          7 Replies
                                          1. re: JacksonH

                                            I tried their braised eel with fresh garlic and pickled chili once a couple of months ago. I didn't care much for it - the spices were so overwhelming that I couldn't taste the eel. (The fact that the rice was a bit undercooked that day may also have affected my memory of the meal.)

                                            It may not be fair to judge based on a single try. I am usually a fan of eel dishes, so I will be giving them another try.

                                            1. re: JacksonH

                                              Yes.

                                              A friend and I had a great dinner at Szechuan Gourmet last night. We got:

                                              Smoked Tofu Shreds w. Asian Celery, which unlike a similar dish at Spicy & Tasty, had hot oil and the ma-la effect going. I noticed how fresh and good the celery was.

                                              Thin Sliced Beef Tendon w. Roasted Chili Vinaigrette, which mascarpone found very peppery, but I found more watery and vinagery and not very spicy. The texture was firmer than the comparable dish at my local Grand Sichuan. We both liked this dish.

                                              Braised Eel w. Napa, Bamboo, Tofu, in Spiced Chili Broth. This dish was a knockout, wonderfully tasty, and we were supplied with a meshed spoon, perfect for serving this kind of soupy dish.

                                              Goat in Casserole. This dish was a special on the board. It was just as good as the eel, but in a different way.

                                              My verdict on my first meal at Szechuan Gourmet is that this restaurant has a much longer Sichuan-style menu than Grand Sichuan St. Marks, though not as long as Spicy & Tasty's, that it's a serious restaurant that is making real Chinese food for Chinese people (the waiter said after serving the eel to us that he hoped it wasn't too hot for us, which is exactly the right attitude -- serve the real stuff to the patrons and hope they like it; don't dumb it down), and that in quality, it's clearly better than Grand Sichuan St. Marks and comparable to Spicy & Tasty. It also costs much more - some $60 including tip for an admittedly large meal (there were leftovers to take home), as compared to around $40 for a meal of comparable size at Spicy & Tasty. But this place's location is much more convenient for me and most of my friends. I look forward to eating my way through the menu!

                                              1. re: Pan

                                                glad you liked it...i think its a high quality restaurant and a great addition for manhattan

                                              2. re: JacksonH

                                                Unfortunately it is no longer offered (at least at 56th St)

                                                1. re: plf515

                                                  Since when? I've had eel there many times, and it was definitely on the menu the last time I was there (no more than 3 weeks ago, if that).

                                                  1. re: Pan

                                                    I was told this about a week ago. It was ON the menu and I ordered it. The waiter told me "No more eel at this restaurant". I don't know if this is permanent or not (I hope not, I love eel and SG is a new favorite of mine). I think I got one of the waiters who speaks relatively little English.

                                                    1. re: plf515

                                                      I was told they were out of it by the manager last time I was there, I now remember. I think this situation is temporary.

                                              3. Did some "baidu" (chinese version of google) and got the following:

                                                "Water Cooked Meat Slice" (Shuei Zhu Rou Pian, in China when you just say meat, it's usually pork) was invented in 1983 by a talented chef in Szechuan when he made this dish in a cooking competition and won an award. Later on he used a similar technique to make "Water Cooked FIsh" for his friend who doesn't eat meat. It was another success and the "Water Cooked" dishes caught on in Szechuan. By 1990, in Qongqing (pronounced chong-ching, capital city of Szechuan, the famed WW2 war time capital of China), there was an entire street that sells nothing but "Water Cooked Fish".

                                                I've only had "Water Cooked Beef" in some so so restaurant. Looks like it may not be the original invention. So want to try "Water Cooked FIsh" in one of the "big three" now.

                                                5 Replies
                                                1. re: newportt2004

                                                  For a group celebratory lunch, which place has better ambiance - WLY or SG? And do either take reservations? Thanks!

                                                  1. re: newportt2004

                                                    i see that szechuan gourmet has two similar items listed:

                                                    Fish Fillets with napa, bamboo, cellophane in spiced broth for 22.95 (under "Delicacies"); and
                                                    Braised Fish Filets w Napa and roasted chili for 14.95 (under "sichuan gourmet").

                                                    which do you think the difference is? are they both "water cooked fish" or not?

                                                    1. re: aahnnt

                                                      The first is NOT water cooked. Also, it costs $8 more.

                                                      1. re: aahnnt

                                                        I was wondering the same thing when I was there last night. I ordered the first one, and can tell you that its served in a gigantic metal bowl, enough to feed 6 easily. There is all manner of spices and ingredients in it: woodear mushrooms, shiitake, fennel seeds, sichuan peppercorns, leeks, chinese celery, what looked like cardamon pods, cellophane noodles, napa cabbage and fish fillets (and probably other things I missed). But the thing about this dish that you can't miss is the ground dried chile flakes they put on top of the whole thing, and also the considerable amount of chile oil it contains. It has to be the spiciest dish I've eaten since the last time I had the same dish at Little Pepper (in Flushing). Neither place is messing around with the spices.

                                                        Both versions of this dish are excellent, by the way.

                                                        1. re: banquo

                                                          Then maybe I'm wrong and the first one IS water cooked. It sounds like it. But the Chinese name did not say water cooked 水煮 ... though the second one did.

                                                    2. We ate at SG at about three in the afternoon on New Year's Eve. Most of the other people in the restaurant, which was about half full, were speaking Chinese. The family's verdict was that it was decent, and much better than our meal at the Lex/39th Wu Liang Ye a year ago, but didn't have the edge that we've come to expect from "authentic Sichuan" places in the Bay Area and Toronto. (We did walk around the area in Flushing hosting S&T and XLJ, but didn't eat there, so I can't offer a direct comparison.)

                                                      As an example, the "water-cooked fish" (SG uses nonstandard translations for its dishes, so you need to either read Chinese or be able to match characters) used less liquid, was thickened with cornstarch, and was served in a shallow dish, so it was closer to a standard "Chinese-American" dish. There is nothing wrong with the thickening -- Fuchsia Dunlop, who studied in Chengdu, recommends it in her cookbook -- but the dish simply didn't have the expected intensity. In restaurants where it is served unthickened, it comes with a wire-mesh strainer, which also makes it much easier to eat. Having made the beef version several times at home, I prefer a very slight thickening, and this was just too gloppy.

                                                      We also ordered "ants climbing a tree" (I cannot remember the SG translation), which was quite a disappointment; it was swimming in liquid, making it almost impossible to serve and eat. A trio of vegetables (asparagus, green beans, eggplant) done "yuxiang-style" was nice in terms of the unusual variety, but a little on the sweet side in terms of style. We didn't want to wrestle with a half tea-smoked duck, so we ordered the stir-fried shredded smoked duck, which was a mistake; it came well after the other dishes, and was nothing special (the duck had just been cut with skin and subcutaneous fat attached, rather than shredded).

                                                      Service was friendly and the atmosphere was nice, not as Formica-and-plastic-tablecloth as some. Thinking back to our meal at the Chelsea GS about two years ago, I would have to say that the water-cooked fish at SG was better than anything we had there, but the overall balance of the meal at GS raised it to about the same level for us. --PR

                                                      1. Put away a considerable feast with five others here tonight. I thought our choices were all in all quite exceptional, and filled us up quite well. We paid $15 each. We ate (in this order)

                                                        — Spicy cucumber salad. Clean, low heat; perfect 'amuse'.
                                                        — Diced rabbit and peanut with chili garlic black bean jam. Mixed reviews about the cartilageneous texture, but quite good; clever use of scallion and peanut; delicious 'jam'.
                                                        — Szechuan pork dumplings in chili oil (two orders). Great, delicate texture; I'd say quite perfect.
                                                        — Double cooked sliced pork belly with chili and leeks. Brilliant, as all of you know.
                                                        — Braised cellophane noodles with chili minced pork. Most pronounced Sichuan peppercorn flavor of the meal; vaguely snotty texture (sticky, starchy) that was great with rice.
                                                        — Crispy lamb filets with chili and cumin. Incredible dish with distinct Middle Eastern profile; musty spices, charred dried chilies, garlic, cilantro; order this.
                                                        — Sauteed baby bok choy. Appropriately subtle vegetable accompaniment.

                                                        Four in attendance hadn't eaten here before, and were wildly impressed (I'd only been once, and with one other person, so a large spread was a great thing). The kitchen is shockingly professional and subtle in their approach to flavor and texture. Great price point as well! I feel Szechuan Gourmet really does a number on Grand Sichuan, which was my Manhattan favorite in this cuisine previously.

                                                        4 Replies
                                                        1. re: cmballa

                                                          glad u liked, the lamb is so good there, i really think they do an great job on that dish

                                                          1. re: cmballa

                                                            cmballa, the pork dumplings and lamb filtets are awesome and I second your high opinion of them. I wanted to like the pork belly when I ordered it -- there are a few different versions on the menu. Do you remember the number of the one you ordered? I think I got the sliced, double cooked version, and it was only OK.

                                                            I also got the cellophane noodles last time I was there and the portion size is HUGE. None of us could finish it, delicious, though it wa.

                                                            I also like the tripe and tongue appetizer, as well as the dan dan noodles. And the ma po tofu is out of this world. I am also quite fond of the braised meat with chili and napa, mentioned above.

                                                            1. re: kathryn

                                                              It was the double cooked version, as opposed to the 'fresh pork belly' option (they are next to each other on the menu; I don't recall the numbers). I really like the dish (and so did everyone at our dinner), but some might complain that the meat is chewy, or overcooked. There probably is a better version of the dish, in Flushing I'm sure, but I haven't had it yet.

                                                              I've had the ma po tofu before: on my first visit. It's definitely out of this world, but I didn't want to blow the first-timers out with Sichuan peppercorn. My list of things to order included braised beef with napa and chilies, but we didn't order it (it simply would've been too much food). Next time!

                                                              1. re: cmballa

                                                                Based on the recommendations on this thread, we tried out Szechuan Gourmet on Friday. Restaurant was mostly full of Chinese families around 8pm. Mostly a huge success, definitely will be back.
                                                                Fried Pork Dumplings: quite delicate wrapper, almost smokey-tasting filling. a bit greasy, not my favorite style of dumplings.
                                                                Scallion Pancake: thin almost phyllo-like layers, incredibly greasy but good in an incredibly greasy way.
                                                                Ma Po Tofu: Standout. Superior to Grand Sichaun St. Marks, liked the generous grindings of peppercorn and the fresh scallions/leeks. Tofu itself was meltingly smooth.
                                                                Cumin Lamb: Tasty. A bit bizarre to order with such strong tasting other dishes. But really interesting.
                                                                Asparagus, Eggplant, and Green Beans in Garlic Sauce: We enjoyed this, especially the Eggplant part.

                                                                Most other tables seemed to have Pea Shoots, which were not on the English menu, and a nearbye table had some serious-looking crabs...anyone orded crab there before?

                                                          2. Had my first less than stella meal here ever today. Well, that description might be pushing it. SG just used to be #1 with a bullet on my list. Today's meal was merely good instead of amazing and excellent.

                                                            The heat has definitely been toned down. The mapo tofu portion size has gotten smaller and it is no longer NUCLEAR spicy. But at least now it's edible. The braised goat (special) was a little cold when it reached the table, and too full of bones and tendons. The cumin lamb was not crispy enough or spicy enough and kind of lukewarm. Like it may have been sitting out a while.

                                                            But the sauteed pea shoots with garlic (also a special) were great, though, as were the dan dan noodles as well as pork dumplings with roasted chili soy. Maybe I'll do more appetizers next time. It's a shame about the spice factor being toned down, though. I used to get waitresses at SG saying, "Are you sure? Are you sure? It's spicy!" Tonight the guy just took the order, nodded, and left.

                                                            8 Replies
                                                            1. re: kathryn

                                                              A single "OK" meal isn't necessarily a sign of a decline. Some friends of mine went last week and thought it was as good as ever.

                                                              1. re: Bob Martinez

                                                                Oh, I'm not running around screaming "downhill alert! downhill alert!" like some Hounds. I'm not sure if it was an anomaly or what.

                                                                The kitchen used to be very consistent, it's possible that the crowds post-Bruni review are causing a little inconsistency.

                                                                1. re: kathryn

                                                                  i went there for the first time last night. I liked it, but wasn't wowed. We had:

                                                                  -- szechuan pork dumplings...decent

                                                                  - cold shredded chicken...eh...

                                                                  -- cucumber...ok, but i prefer the cucumber starter at GS better

                                                                  -- fish fillets w/ napa cabbage, etc...i categorically love catfish w/ chili oil so i enjoyed the dish, but didn't taste any peppercorns in the dish...i thought the heat was all very moderate "la" (red pepper spicy) and no "ma" (numbing peppercorn spicy) at all...all the Sichuan catfish i've had in China has been heavily "ma", so i missed the peppercorns...

                                                                  -- crispy lamb w/ cumin...mixed feeling on this too...i love cumin and i've had versions of the dish in China, and it's a solid choice as a foil to the chili oil dishes one orders...but i thought the lamb had a bit of tenderized mystery meat taste to it: imagine a chicken-fried steak shredded into strips and covered in cumin...that said, between dinner and leftovers-as-midnight-snack, i ate every piece...

                                                                  -- prawns w/ asparagus and ground pork...the weakest main course, mainly because it wasn't very spicy at all despite requests to make it full-Chengdu strength, and because a lot of the asparagus was inedibly stringy (if i'm paying 22 or so dollars for this dish, i expect the kitchen to not use a lot of the bark-textured parts of the lower asparagus or to peel it slightly...it's annoying when half the asparagus in the dish is not edible)...i wouldn't order this one again...

                                                                  The service was very good...despite it being a crowded Friday night, we weren't rushed at all...manager and waiter both very nice...the clientele was about 85% or more Chinese...

                                                                  Will return and explore the menu a bit more...

                                                                  1. re: kathryn

                                                                    Tried to walk in at 9:30 on a Wednesday night and they were CLOSED. Last seating is at 9pm and the host said the kitchen had already sat down to eat dinner. Dang it!

                                                                2. re: kathryn

                                                                  The ma po tofu definitely has been fluctuating in size and is trending towards being smaller in portion size. The usual size seems to be about 60% (I don't count the inch or two of the chili oil that floats on top) of the takeout container. My coworkers ordered it on three consecutive days a couple of weeks ago and the containers went from being 60% full on the first day and 50% on the second to 40% on the third. They stopped ordering it after that because they were annoyed with the portion size. I can't speak to the heat level as they order everything extra spicy. The cumin lamb has pretty much stayed the same, just crispy and delicious, for me each time.

                                                                  1. re: SomeRandomIdiot

                                                                    had the pork belly with chili and leeks today...great as always

                                                                  2. re: kathryn

                                                                    I think you'll find the quality varies like any other restaurant. I've had versions of the cumin lamb that tasted like the meat was coated in copper instead of cumin. The reports of smaller portions, however, is a little distressing. I never noticed that in many years of ordering regularly...

                                                                    1. re: a_and_w

                                                                      I was there last week during the week (first time) and thought the portions were huge.

                                                                  3. On Saturday we were in the neighborhood since we were seeing a matinee performance of "Streamers." (Not recommended - it has not aged well.) SG is our default lunch place when we're in the area and I was interested to see if it was maintaining it's consistency. There had been a sprinkling of posts that the food had slipped after Bruni's 2 star review - some claimed that the food had been dumbed down.

                                                                    Not true. We ordered the bellwether dishes - double cooked pork belly with chili leeks, dan dan noodles, and the cucumber salad. All were outstanding - the spicing levels were just right. I'd not had SG's version of the cucumber dish before. The cucumbers were cut into largish chunks instead of slices and the sauce was a bit more assertive than the way it's served at other restaurants. I liked the sauce but would have preferred slices. If I had a knife I would have sliced each piece in two to make it easier to handle. Aside from that minor complaint, it was an excellent meal.

                                                                    The restaurant was about 2/3 full - this on a Saturday afternoon on a desolate commercial block. The crowd, as usual, was about 70% Asian. I had just been to the 24th and 8th Ave. branch of GSI and it was hammered home to me how much more pleasant the ambiance is at SG. GSI desperately needs a makeover. Lets hope they see the light.

                                                                    17 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Bob Martinez

                                                                      I've been there within the past few weeks, and haven't noticed any change whatsoever in quality or spiciness. I don't like all their dishes equally, and I've found that whatever isn't spicy there just isn't interesting (and I mean the dishes that are MARKED non-spicy on the menu), but for the most part, it's an excellent Sichuan-style restaurant, though not quite as good on a consistent basis and - due to differences in rent, etc. - quite a bit more expensive than Spicy and Tasty in Flushing. And there is a considerable lack of overlap in the menus of the two places, I believe, as well as differences in style that make both restaurants very worthwhile.

                                                                      1. re: Bob Martinez

                                                                        the new gsi on 7th ave in the village - cross st leroy - has very nice modern decor and the food is good, perhaps not quite as good as sg, but a good variety and has the advantage of a choice between small and large portions so parties of 2 can indulge in more dishes than usual. worth a visit. sorry, all posts in lower-case for the time being: one-handed typing due to busted left elbow...love of chinese food trumps pain!

                                                                        1. re: buttertart

                                                                          Re: the Pork belly with leeks and chili. I have had this several times in the city and, I agree, as it stands in the cily Szecuan Gourmet makes if not the best version at least one of the top three. This more than a lot of dishes, I have found, varies extremely not only from chain to chain but from resturaunt to resturaunt within the chain. It this it may be that none of the Chinese resturaunts in the city are simply buying bacon, as the would buy beef or chicken, as far as I know each place in the city that offers such dishes cures its own, and not all of the resturants appear to have a person skilled at curing. As I said SG's is in my opion one of the three best on this dish in Manhattan among the dozen or so resturaunts that do it (three Wu Yang Le's, Two Of the Grand Sichuans (St. Marks and the one on Canal Street)the two Congee Villages (Village and Bowery) Peking Hunan on 40th and Park plus proably a few places west of 8th ave or on the UWS that I havent been to) The other two really good versions in my opinion are GS St. Marks and Congee Bowery's (most of the other are too salty, or else so drowned in chili that that is all you can taste)

                                                                          BTW is does anyone know if the "Water Cooked" dish is the same as, or related to the "Spring Water Series" at GS Eastern (the one on 2nd ave in the 60's)

                                                                          1. re: jumpingmonk

                                                                            Many Chinatown restaurants buy whole slaughtered pigs - one can see the see delivery trucks. Shanghai Cafe's delicious Dong Po Rou is one large hunk of pork belly.

                                                                            1. re: scoopG

                                                                              I wasnt claiming that the resturaunts dont buy uncut meat, but that they don't buy meat that has already been cured for them, they buy uncured meat and cure it themselves. I've had the pork belly at shaghai cafe (as well as seen the pig delivery trucks) and that is a dish made with uncured belly which is not what we are takling about (it's sorta the difference between a dish made with beef brisket and a dish made with corned beef, or the difference between cooking with regualr salmon and cooking with Lox or Nova). I think the confusion here is lingustic, most of the resturaunts refer to the meat as salted or cured pork belly so that is the term we were using. Functionally however the meat is best thought of as bacon.

                                                                            2. re: jumpingmonk

                                                                              Thanks, jumpingmonk. You've given me some homework to do. (I'll be skipping Wu Liang Ye, though, because I do not like their version.)

                                                                              1. re: racer x

                                                                                Is this place a nice looking place?
                                                                                Or not. I want to bring some people there for a Christmas Day dinner

                                                                                1. re: BGee

                                                                                  Szechuan Gourmet on 39th? It's nicely decorated, but not fancy. Some Chinese folk art on the walls, tablecloths, comfortable. The Grand Sichuan on lower 7th is more snazzy in a modern way, but the food is better at SG 39th in my estimation.

                                                                                  1. re: BGee

                                                                                    Definitely not a super nice looking place. It's pretty good for a Chinese restaurant in Manhattan but I wouldn't call it impressive. Also, if you get seated on the banquette, make sure you're not on the end that is furthest into the restaurant. The cushion is nearly worn away! Very uncomfortable, as I learned.

                                                                                2. re: jumpingmonk

                                                                                  Add one more place to the list Famous sichuan (or something like that) the new place at Ten Pell in chinatown has it on thier menu as sothing like Cured pork with garlic sprouts. Had it today. Unfortunately thiers is only so so (its still way too salty) but I am mentioning it out of a sense of completeness.

                                                                                  1. re: jumpingmonk

                                                                                    Finally tried SG last night and was pretty disappointed. I got the cumin lamb filet and found that it was very dry and bland. Lamb had a very indistinct flavor -- like it could be any mystery meat. At $17, it was not exactly a bargain. Spicy sesame noodles were not "spicy" at all, drowned in a syrupy sweet sauce. And the scallion pancake was decent, but very greasy. Overall, an unimpressive meal. I actually enjoyed Grand Schezuan in Chelsea much more.

                                                                                    1. re: queenseats

                                                                                      yeah...i really need to do a second visit to SG...on my first and only visit (described in an earlier part of this thread above), i had similar issues: cumin lamb was decidedly "mystery-meatish" and dishes were simply *not* very spicy despite requests (in Mandarin) to make them full-Chengdu strength...

                                                                                      yet, it's the fav Manhattan Sichuan choice of so many people on Chowhound whose opinions i respect and generally agree with...

                                                                                      i must make a second visit soon...

                                                                                      1. re: queenseats

                                                                                        My sesame noodles have always been quite spicy there, as have most of the things I've ordered. It sounds like they specially toned things down for you. By the way, I'm not Chinese and don't look it and don't order in Chinese. I hope that the place hasn't deteriorated since my last visit, which was in December.

                                                                                        1. re: Pan

                                                                                          I went in December, and wasn't impressed at all...the cold noodles in particular were mediocre with noodles that were semi-hardened from sitting out too long. It reminded me of the cheapie generic cold noodles I used to buy during lunchtime from random Chinese takeout places just to make a cheap meal when I was a student. No spice, or kick, which is fine for my personal tastes because I don't really want junky food masked by spice and kick anyway. I was still very disappointed. So I think it's a matter of taste more then anything. I doubt it's deteriorated, since we went around the same time and still had very different experiences.

                                                                                          1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                            I can't believe we ate the same thing. It's hardly possible that you ate the same spicy cold noodles I did and found them unspicy and like a random takeout place. But, come to think of it, I didn't have cold noodles at that meal, so add several more months onto the time since I've had those there.

                                                                                            1. re: Pan

                                                                                              I just had the cold noodles today. They were great. Nice and spicy and nothing resembling the bland, peanut buttery, goopy noodles from a generic take out place. They were coated with a slick of chili oil.

                                                                                        2. re: queenseats

                                                                                          The cumin lamb was bland?! I find that really hard to believe. Or is the cumin lamb filet something different?

                                                                                3. Anybody been in the last month or so? I haven't been since September 2008 and am curious as to whether they've refound their stride.

                                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: kathryn

                                                                                    I haven't eaten in in the last month but ordered take-out from them last week. Everything was great. I did notice a small problem right after the NY Times article came out. But things have been pretty decent ever since.

                                                                                    1. re: kathryn

                                                                                      I was there last Saturday. Still great.

                                                                                      1. re: kathryn

                                                                                        Yes - and I can happily report the Cumin Lamb was served hot - not lukewarm!

                                                                                        1. re: kathryn

                                                                                          I never found them to have lost their stride.

                                                                                        2. I've been before and loved it. Going back next week with my SO and plan on getting the double cooked pork belly with chili leeks, cumin lamb, and cold spicy sesame noodles.

                                                                                          Anything else I should get for the two of us (for lunch)?

                                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: Corporate_40

                                                                                            Hell, there are LOTS of things you could get. But there are only two of you, so just get what you want and then come back another time, and another time, and another time...

                                                                                            My general advice is, stick to spicy things, because my experience has been that their non-spicy dishes tend to be boring. Also, don't ignore the specials on the whiteboard.

                                                                                            1. re: Pan

                                                                                              I still don't think quality chinese should be boring without the spice element.

                                                                                              1. re: sugartoof

                                                                                                I agree, but that's a small price to pay for food that's otherwise quite substantially superior to Grand Sichuan, its closest competitor in Manhattan. If someone needs to have some good non-spicy food in addition to spicy items, I'd direct them to a Grand Sichuan branch.

                                                                                            2. Finally made it back here with a few friends last night.

                                                                                              OX Tongue & Tripe with roasted chili peanut vinaigrette. Served cold, nice amount of heat, big chunks of tender tripe, and sliced meaty tongue. Nice.

                                                                                              Hand Shredded Chicken with chili sesame vinaigrette. Odd looking: cold sliced chicken with a bed of iceberg lettuce, and a thick sauce. The sauce was some sort of spicy, sesame paste. Nutty and savory, and packed a wallop, but only several seconds after ingestion. Oddly addictive.

                                                                                              Spicy Cucumber Salad. This was great! I had forgotten how much I love Japanese cucumbers. Less watery, crunchy, juicy, and sweet, and a good foil to a spicy sauce. Yum. I'd definitely order this the next time I'm at SG, and possibly every time afterwards.

                                                                                              Dan Dan Noodles with chili minced pork. I always have to get the dan dan noodles. Not the best version I've ever had but it doesn't feel like a Sichuan meal to me without the dan dan noodles. Could have used a little bit more "ma" but still tasty, if a bit oily.

                                                                                              Szechuan Pork Dumpling with roasted chili soy. Wrappers seemed a little bit bigger and floppier than I remember. Sauce is still addictive. My group inhaled the bowl in a few minutes.

                                                                                              Sauteed Prawns with spicy chili minced pork & asparagus. As someone else pointed out, wish they peeled or left out the woody ends. Otherwise, it's a little awkward to eat. The prawns were nice and big and juicy.

                                                                                              Stir Fried Chicken with roasted chili. They only had bone-in. Good and spicy, with well-cooked chicken. I liked this but it's not very exciting. Perhaps a good choice if only for balance with the other dishes.

                                                                                              Crispy Lamb Filets with chili cumin. Served hot, spicy, crispy! Hooray. One of my favorite things I've ever eaten there. We picked out every last bit. So glad that this dish was good as I was disappointed last time.

                                                                                              Chef's Ma Paul Tofu with chili minced pork. They've shrunk down the portion size a bit and it's still not as spicy as I remember, but the crispy minced pork swimming in the sauce is still killer. Tastes pretty good on its own, with a spoonful of white rice. And the tofu was perfectly soft and creamy. Delicious.

                                                                                              Braised Eel Filets with napa & roasted chili. This was insanely hot. Arrived as a pile of eel meat with a swarm of red pepper flakes on top, surrounded by a moat of red-colored sauce. You can nearly feel the chili oil emanating. I placed a single fillet to my lips and immediately felt the burnt.

                                                                                              Overall, a very good meal.

                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: kathryn

                                                                                                glad you enjoyed...the cumin lamb and cucumber salad are probably my favorite dishes there

                                                                                                1. re: kathryn

                                                                                                  Went tonight (party of 3), and the place is still very, very good.

                                                                                                  Dan Dan Noodles were good, noodles didn't get too soupy, and the meaty bits seemed extra spicy. Better than last time.

                                                                                                  Szechuan Pork Dumpling with roasted chili soy seemed a bit soupy in the sauce. I think the filling is as good as ever (plump and juicy), but the sauce seemed a little on the weaker side, spice-wise. Not as good as previous times.

                                                                                                  Poaches Chicken & cucumbers with chili sesame soy. Delicious! I had meant to order a different chicken dish but this was very interesting. Cold dish. Savory cooked chicken, bone in, chopped into pieces, and then swimming in a giant pool of chili oil. A little bit of work to get the meat out but totally worth it. Also the Japanese cucumbers soaking in the sauce were crunchy still and cool and refreshing on the inside but spicy on the outside.

                                                                                                  Crispy Lamb Filets with chili cumin. Just as good as ever. Piping hot, crispy, meaty, flavorful.

                                                                                                  Chef's Ma Paul Tofu with chili minced pork. Great, complex flavors. Spicy and yet not one-note. We asked for it extra spicy. I still don't think they make it as spicy as it used to be, but it was the clear winner of our entree dishes.

                                                                                                  Braised Fish Filets with napa & roasted chili. Pretty hot. Not as hot as I've had it before. Fish fillets were tender and expertly cooked but the fish tasted a tiny bit muddy. Not the best quality fish and it showed. I'm wondering if this dish just isn't for me.

                                                                                                2. eating double cooked pork right now

                                                                                                  1. Have to add the 1,000 year old eggs as a must-try appetizer! Absolutely delicious. Not as pungent in flavor or taste as Cantonese versions I've had. Served with some thinly sliced green peppers on top.

                                                                                                    5 Replies
                                                                                                    1. re: scoopG

                                                                                                      Green bell peppers? If so, and if they're sliced too small to easily avoid, I'll unfortunately have to pass on the dish (bell peppers are rough on my stomach).

                                                                                                      1. re: Pan

                                                                                                        I'd say no. They were sliced thin and had been cooked. The dish certainly wasn't hot nor were the peppers. And they can easily be brushed aside if one doesn't want to eat them. They are sprinkled on top of the eggs and certainly don't smother the eggs.

                                                                                                        1. re: scoopG

                                                                                                          Thanks. If they weren't spicy, they were bell peppers, not chili peppers, just FYI.

                                                                                                          1. re: Pan

                                                                                                            Not necessarily - they were cut so fine and were either cooked or had been marinated. Not all chili peppers are created equal.

                                                                                                            1. re: scoopG

                                                                                                              Equal, no. But in my experience, all chili peppers pack at least SOME heat.

                                                                                                      1. We went yesterday for the first time in about 6 weeks. The restaurant was about 2/3 full at 2:30 in the afternoon, much busier than we've seen it in previous afternoon visits. The food is if anything even better than it was - we had the Sichuan pickle, which has radishes, carrots, and celery in addition to the usual cabbage and hot red chili, and is delicious (although I prefer this dish without hot oil on top as they routinely serve it here - we asked for it plain once and were told they didn't serve it like that); the fried pork dumplings (they are in the Taipei style, in thin wrappers barely closed around the meat, really excellent); the sautéed hot green chilis (the waiter warned us they were super-hot, and they are indeed, but they are also super-good, tosed in dark soy); the tea-smoked duck, very well executed; the cumin beef, crunchy and ma la and a nice contrast to the big event of the meal, the whole fish in "chili miso" (douban yu), the best version of this I've had outside of Asia, lots and lots of garlic, tangy and not sweet, and a very fresh fish that was perfectly cooked. Very exciting food.

                                                                                                        5 Replies
                                                                                                        1. re: buttertart

                                                                                                          sounds like a good meal...really want to try that dou ban yu you mentioned, i havent had that in a long time

                                                                                                          the one thing i really did not like the "sichuan pickle" last time i was there, it was weird, it was really sweet and had this powder on it, not what i was expecting at all...we all thought it was sort of gross

                                                                                                          1. re: Lau

                                                                                                            The pickle was pretty standard and not sweet, but the la you / hua jiao topping rather took away from it for us. Give us the straight from the pickling jar stuff please, I don't know of a version pickled in oil, do you? The dou ban yu is v v good.

                                                                                                            1. re: buttertart

                                                                                                              i dont think you can pickle something in oil?

                                                                                                              1. re: Lau

                                                                                                                This is a water pickle of course (have tried to make it, never succeeded). Some Indian pickles are pickled in oil - as is I suppose doubanjiang? Haven't ever been in Sichuan but saw the Martin Yan episode on Chongqing recently - it showed the pickle stall in the market - there were more types than I've ever seen anywhere, would not be surprised if some were in oil.

                                                                                                                1. re: buttertart

                                                                                                                  yeah i guess its possible...ive been to chengdu (main city in sichuan) and their markets had crazy pickle section..i went to a super market and they had an entire section of thousand year old eggs (pidan) like there were so many different ones (ive never had one other than the standard black ones you get)...pretty crazy

                                                                                                        2. Some more reports, since I've been here quite a few times.

                                                                                                          Wok smoked frog - too many bones. I've eaten frog other places and it had bigger piece. This had so many bones it was almost impossible to eat.

                                                                                                          Pig kidney with celery and sponge squash - OK, I like kidney but not celery and had never heard of sponge squash. This was great! Definitely had the zing of Szechuan food (and kind of nice that the waiter looked at me with respect after I ate the whole thing).

                                                                                                          Fish fillet with napa cabbage and chili miso - another great dish

                                                                                                          5 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: plf515

                                                                                                            if u like kidneys and offal, they had a real good stir fried intestine dish there i had there a while ago, im blanking on exactly what it was called bc this was a few years ago, but def worth trying

                                                                                                            1. re: Lau

                                                                                                              Thanks Lau,

                                                                                                              I am, indeed, a fan of offal. I will try to find that intestine dish

                                                                                                              1. re: plf515

                                                                                                                I like that dish too. Here's the name (from menupages): "Stir-Fried Intestines with chili and snake beans."

                                                                                                                The only problem with this is the quantity of the intestines, sometimes you get a lot, sometimes not so much.

                                                                                                                1. re: SomeRandomIdiot

                                                                                                                  that might've been it, i can't remember, i just remember the waiter telling me it was good so i got it and it was. cleaned nicely and stir fried well with some wok hay

                                                                                                                  1. re: Lau

                                                                                                                    That dish is definitely great. I just wish it was a lot of intestines with just a few string beans instead of a lot of string beans with just a few small pieces of intestine.

                                                                                                                    I don't think there's any other dishes with fried intestine on the menu.