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REVIEW: Wu Liang Ye (Rockefeller Center branch)

Das Ubergeek Jun 25, 2008 08:37 PM

I had posted a while back asking for Midtown suggestions for a wide range of random ethnicities, as I'm working in the city at times and haven't eaten here since I grew up here a couple (cough) decades ago. One of the suggestions that came back was to go to the Rockefeller Center branch of Wu Liang Ye, because it was supposed to be the best Sichuan in the city, and better than what LA has to offer for Sichuan food.

Well, I'm happy to say -- while I can't say it was the best Sichuan in the city because it's the ONLY Sichuan I've ever had in the city, it was the best Sichuan I've had in this country.

Though I was by myself, I ordered three dishes -- shredded ma la chicken, Yibing-style prawns with asparagus and chile oil, and dan dan mian. The chicken was incredible, well-cooked and happily not just chicken breast (I swear, no one is Los Angeles will eat any other part of the chicken -- it's depressing); the dan dan mian were outstanding -- a bit al dente and with an unctuous numbing-and-spicy oil underneath. The prawn dish was the least interesting -- while the asparagus was excellent and the sauce perfectly done, the prawns were just not matching with the flavours -- I'd get the taste of plain prawn, and then the sauce, and they didn't mesh well.

By Los Angeles standards, the meal was staggeringly -- mind-numbingly -- expensive. I know from my youth that eating out in this city requires much wallet fortitude but I was not prepared for the prices at Wu Liang Ye, even knowing that it was in Tourist Central ("I GOTTA TAKE A PICTURE OF ROCKEFELLER CENTER OMG LET ME STOP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SIDEWALK OW THAT GUY JUST BUMPED INTO ME"). The meal cost me nearly $50 -- now, the quality was excellent, and the service was fine (by Chinese restaurant standards, meaning I didn't have to flail around to get a waiter's attention), but the price caused me to sweat more than the chiles did... the same meal at Chung King in LA, which is about the best we have in LA, would have cost me about half that and for larger portions.

Thanks for the rec. I have other reports coming -- Petrossian for breakfast, Pigalle on 8th Ave, Trattoria dell'Arte on 7th Ave, and I'm going down to Kossar's on the F train tomorrow because if I don't eat a bialy soon I'm going to go nuts with nostalgia.

Wu Liang Ye
36 W 48th St, New York, NY 10036

  1. a
    Ann900 Jun 25, 2008 09:20 PM

    Next time try Spicy and Tasty in Flushing for real Sichuan. Simply the best- at half the price.

    1. u
      UES Mayor Jun 26, 2008 03:49 AM

      the 86th street upper east branch of wu liang ye is terrible!!!!!!! has gone way down since i started going there many years ago-i will never go back-gave it a few more attempts earlier.

      2 Replies
      1. re: UES Mayor
        Brian S Jun 27, 2008 09:19 AM

        Though I've never been, several people on Chowhound have said that the two branches are entirely different in quality.

        1. re: Brian S
          MMRuth Jun 27, 2008 09:22 AM

          I've been to the UES one a couple of times with some friends who are v. knowledgeable about Chinese food (I'm not) and we all thought it was wonderful. That said, I've gotten delivery from them (before I "knew" what to order) that was practically inedible - just gloppy and far too spicy - everything tasted the same.

      2. m
        majorette Jun 26, 2008 11:25 PM

        I work nearby and WLY is one of my favorites. The prices are a bit expensive, but par for the course for good food in midtown. Try the appetizer of pork dumplings in spicy chili oil -- very tasty, great amount of spice, dumpling is not too thick, not too thin with a nice chew. And never in my life have I craved string beans the way I crave their Yibin City string beans: savory, salty, with bits of pork and some kind of pickle (I think).

        I can't wait to try the ma la chicken. I'm so hung up on the dumplings and string beans, I'm usually at a lose for an entree. Thanks for the tip!

        4 Replies
        1. re: majorette
          Das Ubergeek Jun 27, 2008 05:09 AM

          Just a note that the ma la chicken is a cold appetiser. But it's still damn good.

          1. re: majorette
            eastvillgirl Jun 27, 2008 07:36 PM

            I'm with you on the pork dumplings in spicy chili sauce. Amazing!
            If you're looking for an entree, my own favorite is the Ma Po Tofu. Really exceptional. My husband likes the Camphor Roasted Duck.

            1. re: eastvillgirl
              a_and_w Jun 28, 2008 08:50 AM

              If you like mapo tofu, you definitely should try Szechuan Gourmet. That's actually my favorite dish there.

              1. re: a_and_w
                kathryn Jun 28, 2008 10:37 AM

                Ditto, but it's 4-alarm spicy. You get all the wonderful flavor of the tofu and pork as it enters your mouth, and then the spice hits you like a brick wall. But you keep going back to more and more and more...

          2. Brian S Jun 27, 2008 09:17 AM

            Thanks for writing this. I've never been there and next time I'm in NY I should go. You should try some of the places in Flushing, I'd love to know how they compare.


            If you want more posts on Flushing places, I can provide links. (I guess you should ask on Outer Boroughs if you do.)

            5 Replies
            1. re: Brian S
              eade Jun 27, 2008 09:35 AM

              The best Sichuan in Manhattan is Grand Sichuan Chelsea at 229 9th Ave, on the corner of 24th St. It is also cheaper than WLY.

              My husband lived in Sichuan province as a kid, and it is our favorite type of Chinese food (ok, my favorite type, I can't speak for him, but I believe we have eaten at every Sichuan place in the city).

              Spicy and Tasty in Flushing is actually not that authentic; it has a fatal flaw, no pao cai. That's like walking into a Korean restaurant and not being able to get kim chi. We went once and never plan to go again.

              The current best place for Sichuan in Flushing is Chengdu Sichuan in the 41-28 Main Street downstairs food court.

              There used to be one more good Sichuan place in Flushing -- a stall at another food court on Main St, but that food court was shut down. If we are lucky, the proprietor of the Sichuan stall will appear in another location.

              1. re: eade
                Brian S Jun 27, 2008 11:33 AM

                Little Pepper, which is near Spicy and Tasty, is excellent and gives you a free bowl of pao cai while you wait for your meal.

                The place you call Chengdu Sichuan is the place I put up a link to above. I always call it Chengdu Heaven but since "heavenly kingdom" is a nickname for Sichuan, just as Empire State is for NY, your translation is (at least) equally valid. I think it's worth a trip to Flushing just to see that basement food court!

                No one has seen the proprietor of the stall at the J & L mall that you refer to.

                1. re: Brian S
                  eade Jun 27, 2008 01:19 PM

                  You are right, I should not have left off Little Pepper in Flushing -- every list of the best in NYC should have Little Pepper.

                  On the translation though, definitely sticking with Chengdu Sichuan over Chengdu Heaven.

                2. re: eade
                  kathryn Jun 28, 2008 10:38 AM

                  You're saying Grand Sichuan Chelsea is better than Szechuan Gourmet? I haven't been to Grand Sichuan in Chelsea for a while but I think they are probably neck and neck.

                  1. re: kathryn
                    Lau Jun 28, 2008 10:48 AM

                    gotta disagree on GS Chelsea, never understood why it was highly regarded...its not bad, but its been toned down and i find its more americanized (which depending on taste could be why people like it)...i tried it several times when i was a regular at the hell's kitchen location (that was the best in the city) for comparison purposes and was consistently disappointed

                    SG is much better

              2. a_and_w Jun 27, 2008 09:52 AM

                Wu Liang Ye is good, but not the best sichuan in the city. IMO, Szechuan Gourmet on 39th is far superior. And if you find yourself in the SF Bay Area, try China Village in Albany, which I think is better than both.

                1. l
                  Lau Jun 27, 2008 11:05 AM

                  Das Ubergeek - nice to see u in NY

                  try szechuan gourmet on 39th bet 5th and 6th, its the best in manhattan and better than WLY

                  if u make it to flushing, try either chengdu heaven (chengdu tianfu), spicy and tasty or xiao la jiao (little pepper)

                  1. y
                    yting Jun 27, 2008 11:16 AM

                    Kossar's is no longer on Grand Street on the lower East Side, I'm pretty sure. I think that was taken over by the Donut Plant.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: yting
                      KTinNYC Jun 27, 2008 12:44 PM

                      You are wrong. Kossar's is at 367 Grand and Donut Plant is at 379 Grand.

                    2. r
                      randymac88 Jun 27, 2008 12:53 PM

                      So what ARE the good things to order at Wu Liang Ye? I've been to the upper east version a couple times. It's been decent, not great, but fresher and better than your average chinese joint. Are there specific things that they do well?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: randymac88
                        MMRuth Jun 27, 2008 01:07 PM

                        These are some of the dishes that we've ordered at the UES one:

                        House Cured Pork sauteed with Garlic Bolts
                        Sauteed Sponge Cucumbers
                        Sliced Scungilli with Roasted Chili Vinaigrette
                        Sliced Beef Tendon with Roasted Chili Vinaigrette
                        Hand Shredded Chicken with Spicy Sesame Vinaigrette
                        Julienne Jelly Fish with Scallion Pesto
                        Sichuan Pork Dumpling with Roasted Chili Vinaigrette.

                        I'm missing a duck dish that wasn't on the menu, but one of our group asked them to make it.

                        Edit - just checked my email - I'd scanned in the Chinese characters for the dish - but it was called Pinenut Duck.

                      2. Miss Needle Jun 27, 2008 01:37 PM

                        I will have to agree with the posters who say that if you want the best Sichuan in Manhattan, you really should get to Szechuan Gourmet. And it is a lot cheaper than Wu Liang Ye.

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