Lan Sheng – First Rate Szechuan in Midtown
- Bob Martinez Dec 14, 2009 09:18 AM
If you were going to open an excellent Szechuan restaurant in midtown would you decide to place it almost right across the street from Szechuan Gourmet on 39th St.? It’s an interesting question. What’s not in doubt is that Lan Sheng is a worthy competitor. It might even be better than that.
Lan Sheng opened in October of this year and somehow I only found out about it last week. Since we had an afternoon theater date this past Saturday at the nearby Laura Pels it seemed like a perfect opportunity to check them out.
Lan Shen is a handsome place with cozy banquettes and white tablecloths. The lighting is more subdued than similar Chinese restaurants. Clearly they’re making an effort to be a bit more upscale than neighboring Szechuan Gourmet (which itself is more than passable.)
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When sussing out new restaurants I first like to order versions of dishes that I’ve enjoyed at similar places. That way I can establish a baseline. If they’re good I branch out to other parts of the menu on subsequent visits. We followed that plan on Saturday.
Dan Dan noodles were suitably spicy and after a minute we felt the pleasant buzz of Szechuan pepper corns. We noticed that the sauce was a bit thicker and more complex than similar versions served around town. We also picked out a slight bit of sweetness that might bother some diners. We thought it wasn’t enough to overwhelm the dish and added an interesting note. If this is the type of thing that bothers you, be warned. I think most people will like this dish a lot.
Chengdu Wontons with Sichuan Peppercorn Vinaigrette were firm, meaty, and delicate. While the sauce was completely different than that used with the dan dan noodles we noticed the same complexity and light touch of sweetness as in the previous dish. Very good indeed.
Double Cooked Streaky Pork with Spicy Capsicum is our old friend pork belly, accompanied by hot and sweet peppers. This was an excellent dish – the flavors of the peppers played off the richness of the pork belly. The heat level was high enough to add interest without overwhelming the ingredients.
It was lunchtime and we really couldn’t eat any more without running the risk of spoiling our dinner plans. We ate too much anyway and we certainly wanted to eat even more. Everything we had was skillfully prepared; I got the strong feeling that there are a lot of great dishes on the menu waiting to be discovered. We’ll be back.
As for the location, my guess is that Lan Sheng is hoping to catch Szechuan Gourmet’s spillover lunchtime crowd. (My understanding is that SG gets crazy busy during the week.) The good news is that Lan Sheng won’t be viewed as some sort of weak fallback when SG is jam packed. It’s serving first rate food in a room with superior ambiance. My guess is that they’re going to do just fine.
While they had beer available they don’t serve wine yet. When we asked about it they said “Soon.”
A small complimentary dish of pickled vegetables was placed on the table for nibbling while we made our selections. Good stuff.
When they brought our check they also gave us 2 “$5 Off” coupons that can be used on bills of $50 or higher. I have a feeling that they’re not going to need to offer this deal for very long.
The place had about 4 tables filled at 1:00PM on a Saturday afternoon. I expect that business will pick up nicely once word gets around.
60 W 39th St, New York, NY 10018
re: Miss Needle
DH and I ordered take-out from Lan Sheng yesterday. This is what we had:
dan dan noodles
mabo tofu lunch special (with spring roll)
tofu and shrimp lunch special (with hot and sour soup)
chinese broccoli with oyster sauce
The dan dan noodles were overcooked (was wondering if this was because we did take-out as opposed to eat-in), but the sauce was very good. Definitely much better than Szechuan Gourmet. Good amount of spice and Szechuan peppercorns, and it wasn't soupy like SG but more of a sauce.
The mabo tofu was delicious as well as well as the tofu and shrimp. The spring roll seemed more like an afterthought. The hot and soup soup was decent as well -- I had it for breakfast this morning. Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce was tasty, but had way too much liquid in it.
Amount of food was more than enough for our lunch and dinner yesterday along with my breakfast this morning. Prices were more than reasonable. Am excited to try other offerings from Lan Sheng.
re: Miss Needle
I'm actually at work now eating their cubed fish with pickled chili peppers sweating like crazy. I did delivery -- while not as quick as SG, food came in about half an hour. Delicious, spicy, oil and a bit vinegary with slivers of garlic and chunks of ginger. I also ordered their dumplings in hot spicy sauce. It was OK -- the dumplings suffered a lot in the take-out container. I'm thinking this would be a much better dish to eat at the restaurant.
Thanks for letting us know... There hasn't been too many reviews here on Asian or Chinese restaurants lately. It's nice to see the review of something I am interested in eating!
I should check it out the next couple of weeks I am in the area....
Great that you guys have discovered it. As good if not better than spicy and Tasty in Flushing and Bamboo Pavilion in Bensonshurst, not to mention many Sichuan places I have eaten in in China. Try the tea smoked duck and Chengdu Chicken.
60 W 39th St, New York, NY 10018
Thanks for the report! I've never liked Szechuan Gourmet's Dan Dan noodles so I will have to give it a shot here.