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Szechuan Chalet - finally, a reason to go to the upper east side

Why Szechuan Chalet? Why not Szechuan Tee Pee? Or Szechuan Igloo? I prefer not to know the answer - I like a bit of mystery. The important thing is that the food is very good.

I may be getting the back story wrong but my understanding is that this place opened up about 6 months ago and is run by alumni of Szechuan stalwart Wu Liang Ye. A friend has been telling everyone she knows that the place is very good; she's right.

A mixed group of MFers, CHs, and fellow travelers made a visit last night and performed the usual drill. Order lots of dishes and then swap them around so everybody gets to try everything. We were seated at a big circular table with a giant turntable in the center. This made the dish swapping a far neater operation than usual.

I took no notes so my list of dishes will be incomplete. Here we go -

Starters:
Dan dan noodles - a solid version of the classic dish. The Szechuan peppercorns produced a nice buzz

Cheng Du Chilled Noodles (aka sesame noodles) - served chilled, this was a stellar dish, the best version I've ever had. Often the sesame flavor can be a bit overwhelming but in this dish all the flavors were perfectly balanced. Excellent.

Sliced Beef Tendon - I'm not a tendon lover but other people seemed to like this.

Sliced Poached Tender Beef w/Five Spices - not much eye appeal here but this was surprisingly good. I'd happily order it again.

Razor Clams with Scallion Pesto - a pretty dish. This got eaten fast.

Mains:
Sichuan Lamb - there was a lovely picture of this in the menu. We ordered it and it looked just as good in person. Unfortunately the dish was a bit flat. Not bad, but with so many other good choices on the menu there's no reason to eat this again.

Double Cooked Fresh Bacon w/Spicy Capsicum - Ahem. This was my selection and it was an absolute winner. The pork belly was cut much thinner that usual. Very bacon-like and the spicing was suitably complex. The dish was a bit saltier than I would have liked but that's what beer is for.

Ants Climbing a Tree - An off menu item and one I've never had before. This turns out to be a noodle and minced pork dish with a pleasant level of spicing. Very enjoyable.

Crispy Whole Boneless Sea Bass - (I think I'm identifying this properly. There are 3 or 4 bass dishes on the menu.) This was served with a generous pouring of sauce, a bit of a surprise. People only got around to it after they tackled the other dishes but every bite was finished.

Tofu Sautéed w/Crab Meat - People liked this although I skipped it. I prefer my tofu on the dry side and not served in sauce. That's a minority opinion and if this dish appeals to you I'm sure you'll like it.

Sautéed Baby Bok Choy w/Clear Sauce - Most people claimed to like this but I noticed that it was one of the few dishes that wasn't completely eaten. Feh. Why order this when you can have sauteed green beans and minced pork?

Under $40 with beers, tax, and overtip. A steal. The menu is extensive; I could eat here 5 or 6 times and not repeat myself. The ambiance is a level above your standard neighborhood Chinese; it's certainly not Shun Lee Palace but you don't get the feeling that you're slumming. The restaurant is located on a stretch that's being ravaged by construction of the 2nd Ave. subway. Perhaps that explained the sparse crowd? Or maybe it was the bitter cold? I prefer not to think that upper east siders aren't sufficiently appreciative of good Szechuan cooking but time will tell.

Szechuan Chalet
1395 2nd Ave (73rd & 2nd)
(212) 737-1838

Website with menu - http://szechuanchaletnyc.com/food-del...

Extra Points
* If you're looking for a place to have drinks before heading to SC the bar at Beach Cafe (1326 2nd Ave, at E.70th St.) works nicely.

* SC does a good takeout business. I wish they delivered to Park Slope.

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

Wu Liang Ye
215 E 86th St, New York, NY 10028

Wu Liang Ye
338 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10016

Shun Lee Palace
155 East 55th Street, New York, NY 10022

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  1. >Why Szechuan Chalet?

    'Cause "Cottage" was taken? Thanks for the tip.

    -----
    Szechuan Chalet
    1395 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10021

    1. The ex-Wu Liang Ye people are not at Szechuan Chalet, they are at Wa Jeal, also on the UES. And FYI, the Wu Liang Ye on 86th St. is now closed.

      3 Replies
      1. re: gutsofsteel

        I knew WLY 86th St. branch had closed. The link was posted automatically and I couldn't remove it.

        1. re: gutsofsteel

          I have been to Szechuan Chalet a few times and, the ex Wu Liang Ye people ARE there. There is something going on with the former people that were part of Wu Liang Ye. They shut down their restaurant on 86th, and they turned up at BOTH Szechuan Chalet and Wa Jeal.

          1. re: tbone

            There are also Wu Liang Ye alumni at Lan Sheng. But the reason why is unclear.

            http://www.villagevoice.com/2009-12-2...

        2. Wah Jeal is a great destination for Sichuan food.

          That being said, we're going to try Szechuan Chalet based on Bob Martinez's superb review. This restaurant's just two blocks away from the home of a close friend.

          It's encouraging that they provide large tables with the lazy-Susans that are de rigueur (sp?) when eating a communal Chinese meal.

          5 Replies
          1. re: shaogo

            It's called Szechuan Chalet, not Cottage. And it's better than Wa Jeal.

            The Szechuan Chalet people also own a place in NJ called China Chalet:

            http://www.gochineserestaurant.com/ch...

            1. re: gutsofsteel

              i only tried the chalet once, but i much much preferred wa jeal to it. i found the service lackluster, and a marked lack of szechuan peppercorns in the lamb dish i tried

              1. re: thew

                I've been to both Wa Jeal and Szechuan Chalet recently and vastly preferred SC. However, a friend who was with me at both has been back to WJ and insists that they're much better than the night we were there. I'll go back to compare... for research purposes of course.

                1. re: Steve R

                  and i apparently need to give SC another go as well

                  here are reviews i posted on yelp for both:

                  http://www.yelp.com/biz/szechuan-chal...

                  http://www.yelp.com/biz/wa-jeal-sichu...

                  1. re: thew

                    And, if/when you do go back to SC, the lamb was as lackluster as the duck. The only 2 dishes that I thought werent very good.

          2. interesting, too bad my gf doesnt live on the UES anymore...i find it funny that sichuan restaurants have a home in the UES, seems so out of place, but good for the neighborhood folks i guess

            btw ants climbing a tree is a common sichuan dish, its called ma yi shang shu in chinese which means the same thing as the english translation

            8 Replies
            1. re: Lau

              Even people who live on the upper east side have to eat sometimes.

              1. re: Lau

                why does it seem out of place?

                1. re: thew

                  no offense to anyone who lives on the UES, but the UES isn't exactly the model of cultural diversity and to have such a specific cuisine from china is somewhat odd given that it isn't the most common cuisine

                  1. re: Lau

                    Well where should they be? It's not like there's a Szechuan-eating population downtown or something like that. The Grand Sichuans are all over the place, you got 2 good Szechuan restaurants in the W. 30s, Wu Liang ye on 48th and until recently (and for years) on E. 86th St.....it's already spread out.

                    And in case you hadn't noticed, there are many, many ethnic restaurants on the UES and more are opening each day. The "UES" is a big place. It's not all Park Avenue, ya know? I also wouldn't call ANY neighborhood in Manhattan a "model of cultural diversity." Let's face it, most all of Manhattan is a yuppie and relatively speaking affluent place. Whether you put a hipster hat on your head and walk around in the cold without socks...doesn't really change that. Cascabel Taqueria just opened (it's good), last week I went for the millionth time to Naruto Ramen, this week I ate at the lovely little family-run Korean place Buddha BBQ on 2nd Ave near 91st...the times they are a changin' ...

                    1. re: Lau

                      there have been szechuan places on the UES for over 30 years

                      and growing up there i met people of most every ethnicity and a broad spectrum of economic status as well

                      @gutsofsteel - you mentioned 2 of my fave places in the 'hood. now i'll have to try the BBQ.....

                      1. re: thew

                        haha fine im not going to argue with you guys on this b/c im not going to win...i bow down

                  2. re: Lau

                    I think it's pretty remarkable how many good sichuan restaurants there are in Manhattan generally.

                    Anyway, great review, Bob!

                    1. re: a_and_w

                      Thanks!

                      When you think of the dismal nature of the Szechuan dining scene 10 years ago the transformation is remarkable.

                  3. Bob M: there was also a duck dish that you forgot to list. However, it should be forgotten, so no loss.

                    I think all 8 of us who went to this dinner agree that this is a very good place and it's nice to see another worthy addition to the Szechuan choices in Manhattan. For what it's worth, I liked all the apps (as I seem to do everywhere, but especially at S&T) & the bacon/pork dish, the tofu w/crab dish, the fish and the ants dish...the noodles are the "trees" and the small pork pieces clinging to them are the "ants" (in case anyone thinks that this is really an ant meat dish... it aint). The fish was the surprise to me, as it was cut in very large fillets and was buried in a thick sauce. However, the sauce had lots of pork and was a great complement to the bass, which stood up to the sauce nicely.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: Steve R

                      Ah yes ... the duck. I'm amazed I got as many dishes right as I did.

                      I thought the duck was fine but not a real standout. There are 2 duck dishes on the menu - the Camphor Smoked Duck and the Smoked Duck w. Shredded Ginger. I wonder which one we had? The other one might be worth ordering.

                      1. re: Bob Martinez

                        We had the one "with ginger". I think that they waved a ginger root over it before serving... no discernable ginger taste to me. The duck was not a good dish. Neither, unfortunately, was the lamb. The only 2 dishes (out of 8 apps and 8 mains) that I thought were eh (at best).

                        1. re: Steve R

                          Duck dishes can vary. The duck with ginger at Grand Sichuan House (in Bay Ridge) is decent but their duck with green beans is a smokey masterpiece. It would be interesting to see if the camphor smoked version at SC is better.

                        2. re: Bob Martinez

                          Nice review, BobM!

                          I thought the duck was pretty good but not nearly as good as the double cooked pork dish which was the highlight for me. along with the Chengdu noodles.

                          Do you think it would have made any difference on the spicing if we had asked for "very hot??" Maybe they just naturally tone down the flavors when non-Asians order.

                          1. re: erica

                            "Do you think it would have made any difference on the spicing if we had asked for "very hot??" Maybe they just naturally tone down the flavors when non-Asians order."

                            Hard to say. The bacon dish was plenty hot. The spicing on the noodles was pretty complex too, not searing but there were lots of things going on. At any given restaurant the spice levels can vary from dish to dish. It's also true that the same dish can have different levels of spicing at different restaurants.

                            Then there's also the acclimation factor. The first time a newbie has Szechuan food it's an absolute revelation. Give them food with the same level of spicing a year later and they don't perceive it to be as hot. The food hasn't changed but their perceptions have.

                            While it's true that *some* restaurants will tone it down for Caucasians I'm more inclined to give a restaurant the benefit of the doubt as long as a sufficient percentage of dishes have some real heat to them. That was the case at Szechuan Chalet.

                            1. re: Bob Martinez

                              I am intrigued by your comments, Bob. While I thought the restaurant was very good, and that the double-cooked pork and the noodles were superb, I thought that there was very little heat in any of the dishes! But then again, in my albeit limited experience, double cooked pork is not usually among the most piquant of Sichuan preparations, so perhaps the lack of spicing was more a consequence of the particular dishes that we chose. Or of the dishes that I tasted, because I was too full to sample even a morsel of the sea bass.

                              Now I am concerned about my palate! Perhaps it has been barraged by so much heat for so many years that I can no longer detect anything less than incendiary! Or perhaps my senses are fading due to old age!

                              Anyway, it was an excellent meal and one that showcased an intriguing blend of flavors.

                                1. re: erica

                                  Interesting to hear that the chef used to cook at China Chalet in New Jersey. There was talk about that place a few years back ... http://www.chow.com/blog/2006/07/chin...