Spectacular dou ban yu (chili bean paste fish) at Old Sichuan on Bayard in Chinatown today
We've had some very good dishes at this place since it became Old Sichuan (was Yeah Shanghai Deluxe) but today's dou ban yu was absolutely, utterly, delicious.
The dou ban sauce was hot and piquant with black vinegar, not sweet as it is many other places we've eaten it, including Szechuan Gourmet most recently.
The fish (a non-muddy tasting tilapia) was impeccably cooked (steamed, not deepfried) and soft as butter. I usually don't like fish belly but we scavenged every iota of fish flesh including the belly and all of the head meat just so we could keep eating that sauce. Best version ever in our experience in North America.
The other dishes - sheng jian bao that were nice and crusty on the bottom, and juicy within, braised belly pork with chestnuts, cumin lamb, beef with broccoli (a misfire on my ordering, I wanted the great jielan we had the previous time, it was ok but not thrilling), Sichuan pickled veg, seaweed salad, and the dousha fried pancake we had for dessert were very good too.
Go and have that fish, you won't be sorry.
21 W 39th St, New York, NY 10018
65 Bayard St, New York, NY 10013
we had a meal there last night and while we didn't order the dou ban yu, we had a bunch of other stuff, mostly all Sichuan favorites. 5 of us ate, and 5 of us left satisfied:
+ seaweed, roast peanuts, cabbage pickle on the table
+ shen-jian-bao with chicken (#23 pan fried chicken tiny bun)
+ fu qi fei pian (#39 ox tongue and tripe with spicy peppery sauce)
+ sliced pork with spicy garlic sauce (#36)
+ qong-qing chicken (#C3 on Chef's Special)
+ lamb with cumin (#C7 on Chef's Special)
+ "water-cooked" fish (#C9 sliced fish with spicy sauce)
+ tu dou si (#133 Shredded Potatoes with Vinegar Sauce, hot)
+ sour string beans with minced pork (#103)
+ ba bao yu tou (#28 sweet eight jewel taro)
for all those people looking for the "ma" and the "la", this is the place to go. Pitfalls of course are abound, if you order from 80% of the menu (pan fried noodles, general tso's chicken and, shoutout to Jaclyn L, chicken with broccoli) but if you stick with the Sichuan Specialties and Chef's Specialties plus the cold dishes, you should be good to go. We went on a hot tip (friend of the owner; the wife runs Old Sichuan, the husband runs New Shanghai Deluxe on the corner) and were well-taken care of. Be assertive with what you want and insist on the "ma" and the "la" if that's what you are going for (and that's the only thing you should be going for). We went through many bowls of rice too; the food was rich and spicy.
First off, the cold dishes were amazing. If I went back to this place, i would just order two each of #39 and #36 with a couple bowls of rice and be done. So tender, so flavorful, each dish was covered in chilis and oil and peppercorns, but each with a different flavor. The tendon, the trip, the brisket, whatever it was we were eating was so tender; come to think of it, it would have gone well with scallion pancakes. The pan-fried buns were great too; juicy and you really couldn't tell the difference between chicken or pork so I guess it's nominally healthier.
Main dishes were pretty good, but not great. Qong-qing chicken is the pig plate of bone-in dark meat popcorn chicken that is, as always, fried a bit too hard; and covered in red fried chilis. The bottom bits were tasty when sitting in some grease, and especially if you caught the little fragrant pieces of ginger and garlic; very good. The Lamb was extremely tender but nowhere near as funky/flavorful as other renditions I've had such as at Waterfront Int'l or other Sichuan; very tender but just not a super flavor hit. They had a different lamb with pepper dish that might have been a better move. They also had qong-qing beef which might have held up better in terms of not drying out.
The sui-zhu-yu or "water-cooked" fish (poached) was a wonder; unidentified fillets swimming in chili oil, with plenty of cabbage, tofu and vegetables, all topped with crazy peppercorns and ma-la flavor; this was the first dish that hit our table and pretty much omnipresent on all the other tables. We all got the sour tang and metallic taste on our tongues mere sips into this one; very very good. In fact, the lamb pieces tasted great when submerged in this vat of flavor country (thanks colin).
Vegetables were great I thought. The Tu-Dou-Si was served warm; matchsticks of potato that while pretty vinegary; quite pleasant, especially incombination with all the other craziness we had. The second vegetable dish reminded me of Fly's Head or cong-ing-tou but basically, it was pickled and marinated snake beans, diced up and cooked with minced pork; the flavor was sour and unique; not a ton of the mystical wok-hei but still, quite good and very "xia-fan" (we downed 3 or 4 family-size bowls) just like all the other dishes.
Dessert was a variation on the eight treasure rice but instead of sticky sweet glutinous rice, it was made with mashed taro. Filled with red bean plus jujubes and preserved fruit, and then covered in a condensed milk sauce this was our over-the-top dessert that put most of us over the edge. Really good, and highly recommended but please save room for it.
Overall; really good stuff. Haven't had Sichuan in a while and looking back at the menu now, there were some other interesting menu items that I'd hit next time: Chengdu Beef (#116), Zui Zhou Spicy Chicken or Beef (#114), Hunan Chicken (#104), Chairman Mao Pork Belly (chinese-only blackboard special, the first one I think), some dishes with meat + sour cabbage in a brazier (#106, #122, #113) which are all probably amazing, as well as Twice-Cooked Pork (#C1). They didn't have sliced conch last night otherwise, I would definitely have had that, or maybe gotten a cold tendon dish as well. There were also a number of lotus root dishes that were probably amazing.
Thinking back, I don't think I covered all of our dishes; Lauhound was with us and he has his photo documentation so he'll know all the dishes. I would definitely go back and get many orders of the cold stuff and then maybe poke around the rest of the menu to try other vegetable and meat dishes, and maybe try more of the blackboard specials (there were about 20). I'd say t his place beats most of the manhattan places; but I haven't had enough of the Flushing places to make a definitive answer on that. The place itself is great, service warm and the manager took care of us (cheerful lady). She was telling us about the chef, who hails from Chengdu, started in the kitchen at age 19 and has been cooking for over 30 years.
65 Bayard St, New York, NY 10013
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