Review of Dinner at Szechuan Gourmet (W 56th Street)
My parents were in town this week and I took them here for dinner since this is my neighborhood standby restaurant and it's got a quite nice ambiance.
1. Soup: Fish Fillet In Broth (with pickled mustard green)
The slight sourness of the pickled mustard green was an excellent component in the opening dish; it got our saliva flowing and told our stomachs, "Get ready, there's more delicious awesomeness coming." The fish fillet pieces were good and tender. Though, the chef could have used a lighter hand with the soy sauce. The soup was a tad salty. 6.5/10
2. Braised Whole Bass (with chili and minced pork)
A whole bass weighing about 1 pound arrived. I believe the fish was passed through hot oil, braised, then had a sauce of chili and minced pork, and a ladle of hot oil poured over it upon serving. The fish was delightfully flavorful and cooked to the perfect tenderness. Very nice. 8.5/10
3. Braised Silky Tofu (with baby shrimps)
Where did this place source their silky tofu? The silky tofu was freaking beautiful. It had a nice and subtle soybean-y flavor and just the right soft texture that allows the tofu to sit rigid, yet breaks apart upon a slight pressure applied by chopsticks (hint: use a spoon for this). This delicately flavored dish was a perfect complement to the strong chili whole bass. I'm a huge tofu fan/maniac, and was sold. 9/10
4. Sauteed String Beans
Some Szechuanese versions uses chili peppers in this dish, but this place doesn't and instead, uses black bean sauce. The beans were sauteed to the perfect degree of doneness (evenly wrinkled and a tiny bit past crispness, the way it's supposed to be) and seasoned just right. The salty, black bean-based flavor of the string beans were excellent for providing balance to the chili fish and the delicate tofu. 9/10
By this point, all three of us were full, but oh wait, there's still...
5. Dessert: Szechuan Sticky Rice Balls (black sesame stuffed)
A-ma-zing. This is basically 6 small glutinous rice balls stuffed with a crushed sesame filling floating in a delicate soup infusion of sugar, osmanthus flower, and fermented rice wine. Take a small bite and savor the sensation of sweet gooey sesame goodness hitting your tongue. We split two orders of this and gobbled everything down despite our already full stomach. 10/10
We left the restaurant happy and full to the point of bursting. Thank goodness I took my parents on a stroll around the neighborhood right afterwards to help us digest all this delicious food.
The service, unfortunately, wasn't as attentive as we'd have liked. After bringing the last entree to our table, the waitress wandered off and never showed her face again until 15 minutes after we've finished eating all three entrees to bring us the dessert. We actually ordered the dessert right at the beginning with the rest of the food, so there's no excuse to make us wait for so long after all the food have been eaten (and to never even show up to check on us). And no, the restaurant was not terribly busy. There were only 2 tables including us seated upstairs at the time.
And when the bill came, strangely, the service charge was already added. Normally, restaurants add a mandatory service charge for parties of 5 or more, but there were only 3 of us this time. Very odd.
However overall, the food here was so wonderful and satisfying that we still had a great time here, despite the less-than-perfect service. My parents were talking about how much they enjoyed the food even the next day!
244 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019