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Szechuan Gourmet or Great Sichuan?

I'm going to be working with my clients at Park & 34th and I'll be staying near Madison and 31st and I really, really need a good Asian food fix, ideally within walking distance. Tragically (and incomprehensibly), my clients refuse to eat Indian, Thai, Vietnamese or Cambodian. I think I can talk them into Szechuan or Japanese. I love, love Sakagura, but it can be a challenge to get a table on short notice. So if that fails, I'm considering Szechuan Gourmet or Great Sichuan. I've read good reviews on both.

Any reason to visit one over the other? One of my favourite Szechuan dishes is shredded pork with dried tofu and chinese celery. I see it on the Great Sichuan menu, but not necessarily on the Szechuan Gourmet menu (though it might be just listed as shredded pork).

Does one have a better atmosphere than the other? Do both serve alcohol? Is there a better option that I haven't found yet?

Thanks in advance for any help!

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  1. Highly recommend Hunan Manor on Lexington between 39th and 40th. For Szechuan- Szechuan Gourmet on 39th

    2 Replies
    1. re: AubWah

      Hunan Manor and Mapo Tofu across the street are excellent.
      For Japanese try Hane on 3RD Ave and 38th.
      OOPS! I see you are already done. Good recs for next time.

      1. Cafe China on 37th between 5th and Medison has a much nicer atmosphere than Szechuan Gourmet or Great Sichuan. The food is comparable though portions are smaller.

        1. There are a ton of Sichuan places in the area. I agree with the Cafe China rec for the purposes of your dinner. It has the nicest atmosphere/decor of the bunch and also a full bar with interesting cocktails (I think the other places only serve beer/wine though I could be wrong).

          Foodwise, Cafe China is very good. In my experience, the food is not as spicy and a little sweeter than the others but I like it. My favorite Sichuan is actually Lan Sheng (across the street from Szechuan Gourmet) but decor there is somewhat lacking. Szechuan Gourmet is also very good but again not great decor. As for Great Sichuan, I have had mixed experiences (one great meal, one horrible meal) but to be fair I haven't eaten there in over a year. Decor again not great.

          There are also a couple of other nearby Sichuan places but my single visits to each were not good so I've never been back. They are Grand Sichuan (33rd and Lex) and Mapo Tofu (39th and Lex). Another poster mentioned Hunan Manor which I love but it's not Sichuan food and decor is also not great.

          3 Replies
          1. re: churros

            Cafe China, come on we are talking about entertaining clients. They want the deal deal tastes on their palates, not pretentious heirs. Hunan is the zenith of Chinese cooking in Midtown.

            1. re: AubWah

              AubWah, just to confirm -- are you saying that Cafe China isn't good?

              1. re: TorontoJo

                I'm saying the food is not as good as at Szechuan Gourmet or Hunan Manor, and you will pay higher prices for smaller portions.

          2. Szechuan Gourmet is good. I like the lobster dish there especially.

            1. Thanks for the feedback. Now I'm really confused! :)

              Fortunately, my clients do not need upscale decor and fawning service. I can take them to a pub and they'd be happy. I just want really good food. I don't personally care for Hunan cuisine, so I'll stick with one of the Szechuan suggestions, though there doesn't seem to be a consensus. I'll check out the menu for Cafe China later today. Good cocktails is an appealing factor.

              8 Replies
              1. re: TorontoJo

                Great Sichuan - pretty good Sichuan food in a "bright lights" neighborhood Chinese environment.

                Cafe China - uneven Sichuan food in a pleasant environment. Some dishes are very good, some are sub par. Michelin gave them a star. IMO they were overly generous.

                Szechuan Gourmet - very good Sichuan in an environment suitable for a business dinner. A NY Times 2 star.

                Of those 3 I'd go with Szechuan Gourmet. (I could make your life even harder by recommending a 4th alternative but things are complicated enough.)

                1. re: Bob Martinez

                  So, um, now that my dinner is over, can you tell me what your 4th alternative is? :)

                  1. re: TorontoJo

                    Sure. Lan Sheng is on the same block as Szechuan Gourmet. The atmosphere is about the same as SG and the food is at least as good, maybe better. They got a Michelin star earlier this month.

                    Some of my posts -




                    Dave Cook's pictures from that January dinner - http://www.flickr.com/photos/eatingin...

                    Full thread - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/673788

                    1. re: Bob Martinez

                      Ah thanks! It was recommended downthread by someone else as well. Will check it out for sure.

                2. re: TorontoJo

                  Thanks for the additional info. In this case the proper choice would be Szechuan Gourmet

                  1. re: AubWah

                    I think that will work out well.

                    If you're looking for pre-dinner cocktails in the area there are plenty of good choices. A favorite of mine is Cafe Un Deux Trois on 44th St. between 5th and 6th Ave. They do a ferocious pre-theater dinner business but there's a long bar that often is half empty. The cocktails aren't cheap but they're big and well made and the room has a lot of NY buzz that out of towners would find appealing. (It's not trendy but it certainly had energy.)

                    Back to Szechuan Gourmet - by all means call and get a reservation. You don't want to leave that to chance.

                  2. re: TorontoJo

                    Go to Lantern's Keep for cocktails, it is staffed by bartenders who also work at Milk & Honey and Raines Law Room.

                    1. re: kathryn

                      Lantern's Keep is totally unique and worth a visit.

                  3. I like Land of Plenty for Sichuan cuisine. The cooking is one of the top in the city in this genre and is probably the best for client dinner atmosphere-wise and decor-wise.

                    12 Replies
                    1. re: Cheeryvisage

                      My wife HATES Chinese food, her husband LOVES it (Jack Sprat Syndrome) The ONLY Chinese restaurant she will eat at is Szechuan Gourmet. Take that as a final rec!

                      1. re: Stuartmc910

                        Are you responding to me, or to the OP?

                      2. re: Cheeryvisage

                        You've convinced me to give this a try. It was a hard sell since it sits in the densest part of midtown. I don't work there right now and there's nothing compelling that brings me back.

                        It may take a month or so but I'll report back. It's great that the range of choices has expanded so greatly over the last 10 years.

                        1. re: Bob Martinez

                          Clearly you don't go shopping at Bloomingale's enough! :)

                          1. re: kathryn

                            lol...that's a good itinerary, but i'd suggest not wearing any fine Bloomingdales fine clothing to Sichuan dinners: chili oil blotches are like smallpox for clothing: incurable

                        2. re: Cheeryvisage

                          Cheeryvisage, do you know if they offer Sichuan style hot pot now that the weather is changing?

                          I believe that Legend and Szechuan Gourmet do, not sure about any others.

                          1. re: kathryn

                            I do not know, actually. I'll ask them the next time I eat there.

                            1. re: Cheeryvisage

                              Thanks! Trying to figure out where to get my next fix...

                            2. re: kathryn

                              Kathryn, Land of Plenty has the exact same menu that SG had (or did have) - right down to the same color paper and "Ma Paul Tofu." LOP is smaller in size than SG.

                              1. re: scoopG

                                IIRC at SG, during the colder months, there is a separate hot pot menu that is all on Chinese. $28.75pp for all you can eat, gratuity is included.

                          2. OK, Szechuan Gourmet it is, assuming I can talk the clients into it and I can get a reservation for tonight! Thank you so much. I will report back if I end up there.

                            3 Replies
                              1. re: TorontoJo

                                Re: shredded pork with pressed tofu: they have it, I ordered it there a few times.

                                1. re: diprey11

                                  Ooh, thank you, you just made my evening!

                              2. Just came back from dinner at Szechuan Gourmet and it was delicious! I ended up with just one colleague (clients decided to go home!) and between the two of us, we polished off:

                                -Dan dan noodles
                                -Pork dumplings in chili oil
                                -Dry sauteed green beans
                                -Dry spare ribs
                                -Five spice shredded pork w/pressed tofu and celery

                                The dan dan noodles were fabulous -- best I've personally had. Great "ma la" flavor from the peppercorns, good chewy noodles, wonderful oily and spicy. After having several versions, I've come to the conclusion that I like the dry version of this dish. Loved it!

                                The dumplings were the only fail. Flat, ravioli looking dumplings with just the tiniest bit of filling I've ever seen in a Chinese dumpling. Too bad because the skin was great and chewy and the filling was tasty, but the ratios were just too far off. Skip 'em.

                                The green beans were the best I've had in years -- perfectly cooked with just enough firmness left in the beans and stir fried with lots of wonderful minced garlic/preserved vegetable/minced pork (?) bits.

                                The spare ribs were good, with the chopped saucy bits the star of the show. Next to the dumplings, these were my least favorite dish. Nothing wrong, just nothing crave-able for me.

                                The shredded pork was what I had been craving all day and this dish did not disappoint. I've had versions with more wok hay, and this one may have been a bit oilier than some other versions, but that didn't stop me from inhaling the dish.

                                The five dishes, along with 2 beers and 1 glass of wine came to $71 before tip. We probably ordered enough food for 3 people, but we cleared off every dish but the dumplings. I thought it was great value for midtown Manhattan.

                                Thanks again for the guidance, my colleague and I both really enjoyed our meals!

                                20 Replies
                                1. re: TorontoJo

                                  Thanks for letting us know how it turned out. Sounds like your colleagues missed a great meal. NY has a number of really good Sichuan places nowadays.

                                  1. re: TorontoJo

                                    Yes, the minced meat in the green beans dish was pork. Glad you enjoyed!

                                    1. re: Pan

                                      It's a mix of minced pork and a Sichuan preserved vegetable 榨菜 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zha_cai

                                    2. re: TorontoJo

                                      Now you know why it's the ONLY Chinese Restaurant my wife will dine at.

                                      1. re: Stuartmc910

                                        I enjoyed my dinner so much that I've placed an order for lunch for today. My clients now have no choice but to try it. :)

                                      2. re: TorontoJo

                                        Glad to hear you enjoyed your meal. I agree with you about the dumplings in chili oil. I generally prefer wontons because of their thinner skin.

                                        Can anybody tell me if Szechuan Gourmet changed their dan dan noodles? Because dry is the last word I would have used to describe them. I've always found them soupy and not very flavorful.

                                        1. re: Miss Needle

                                          There was almost no "broth" in the dan dan noodles. Lots of chili oil, but no soup. Nice pile of minced pork and szechuan peppercorns. It was wonderful.

                                          BTW, my clients enjoyed their lunch today. :)

                                          1. re: TorontoJo

                                            That is fabulous news about the noodles. I've always considered the dan dan noodles SG's Achilles heel. Love their other stuff but stopped ordering the noodles after a while. Will make sure that I try them again next time I am there.

                                            And happy to hear that your clients enjoyed their lunch. If you have time try Lan Sheng across the street. I enjoy their dan dan noodles very much. When I lived near there I would place an order for pick-up frequently. As soon as she heard my voice she knew who I was and what I wanted to get. I felt like Miranda from Sex and the City when she would order the same things from her neighborhood Chinese restaurant.

                                            1. re: Miss Needle

                                              I'm going to be in the office regularly, so I'm looking forward to trying all the local versions of dan dan noodles. :)

                                              1. re: TorontoJo

                                                Just curious what your negative experiences with Hunan have been to make you rule it out? There is a fair amount of overlap with Sichuan

                                                1. re: AubWah

                                                  Good question, AubWah! I just looked through the menu, and you're right. I actually called my mother this morning to ask her about Hunan dishes and apparently I love Hunan cooking. :) I must have confused Hunan with some other region somewhere over the years. And there aren't many (any?) Hunan restaurants in Toronto, so it's not something I've had the chance to mentally re-calibrate myself on. Oops. :)

                                                  Hunan Manor is back on my list for next time! But I'm also curious what the 4th restaurant option is that Bob Martinez didn't want to confuse me with.

                                                  1. re: TorontoJo

                                                    Hunan Manor is excellent, as is Szechuan Gourmet on 39th (which you already know, obviously -- they make my favourite potstickers in the city, Taiwan style, on the gyoza side of things, too bad you had the others -- the owners are from Taiwan). I also really like Great Sichuan at 227 Lex.

                                                    1. re: TorontoJo

                                                      "But I'm also curious what the 4th restaurant option is that Bob Martinez didn't want to confuse me with."
                                                      Maybe La Vie En Szechuan?

                                                      1. re: JacksonH

                                                        JacksonH - Bob Martinez replied upthread -- he was referring to Lan Sheng.

                                                        And that's good to know, buttertart -- I ordered the pot stickers for lunch and they were delicious, but soggy from being in containers and already "pre-sauced". I would love to try them fresh out of the kitchen. Perhaps you can join me next time. I'll see if I can drag MMRuth out to join us. :)

                                                        1. re: TorontoJo

                                                          OK. I'm surprised there appears to be no mention of La Vie En Szechuan at all on Chowhound. I think it compares favorably to Szechuan Gourmet and Lan Sheng.

                                                          They don't have shredded pork with dried tofu and chinese celery on the menu, but they do have a dish called shredded pork with firm tofu and cayenne chili.

                                                            1. re: buttertart

                                                              Will email you next time an opportunity arises!

                                                  2. re: Miss Needle

                                                    i agree with Miss Needle, but sounds like they've changed them up...i should go back soon its been a while

                                            2. Szechuan Gourmet is awesome. Grand Sichuan is horrible. This is based ~20 visits/takeout at Szechuan Gourmet and one visit to Grand Sichuan (it was that bad).

                                              6 Replies
                                              1. re: jery7

                                                Which Grand Sichuan, first of all? Secondly, what did you order there? As a regular customer of Grand Sichuan St Marks, I'm here to tell you, it isn't the best Sichuan restaurant in Manhattan, but one can have an excellent meal there. Or not. You do have to order right.

                                                1. re: jery7

                                                  I've had some terrific meals at a number of GSI locations and then returned and had average meals. Then returned again and had another terrific meal. You roll the dice - they have a problem with consistency. I suspect they have a lot staff turnover in their kitchens.

                                                  My suspicion, and I've got no hard evidence, is that people work in their kitchens, learn their craft, and then leave to open up their own restaurants. A lot of new and very good Sichuan restaurants have opened up over the last 5 to 7 years. I'll bet some of those chefs used to work at various GSI locations.

                                                  1. re: jery7

                                                    Did you by any chance go to the UWS one? There is a marked difference between that branch and the other ones in the city.

                                                    1. re: jery7

                                                      Grand Sichuan 74, as it is known, is a not-so-grand restaurant with a menu that evokes the GS oeuvre and food that falls far short. Were you at GS74, jery7?

                                                      1. re: jery7

                                                        I agree with Jery that Szechuan Gourmet is awesome and way better that Grand Sichuan. However, the only Grand Sichuan that I have been to, was near the Manhattan Bridge. I don't see that one listed, I assume it is the same owners and I assume it didn't close.