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La Vie En Szechuan Brief Report

I noticed a new Szechuan place next door to Rattle N Hum (33 btwn 5th and Mad) and decided to check it out. The place itself is fairly sparse but clean and well lit. The menu itself is well presented with photos accompanying most dishes.

Started off with the wontons in chili vinaigrette. These were well made with very delicate skins and a nice filling. The sauce was good but not great, plenty of chili heat but it could have used some more peppercorns.

For a main I had the spicy cumin mutton. This was a good rendition of the dish. Plenty of cumin flavor.

My friend had the Shredded pork with Beijing style soy bean paste. I have not had this dish before but liked it.

I didn't get a chance to sample and of the Szechuan standards but will go back as I liked everything I had and would like to sample more of the menu.

No liquor license.

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  1. ah interesting, i noticed this place too last week when i was staying in ktown during Sandy

    1. "No liquor license."

      We live in a time of Sichuan abundance. Can you BYO?

      1 Reply
      1. re: Bob Martinez

        Yeah we brought in some beers and they were fine with it. Too bad I couldn't just bring some pints over from Rattle N Hum.

      2. Thanks for the report, MVNYC. Any idea behind the name choice of the place?

        1 Reply
        1. re: scoopG

          Not a clue, the waiter's English was not the best. As a matter of fact we were the only people speaking English in the fairly packed place. I only had a few things but it is worth checking out. The chef who is pictured on the menu and seems to have a fairly extensive resume was in the house.

        2. Dropped in for lunch this Saturday and was also the only English speaking table (my Mandarin is pitiful). The "Double Cooked Pork" (more like "sauteed bacon, leeks, onions and black beans") was lick-the-plate tasty; I could easily have knocked off three bowls of white rice with it but limited myself to only one-and-a-half ;) . SO had the relatively, IMHO, boring "noodle soup with seafood" which was quite the trough-ful for 9 bucks. La-mien type noodles with extremely fresh veggies and a surprisingly full-bodied broth. Entire kitchen staff paraded out around 1:30 to unload a minivan which had pulled up with large boxes of veggies and meat.

          1. Went back again tonight. Went with my Sichuan staple of Ox Tongue and Maw (Tripe) in chili. Different then what I am used to, a soupier sauce and studded with sesame. i told the waiter I like Ma La when I ordered and it delivered. The sesame seeds were abundant and added a nice textural component. My only complaint here was that there was not enough tongue compared to the tripe.

            I got the crabs in chili sauce. Very nice. Fresh crabs drenched in great chili sauce with a vegetable I believe to be bamboo.

            My friend got the chicken dish with fried dough. Along the lines of chong qing chicken but with a crispier batter. This was alright.

            The menu is interesting and I am curious to see what other Sichuan vets think.

            2 Replies
            1. re: MVNYC

              I love this place. Ligaya Mishan of the NY Times is spot on when calling this chicken dish “crunchy ringlets of dough, faintly sweet, tossed with deep-fried hunks of chicken embedded with late-breaking spice.” The fried dough sticks are Mai Xiang, a type of snack food.

            2. Their cumin mutton is a very good rendition.

              1. Fish Maw in Chili sauce, in the signature dish section, is excellent. This large dish, in the "water cooked" style with lots of enoki mushrooms and either cucumber or a zucchini like squash in it with a touch of sweetness that softens the heat. It is probably best for for a party of four

                1. This place delivers. Was packed on a recent Sunday at lunchtime. The owner moved to New York from Paris, hence the name.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: scoopG

                    Yeah, not sure why it doesn't get the full chowhound love but I really like the place.

                    1. re: MVNYC

                      Do they have a liquor license now? If not do they let you BYO?

                      1. re: Bob Martinez

                        I believe it is still BYO. I haven't been in about a month or so. The immediate vicinity doesn't really have much in the way of liquor stores or Delis though there is a 7-11 on Mad and 33. I think Rattle N Hum sells growlers.

                        Do check this place out. There is more creativity in the menu than other Szechuan places in town.

                        1. re: MVNYC

                          My BYO question was a sign of how serious I am about going. I look forward to trying it.

                  2. Love this place. it has been byob for a long time. don't see why it would change. Dan Dan noodles are fabulous.

                    1. I wasn't impressed with my visit earlier this year (at least 6 months ago). Perhaps I ordered wrong or it was an off day. I remember not liking the Dan Dan noodles - the noodles were thicker than I'm used to and the dish was quite sweet and not spicy at all. I can't remember what other dishes I tried but usually I stick to the standards like mapo tofu, double-cooked pork, wontons in chili oil, etc when trying out a new Sichuan place.

                      Compared to the nearby Sichuan joints, La Vie en Szechuan had a lot of interesting-looking dishes on the menu. But due to my lackluster meal and also higher prices, I wasn't compelled to return. Based on this Serious Eats review, maybe the restaurant is better at the less typical Sichuan dishes?


                      1. This restaurant is a block and a half from my office and I finally tried it for lunch. Just preliminary because it was one meal for one person.

                        I had the shredded tripe with chili vinaigrette and the spicy cumin mutton.

                        The tripe was similar to other good places; I liked it. I like tripe. I would order this again after exploring other appetizers.

                        The mutton was like nothing i've had. Not only because of the cumin flavor combined with the spiciness, but more because of the texture. The meat was .... soft, squishy, not meat-like. But all these things in a good way. A very interesting dish.

                        There's lots of interesting stuff on this menu!

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: plf515

                          Six of us had a very good dinner here last night. The restaurant is subdued in decor, and the white tablecloths and the well-thought-out presentation of the dishes contrast with the Flushing haunts where I take most of my Chinese meals.

                          I did not take detailed notes on each dish, so will present the list with brief comments in places. Service is attentive and menus are translated. We made our selections from the paper menu; I will note numbers of each dish:


                          13. Sliced Pork Ears with Garlic Chili Sauce. Excellent flavor; ears were finely shredded. Not very spicy, despite chili pepper notation on menu. (None of the dishes we ordered were what I would call "very spicy," although most featured bright and complex flavors)

                          20. Spring Bamboo Shoots in Sesame Oil. Tender and delicious, personal favorite.

                          24. Crispy Cucumber. These appeared to be Persian cucumbers that had been quickly blanched, then sliced into lengths and served with a Hoisin sauce. Not at all what we were expecting and not typical of Sichuanese cucumber appetizers that I have tried, which are usually resplendent with garlic. Not interesting enough to order again.

                          LUXURY SIGNATURE DISHES

                          2. Spicy chicken with Fried Dough Twist. Crisply deep-fried, abundant oil, lavished with dried red chili peppers. Even after eating a healthy portion, I was reaching across the table for the last bits and pieces. Fried dough fusilli-shaped twists were somewhat chalky; I left most of these on the plate and I suspect others did the same. (See details of these--Mai Xiang-- in ScoopG's notes on this dish, in his post of 10/14) I would certainly order this again.

                          4. Chonquing-Style Braised Fish filets. Healthy sized chunks of flounder that were at the point fo falling apart, served in a reddish broth with cabbage and chili peppers. I liked this dish and I am not usually a fan of braised fish dishes. Others were on the fence about it. Broth was just a tad spicy, but no real heat.

                          5. Double-Cooked Pork. I did not try.

                          4. Minced Pork with Pickled Long Beans. Although I was told that this is a signature Sichuan dish, I had never sampled it before, but had been curious after seeing photo on Serious Eats. Interesting dish; abundant pickled flavor. Some heat from diced fresh chilis. Interesting, but not one of my favorites.

                          22. Spicy Cumin Mutton. Very different from the legendary cumin lamb dishes of Fu Run and Little Pepper, this featured velvety, soft braised lamb slices. No overhwhelming cumin flavor and little heat despite the name but, again, I liked it qutie a lot. (There is another mutton dish listed above this one--sauteed spicy mutton; perhaps this more closely replicates the LP favorite).


                          16. Sauteed Pea Shoots with Garlic Sauce. One of the best Chinese green vegetable dishes I've had all year. Exceedingly fresh and perfectly cooked.

                          For dessert: Complimentary platter of honeydew, watermelon, and Navel oranges. Fortune cookies (complete with Chinese lesson).

                          The restaurant remains BYOB. Service was attentive. They accept reservations. The restaurant was busy on a Wednesday night. Divided bill totalled $26 per person including tip.

                          14 East 33rd Street between Madison and Fifth.

                          1. re: erica

                            Thanks for that. Sound like a good kitchen that's light on the heat.

                            1. re: erica

                              Unfortunately, Ginny & I weren't as enamored with the meal as you were. As the place is very congenial and easy to socialize in, and we were with very good company, the food's mediocrity didn't bother us as much as it could have. The apps. were fine, but none of the mains stood out as something I'd go back for. Nothing bad, but no real depth either. The Double Cooked Pork was somewhat dried out and wasn't as good as that at any of the other places we generally write about. The Mutton dish was waaay too soft, pounded out and with not very much flavor. The Minced Pork w/Long Beans was just not very good and everything was too finely ground and seemed past its prime. The fish fillets in broth was a good dish but mainly for the broth and cabbage. I really thought that the flounder was too soft and tasteless. Hard for me to criticize a chicken dish, but this one was not so much chicken nuggets, mostly chicken crust. The twists of dough added nothing except crunch… Legend's chicken nuggets w/peanuts is worlds better. The pea shoots were excellent… really excellent. Maybe the kitchen was off (nice crowd on a Wed night), maybe it's just not to my liking, but this will go down as last place on a nicely growing list of good places in midtown. All in all, I'd rather eat at Lan Sheng. Or Legend. Or….

                          2. Has anyone been here recently?

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Daniel76

                              I went at the end of last year and had the Mei Shan Dongpo Pork Shoulder, which is an enormous piece of meat in a large bath of spicy and oily broth. I can't remember the other dish I had- it was a vegetable or tofu something or other.

                              I thought the pork was fine, but it was really fatty and incredibly oily and I probably should have been dissuaded from ordering it as a solo diner...But staff spoke English, everyone was very nice.

                            2. This place makes an amazing pork blood dish.

                              Sliced thin, but too thin, and drenched or more like bathed in a molten broth that's at once spicy and hot but also with subtle hints of nuttiness.

                              This is the perfect remedy for someone like me who occasionally suffers from borderline anemia. Sure beats sucking down Fe pills. Tastier too.