Wa Jeal on the Upper East Side
My girlfriend and I had dinner at this Sichuanese restaurant on Friday night, after visiting the Metropolitan Museum. As the restaurant is on the Upper East Side, it's more formal and more expensive than Sichuan-style establishments in other neighborhoods of Manhattan: The staff immediately ask if you'd like to check your coat, hang it on a hanger parallel to the window next to the takeout counter, and give you a numbered plastic tag for your coat, and there are white tablecloths on the tables. Many of the customers were dressed formally, and the restaurant seems to often take reservations and asked us if we had any but had no trouble seating us as walk-ins. Whole fish dishes cost around $25 and the conch with chili sauce appetizer was outlandishly expensive at $15, so we avoided these dishes. But by ordering carefully, we got a very good meal that cost about $50 including tax and tip for the two of us.
Cold dishes we ordered:
Spiced Beef ($11.95) - excellent thin-sliced beef with a ma la dry rub
Chef ’s Sichuan Pickle ($6.95) - on about the same level of deliciousness and saltiness as Legend's Sichuan pickles (i.e., it was salty but not objectionably so). Made from red radishes and the green and white parts of celery.
From the "Chef ’s Menu":
Stir Fried Chicken w/ Spiced Miso & Roasted Chili ($15.95) - I think they may have given us the wrong dish. What we got were pieces of thinly breaded wok-fried chicken with long, quite spicy green peppers and dried red peppers. There didn't seem to be any real sauce, but the dish was very good, with moist chicken.
All the dishes were of excellent quality comparable to the Sichuan restaurants I eat at downtown, but I would have to have several more meals to be able to compare the place to Szechuan Gourmet.
They also charged us I believe $3.25 for a pot of tea (we chose jasmine green tea, which had a weak jasmine flavor and no leaves in the pot, but I actually prefer for the jasmine flavor not to be too strong). There is no option to get any type of tea for free, but they do give free refills of the teapot without being asked (they refilled it twice for us, as I recall).
I would heartily recommend this restaurant to anyone who has a reason to be in the neighborhood, and I think it's important to support the place. The hostesses asked how we found the place. They said that many people don't look at the sign on the subway construction that blocks view of the east side of 2nd Av. from the west side of the avenue, so it seems that though the restaurant was doing a brisk delivery business, their earnings may be suffering.
1588 2nd Av., between 82nd and 83rd Sts.
I reported a downhill alert for Wa Jeal in September. They were really dumbing-down the dishes then. Perhaps another change of hands? This charging for tea is an issue as well, not something they used to do at all. Szechuan Gourmet, which took over the former Szechuan Chalet on 71st and Second is my go-to UES Chinese now.