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May 22, 2014 07:14 AM

Szechuan Gourmet 98th opening

So, for those still looking for decent Chinese food on the UWS, there's another entry. Szechuan Gourmet 98 just opened yesterday, and on a minimal one-person sampling it was quite decent. the dan dan noodles had a good burn, and lovely after-tingle, with no peanut butter contamination. I followed this with their "spiciest" (3 pepper rating) dish, fish filet with fresh pepper. The filets were tender, perfectly cooked, and well spiced with several colors of fresh peppers, served on a generous bed of baby bok choy. On opening night, the place was mostly full of Chinese families, perhaps friends of the owners, and the service was quite attentive, with the manager coming over to ask me how I liked the dish and whether it was spiced to my liking. No booze yet, but coming. This place is actually in my building, so I could eat there in pjs. I'm not sure what the relationship is with the Szechuan Gourmet on 105th, but the menu is similar without being identical. In any case, an excellent addition to the neighborhood.

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  1. Thanks. 98th and what? Seems not to be showing up yet in menupages.

    11 Replies
    1. re: LNG212

      98th and Broadway, southeast corner.

        1. re: strangemd

          Where Hunan Balcony used to be, right? That's a serious upgrade for the neighborhood.

          1. re: Pan

            Yup, same spot and definitely a major upgrade. I never understood how that place survived so many years. But I don't get the mini-chain business plan: why a Szechuan Gourmet at 98th after they just opened one on 105th? Are they completely independent franchises?

            1. re: strangemd

              I'd have to see the menu - but they have been expanding and buying Chinese restaurants. They took over Szechuan Chalet on the Upper East side. Within a month or so they had the same menu as their 39th street location.

            2. re: Pan

              This is an interesting example of how Chinese food has evolved. Back in the early 70's Szechuan and Hunan food were introduced to New York for the first time. They were authentic, with VERY spicy food. There was a place called Szechuan Gourmet on East 40th St. which was rather upscale, without the usual kitschy Chinese decor. It closed many years ago, as did all the other authentic places. Apparently the adventurous dishes just didn't have wide enough appeal. What we were left with are places like Hunan Balcony and Empire Szechuan, with horrible bland food. Then in the last few years, we have seen a resurgence of good, authentic Szechuan (not Hunan, as far as I know, though I could be wrong on that). I do wonder, though, whether we will once again see a proliferation of these, and then another dumbing down of the food in order to attract enough customers to fill all of them.

              1. re: rrems

                Depends whether you believe that history is cyclical?
                I remember eating Szechuan food for the first time in Chinatown in the mid 70s and thinking it was amazing, as well as spicy enough to induce diaphoresis. Then there was the expansion and decline you describe. Maybe palates have become more educated and it won't happen again? The optimistic perspective, perhaps.
                As to "real" Hunan in the current day, Hunan Manor on Lex and 39th is pretty good.

                  1. re: rrems

                    I don't believe the Sichuan restaurants will be dumbed down en masse at all. Spicy food has a real place in New York now - just look at the proliferation of Isaan restaurants. I ate at Somtum Der a few days ago, and that fish leaf salad packed some serious heat from the bird's eye chilis.

                    1. re: rrems

                      To be fair, it wasn't as if absolutely EVERYTHING Hunan Balcony made was awful. I personally thought their Zha Jian Mein (or however the spelled it, the dish with the noodles in the meat and soybean paste sauce) was some of the best in the city. Of course I'm referring to the version served by the UES branch the used to be in the 60's; the version the UWS branch dished up should have gotten the chef five hundred lashes. Still I'm glad that Szechuan Gourmet has taken over the UWS spot. They tend to be reliable.

              2. I just had lunch there with some friends. None of us are chili-heads, but we've live in China and are fairly decent Chinese cooks, and we were very happy. The tea-smoked duck was delicious, and I really liked the hand-shredded chicken, which was very moist and had actual chicken-flavor, on top of the sesame sauce. The real knockout for me, though, was the tofu, which was just great -- genuinely crisp, melting inside. I guess I am something of a texture-fiend, and while I liked all the flavors a lot, it was the spot-on textures that made me do a little jig. REALLY happy to see this place supplant the late-and-not-at-all-lamented Hunan Balcony.

                1. I had a very different impression. Pluses were a crispy, good spring roll dish and a quite good hot and sour soup. A lot of minuses, however: (1) Waiters seemingly right off the boat speak/understand hardly any English; (2) Perhaps as consequence of this, we were first brought white rice when we ordered brown; (3) extremely ordinary sweet and sour chicken -- a little broccoli and cooked chicken; no other garnish. No sauce on it. (4) There was a separate bowl of sauce, for which no spoon/ladle was brought for quite a while -- not very good. (5) Soup was for my husband; spring roll for me, as was clear. Nonetheless, spring roll was brought was after the soup, right before the main dish. (6) The gratuitous sliced orange at the end was again brought w/o the slightest garnish and a label still stuck to one piece.
                  This restaurant has a LONG way to go. In a restaurant w/ so much choice, I am not returning any time soon. Try the Empire Szechuan about 3 blocks up on B'way.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: vivianberger

                    Ok, I'm going to have to strongly disagree here. I've been to SG98th four times so far, and the quality of the Szechuan dishes is the best on the UWS. To compare them to the bland junk they serve at Empire Szechuan is just absurd. It is also not reasonable to order something like sweet and sour chicken at a serious Szechuan restaurant. Those standard American-Chinese dishes are not at all what this place is about. If your complaint is about service, you are correct, they are still a bit disorganized, but cheerful and eager to please. I suggest that in future visits you stick to the Szechuan specialty items; you will not be disappointed, and the service will improve with time.

                    1. re: strangemd

                      This is just what I was referring to in my post above. If the customers are people who order sweet and sour chicken, and prefer the food at Empire, how long will it be before the restaurant starts dumbing down the food? The fact that they even have sweet and sour chicken on the menu is not a good omen.

                      1. re: rrems

                        When I was there with a few friends last week, we ordered (among other things) the pigs' feet appetizer, and 1000-year-old eggs with squid, and the waiter was just beaming.

                        FWIW, I didn't love the pigs' feet, but the eggs were wonderful.

                        1. re: rrems

                          I order well at this place. Julienne jellyfish appetizer, for example, or the squid with 1000 year old egg.

                          I don't order pigs' feet because I find them hard to eat, even with a knife and fork, much less chopsticks, but I do order things like braised kidneys.

                          Once, in Chinatown (I forget the place) I ordered and the waiter said "Oh! You like *Chinese* food"

                          So, if you like Empire S. by all means, go there. But don't go back to SG 98 and try to make it into another Chinese-American mishmosh restaurant where the peppers vanish.

                      2. re: vivianberger

                        Meaning no disrespect, but your complaints are almost all about issues I really don't care about. Whether there is garnish on a given dish (which is not remotely traditional), whether they got the "who ordered what" correct, whether there was a garnish on the ORANGE (who garnishes an orange? with what? a...a lychee?) strike me as kind of beyond meaningless, particularly in the context of a neighborhood joint. And I'm sorry, but if you order sweet and sour chicken in a Szechuan restaurant, you kind of deserve what you get.

                        1. re: vivianberger

                          I've been to SG98 3 or 4 times now and like it a lot.

                          Waiters who aren't fluent in English? They understood my order, that's enough for me.

                          Sweet and sour chicken shouldn't be on the menu.

                          Garnish? Ummm. I don't care at all about garnish in a place like this.

                          Empire Szechuan is not in the same class as SG98, not even close.

                        2. FWIW, my complaint about SG98 is that the kitchen is WILDLY inconsistent. The first time I went -- two weeks ago -- we ordered "hand shredded chicken" with spicy sesame sauce, and we got a domed pile of finely shredded (and beautifully cooked) chicken in perfectly balanced sauce. The next time, about a week ago, the same dish was presented as a (much smaller) handful of CHUNKS of chicken (still well cooked), with a very spicy dipping sauce on the side. And a take-out order this past weekend produced chopped chicken, nowhere near as perfectly cooked as in the past, and already mixed with an overly spicy sauce. That dish has been the most problematic, but similar inconsistencies have plagued all the other dishes I've ordered, and I don't think anyone there speaks enough English for me to explain my concerns.

                          1. Any reports for 98th street Szechuan Gourmet?

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: AubWah

                              Uh, there's an entire thread, right above your question, about Szechuan Gourmet98.