Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Goin' Down to Old Old Sichuan

Didn't we all used to agree that Midtown and Flushing had the best Sichuan food in the city? These generalizations are no longer true and I'm forced to qualify every pronouncement I make about Sichuan cuisine with a "yeah, but...". Yet this works to everyone's benefit, since excellent Sichuan food is popping up from the Upper East Side (Wa Jeal and Szechuan Chalet) to even Bensonhurst (Bamboo Pavilion). So why can't a new Sichuan restaurant open up in Chinatown, where Cantonese and Fujian dominate? This would seem fairly obvious to most people, so I won't get into it. Anyway, on to the food...

Five of us met up on a recent Sunday afternoon, waiting for stragglers (you know who you are) in the cold on a stretch of Bayard that I've walked down a million times before (usually only for snacks at Me Li Wah or bubble tea at ViVi). I'd passed by Old Sichuan a bunch of times this year, but was skeptical until Chowhound reports came in (I'm lazy and there's about ten other new Sichuan restaurants I want to try too).

Seaweed salad and peanuts were offered when we first sat down, allowing me to snack while flipping through the menu. After ordering, dan dan noodles arrived first. It was a solid rendition, with thinner noodles, but not much of a standout (I've completely forgotten it already, not a good sign). Pan fried chicken tiny buns (sheng jian bao), a Shanghainese dish, were ordered based on Chowhound recommendations. I've never had these before, so I can't compare, but they provided a milder counterpoint to the much heavier seasoned Sichuan dishes. I thought they were fine, but others complained that the skins were too thick.

Sliced tongue and tripe was one of the standouts of the day (although not my favorite rendition ever-- Hunan House is still the champion). The vinaigrette contained plenty of Sichuan peppercorns and chili heat to counterpoint the tender pieces of tongue and chewy tripe.

I think this is three pepper chicken, or "chicken with peppers and chili sauce" as it was described (correct me if I'm wrong). It was on the specials menu (and came recommended by our waitress). Each component had an aggressive wok sear that brought out a mildly smokey flavor in the dish.

My favorite of the day was likely the water cooked fish. The fish is essentially covered in a boiling hot flavored oil, infusing it with the flavor of chiles and Sichuan peppercorns along with floating pieces of cabbage and tofu. As good a version of this dish as I've ever had, this will make anybody sweat.

Cumin lamb was fine, but a completely forgettable rendition with not enough cumin and a too-soft texture that did nothing for me.

For vegetables, we ordered green beans topped with beef (always a good benchmark at a Sichuan restaurant) and sweet and sour lotus root. The picture of the green beans clearly shows the wok sear, which imparted an extra layer of flavor and texture to the dish. Very good. Crunch lotus root was pleasant to munch on after eating one too many pieces of water cooked fish.

Since most of us our professional gluttons, we finished almost everything (no need for takeout boxes). They gave us something fried with red bean paste in it for dessert too (and we popped into a Chinese bakery afterwards).

Overall, Old Sichuan is a solid spot to add to the galaxy of Sichuan restaurants in NYC. While each place has its specialties, you can put together a very solid meal without feeling a twinge of regret (the twinge you feel is likely too much Sichuan peppercorns).

Old Sichuan
65 Bayard St
New York, NY 10013

No comments:

Post a Comment