OK, why haven't I gone to Szechuan Gourmet? I remember reading the Times review of the 39th Street location (ridiculously close to where I live), but I magically forgot about its existence. Then last month, Midtown Lunch mentioned the opening of a new location further north, on 56th between Broadway and Eighth. Then this morning, as I was pondering a place for Jiminy Cricket and I to eat lunch, I suddenly remembered...so we checked it out.
We sat down upstairs in the window (the decor is fairly sleek and modern) and noted that it smelled wonderful (like spices, not the blend of food and scary cleaning fluid that sadly seems to be the aroma of many Chinese restaurants). We decided to go for a couple of the Times recommendations and ordered the Spicy Sesame Noodles and the lunch special size ($7.95) of the Double Cooked Sliced Pork Belly with chili leeks, which has become my go-to ratings dish for a Sichuan restaurant.
The lunch specials come with soup, so we began with Hot & Sour Soup, which was peppery instead of vinegary, and fairly fresh tasting, which rarely seems to be the case with H&S soup.
Then came the Spicy Sesame Noodles, which were bathed in a wonderfully flavorful sauce (not the usual sesame butter glop at all!) laced with a large amount of red chili--what a wonderful kick!
Finally, our huge portion of Double Sautéed Pork arrived (it was so gigantic, we worried that he had thought we'd ordered the regular size, which was $5 more). It was definitely its own version of the dish, very unlike any others I'd had. Flavorful yet subtle (it was less fiery than the sesame noodles), it was full of bright red chili paste, leeks, thin slices of pork belly, and some mild capsicums. I missed the presence of Sichuan Peppercorns and the crunchy slices of ginger and other things in the Grand Sichuan version, but Sichuan Gourmet's was still lovely, and as Jimmy noted, perfect for the beginner's palate.
We both agreed that Szechuan Gourmet was definitely a place to revisit, and there's no shortage of menu items that look like they're worth exploring. I also want to check out the 39th Street and Flushing locations...I think some comparison dining is called for!