Chalk one up for the new board arrangements. I hadn't heard of Lao Sze Chuan until the new Southern New England board mashup. I mean, who knew there was food in Connecticut east of Norwalk? :-)
Seriously though, thanks to all the folks who have been talking about this place here for the past few years. Glad I found out about it, albeit a few years later.
Anyhow, upon hearing that there was actually genuinely authentic Chinese in the state, I somehow persuaded my family and my friend's family (a true Sinophile) to make a weeknight trek to Lao Sze Chuan. Here's what we ordered:
* Ox tongue and tripe with hot sauce – $9
* Szechuan dumplings in red chili sauce (8) – $6
* Scallion pancakes (two orders) – $5 each
* Fried pork dumplings (two orders) – $6
* Breaded sole fillets with Thai sauce – $19
* Sauteed shredded beef with Szechuan jalapeños – $13
* Twice cooked sliced pork with Szechuan jalapeño and leek – $12
* Chicken Lo Mein – $8 (crowd pleaser for the kiddos)
* Sesame Chicken – $12 (also for the kiddos)
* Bok Choy and garlic
Some highlights of a few:
Ox tongue and tripe with hot sauce. I was planning to try this after reading other reports here on Chowhound about the dish. After our server (owner?) recommended it too, we ordered it (it was the only cold app we ordered, but I want to try the beef tendon and sesame noodles next time). I'm glad we ordered it - of all we tried, this dish best showcased the purity of the Szechuan peppercorn, in all of it’s unique tingly, lip-numbing heat. The tripe had a slight, pleasing crunch, but not chewy or tough at all. The thinly sliced ox tongue had a deep beefy-like flavor, but without being too overpowering. The dish was dressed perfectly by a szechuan peppercorn-infused sauce that cut the richness of the tripe and beef.
Szechuan dumplings in red chili sauce. These dumplings were more reminiscent of a ravioli in form than a stereotypical Chinese dumpling. The small pork fillings were wrapped in a thin, rather delicate dough swimming in a black-red chili sauce. All together, it was a nice surprise. Given how good these are, I wouldn’t bother with the regular dumplings here, which were sub par to begin with, let alone compared with the Szechuan dumplings.
Scallion Pancakes. I’m not sure how particular to Szechuan scallion pancakes are, but we couldn’t resist ordering them regardless. Lao Sze Chuan’s pancakes were far better than your typical suburban Chinese restaurant, packing good flavor with a nice crunch without being overly greasy. That said, their pancakes lacked the flakiness of great scallion pancakes and don’t really compare well to my all-time personal favorites at new/Nice Green Bo in NYC. Given the other great things on Lao Sze Chuan’s menu, I’d look elsewhere on the menu for appetizers.
Breaded sole filets in Thai sauce. The proprietor of Lao Sze Chuan strongly recommended we try this dish; I’m glad she did as I would have never tried it otherwise based on the name and menu description. Of everything I tried, this was the best single dish of the night. The sole couldn’t possibly have been cooked more perfectly – large filet chunks, impossibly tender and bathed in a mildly spicy-sweet sauce. The hearts of palm, garlic and mushrooms filled out the dish to make it a must-try. Oh, and don’t be daunted by the “Thai” name – it felt Szechuan through and through to me (but what do I know??).
Sauteed shredded beef with Szechuan Jalapeños. Despite the name, this was one of the mildest dishes of the night (apparently Szechuan “jalapeños” are milder than their Mexican namesakes). The beef was mildly flavored, with a velvety texture. The peppers gave the dish a very pleasant peppery flavor with a subtle bitter note to the dish.
Twice cooked sliced pork with Szechuan jalapeño and leek. Of the main dishes, this was perhaps my least favorite. But that says much more to the strength of the other dishes than this dish being poorly executed. In fact, this dish would probably be the star at most other Chinese restaurants in Connecticut. The fatty pork (uncured pork belly?) was sliced paper thin taking on a ribbon-like quality and cooked with traditional Szechuan spices, leeks and peppers. (I sold it to my kids as “Chinese bacon”) My only complaint is that, even though well executed, I was still left with too much of a greasy aftertaste. That said, I’d happily take it any other day of the week when I don’t have access to the rest of the menu.
To wrap up a wildly long post, if you happen to be within a 45 minute radius of Milford, CT, go to Lao Sze Chuan. You’ll count the time and gas investment well worth it.