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East Midtown surprise: spicy Szechuan at Master Wok!

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East Midtown surprise: spicy Szechuan at Master Wok!

Sir Gawain | Nov 4, 2003 01:25 PM

Last night my consort and I found ourselves in a "need to eat NOW" type situation in East Midtown, not our usual environment. At consort's suggestion we went to Master Wok, an establishment on 2nd Ave (corner of 53rd), and had an exciting, and very promising, experience.

First of all, this is not your garden-variety takeout Chinese restaurant. Obviously a lot of effort and care has gone into the appearance of the restaurant, and one feels that this is a family business run with pride. It seemed to be presided over by stern-looking martiarch who could be seen in the back bossing around some of the staff. There is a pronounced pink theme going on, from walls to ceiling to (double!) tablecloths, and a huge mural of lotus blossoms covers one wall. It's not how I'd envisage my living room, but clearly it's exactly what they wanted.

The menu is surprisingly extensive and alphabet-coded, with a front section dedicated to "Popular Szechuan Dishes", and that's where we chose our dinner from. An appetizer of pork wontons with Szechuan roasted chili oil was delicious, flavorful and slick with oil, with a pronounced chili/garlicky flavor. The entrees we chose were double sauteed fresh bacon with pickled vegetables, an EXCELLENT, mildly spicy dish where every bite was packed with flavor (nice, fresh-tasting sourness to the vegetables, but they didn't taste pickle-y at all) and varying textures, with a sprinkling of explosively flavorful (pickled?) black beans - EXCELLENT!

The second entree, braised beef and vegetables [in] roasted chili vinaigrette was good too and on the hot side (though the spice was toned down for our gringo palates), but just for me subjectively the dish had too much of an anise-y flavor (I don't like anise). I believe it was star anise. The sauce (vinaigrette) was again heavy with oil but the spice cut through it nicely, again with a pronounced chili flavor.

The portions were more than generous, the service pleasant and the place nearly empty, though my consort tells me it's bustling at lunchtime. I had a really good feeling there, that of eating at a family place that prides itself on its cooking. There is a takeout menu but for some reason it doesn't include the Szechuan dishes - instead it has the usual classics like general Tso's chicken, etc. The Szechuan takeout menu is separate and you have to ask for it, but it's also on the web! As you can see, there are some pretty interesting items on there.

In any case, I will come back there soon, and highly recommend the place to your attention.

Link: http://www.masterwok.com/sze_MENU.htm

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