If you were going to open an excellent Szechuan restaurant in midtown would you decide to place it almost right across the street from Szechuan Gourmet on 39th St.? It’s an interesting question. What’s not in doubt is that Lan Sheng is a worthy competitor. It might even be better than that.
Lan Sheng opened in October of this year and somehow I only found out about it last week. Since we had an afternoon theater date this past Saturday at the nearby Laura Pels it seemed like a perfect opportunity to check them out.
Lan Shen is a handsome place with cozy banquettes and white tablecloths. The lighting is more subdued than similar Chinese restaurants. Clearly they’re making an effort to be a bit more upscale than neighboring Szechuan Gourmet (which itself is more than passable.)
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When sussing out new restaurants I first like to order versions of dishes that I’ve enjoyed at similar places. That way I can establish a baseline. If they’re good I branch out to other parts of the menu on subsequent visits. We followed that plan on Saturday.
Dan Dan noodles were suitably spicy and after a minute we felt the pleasant buzz of Szechuan pepper corns. We noticed that the sauce was a bit thicker and more complex than similar versions served around town. We also picked out a slight bit of sweetness that might bother some diners. We thought it wasn’t enough to overwhelm the dish and added an interesting note. If this is the type of thing that bothers you, be warned. I think most people will like this dish a lot.
Chengdu Wontons with Sichuan Peppercorn Vinaigrette were firm, meaty, and delicate. While the sauce was completely different than that used with the dan dan noodles we noticed the same complexity and light touch of sweetness as in the previous dish. Very good indeed.
Double Cooked Streaky Pork with Spicy Capsicum is our old friend pork belly, accompanied by hot and sweet peppers. This was an excellent dish – the flavors of the peppers played off the richness of the pork belly. The heat level was high enough to add interest without overwhelming the ingredients.
It was lunchtime and we really couldn’t eat any more without running the risk of spoiling our dinner plans. We ate too much anyway and we certainly wanted to eat even more. Everything we had was skillfully prepared; I got the strong feeling that there are a lot of great dishes on the menu waiting to be discovered. We’ll be back.
As for the location, my guess is that Lan Sheng is hoping to catch Szechuan Gourmet’s spillover lunchtime crowd. (My understanding is that SG gets crazy busy during the week.) The good news is that Lan Sheng won’t be viewed as some sort of weak fallback when SG is jam packed. It’s serving first rate food in a room with superior ambiance. My guess is that they’re going to do just fine.
While they had beer available they don’t serve wine yet. When we asked about it they said “Soon.”
A small complimentary dish of pickled vegetables was placed on the table for nibbling while we made our selections. Good stuff.
When they brought our check they also gave us 2 “$5 Off” coupons that can be used on bills of $50 or higher. I have a feeling that they’re not going to need to offer this deal for very long.
The place had about 4 tables filled at 1:00PM on a Saturday afternoon. I expect that business will pick up nicely once word gets around.
60 W 39th St, New York, NY 10018
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