Had two exceptional Chinese meals this weekend -
A. Szechuan Gourmet, 39th St. between 5th and 6th Avenues - our first visit, we are also devotees of the 3rd Ave Grand Sichuan.
Run by people from Taiwan, offshoot of Flushing place (haven't been there).
Sunday around 2 we were one of four tables, other customers all Mandarin and Taiwanese-speaking. Made us nostalgic for Taipei.
Restaurant very comfortable and nicely decorated, waitstaff very charming.
1. Sichuan pickled vegetables, cabbage/carrot/red pepper/celery, tossed in hot oil with a bit of sugar and Sichuan peppercorn. Very good but I prefer this unadorned.
2. Water-simmered sliced fish - lightly-fried probaly tilapia, in hot sauce with napa cabbage, baby bamboo and enoki mushrooms among other things.
3. Exemplary ma po doufu with ground pork, savory and very ma la (numbing and hot from beaucoup Sichuan peppercorn)
4. Tea-smoked pork with leeks - pork belly with (regular) leeks, very good even if the waitress was concerned we would find it too oily.
ALL OF THIS FOR $35.00! (had to bring beer in from outside).
I can't wait to go back - in Taiwan they (at least used to) serve dry-fried green beans with lightly-fried green onion pancakes, an unbelievable combination - hoping they'll do it there too (haven't seen it anywhere else, but when we lived in Taipei, in the 80's, it was inevitable that you would have both together).
B. Then this afternoon to Shanghai Pavilion, on 3rd Ave at 78th St.
Very nicely decorated restaurant, beautiful (very modern) calligraphy on the walls, pleasant waitstaff - again around 2 we were the only table in the place for a while, then 2 other couples came in.
Shanghai pickled cabbage was complimentary.
1. Crispy quail - marinated in soy sauce and deep-fried, wonderful.
2. Preserved vegetable, beancurd sheets, green soybeans, slivers of pork - excellent and subtle version of this most savory of dishes - if you love Shanghainese food and haven't tried this, you're in for a treat (other stellar versions at Tang Pavilion - the refined type - and Yeah Shanghai Deluxe - the more funky type)
3. Dry-fried green beans - acceptable, but not particularly special (should have held out for next visit to SG)
4. Braised chicken (mainly dark meat in large pieces off the bone) in dark soy-based sauce
w/chestnuts and Shanghai cabbage garnish. Very well-executed but I prefer the version made with cut-up whole chicken with bones and skin.
After we ordered we thought we should have checked to see if the had softshell crabs - we did ask, but the waiter said they had only frozen ones. This forthrightness made us feel even more well-disposed to the restaurant.
This was our 5th or so visit to this restaurant over a couple of years' time, and it seems from this that they are really on their game.
Tab here was $76.00 (beers are $6.00 apiece).
We are so fortunate to have access to Chinese food of this quality in New York.