Apparently Szechuan cuisine was really en vogue in the 60s and 70s--when I was telling my parents about how exotic-tasting I find the food at Szechuan Gourmet to be, they said that they used to eat Szechuan food all the time back in the day. The style seems to have fallen somewhat out of favor, but I can't really imagine why. Szechuan Gourmet is definitely one of my favorite restaurants in the city. Aside from the complex flavor profiles I described above, the restaurant also serves up some really interesting types of meat and fish that I never knew were used in China, such as rabbit, ox tongue, lamb, and razor clams. But let's move on to what Malcolm, Shannon and I ate when we visited on Thursday evening. To start off, we shared an order of "Szechuan Pork Dumplings with Roasted Chili Soy" ($3.95). Like most good dumplings, these are incredibly addictive--I could have eaten twenty of them. Plump, moist and porky with thin, tender skins, the dumplings are served with a rich, thick and spicy sauce:
Next up we had one of my favorite dishes on the menu, "Crispy Lamb Filets with Chili Cumin" ($14.95). The pieces of lamb are tender on the inside and crispy on the outside, coated heavily with smoky cumin, and showered with crunchy bits of garlic, red chiles and green onions. Such a perfect mix of flavors:
Providing a nice textural contrast to the lamb was "Baby Eggplant with Spicy Garlic Sauce"--a classic Chinese dish ($6.25). I'm not a big fan of Italian eggplants, at least the way they sell them in the U.S.--they're big and full of moisture and seeds and often taste bland or bitter or, somehow, both. Asian cuisines use Japanese eggplants, which are smaller, slimmer and lighter in color than their cousins. The vegetable's flesh is soft and unctuously creamy--very delicious. Slick the eggplants with a sauce shimmering with chili oil and flecked with bits of garlic and you can't go wrong:
Three generous portions of food, served with rice and green tea, set each of us back $14, including, as always, tax and tip. Cheap eats at its best.
21 West 39th Street (between 5th and 6th)