I have no good reason for not having been to Szechuan Gourmet more often considering how close it is to my office on 27th Street and that I usually slobber at the thought of Sichuan food (I'm going to stick to "Sichuan" to refer to the cuisine even though the restaurant uses "Szechuan"). But 39th Street between 5th and 6th avenues feels like a zone of nothingness, furthermore, a zone in the opposite direction of my apartment. So I forget it's there and continue to point my merry band of eaters to Grand Sichuan or Famous Sichuan instead.
It took Tina's organizational skills to bring Liza, Ben, Colin, and I together for dinner at Szechuan Gourmet. In conclusion, I MUST GO BACK! Oh wait, I can't conclude yet; you should probably look at what I ate first.
Spicy cucumber salad ($5.95): Crispy cucumber chunks = very good delivery system for spicy sauce.
Smoked tofu shreds with Asian celery ($6.95): Dried tofu is my favorite sort of tofu; it's firm and has a mildly chewy texture. But it wouldn't be all that satisfying if I just ate a wad of it. Matchsticks of thin celery stalks add pockets of crunchiness and freshness to each bite. And spicy sauce makes everything better.
Dan dan noodles ($4.50): Aside from anything involving rice noodles, it's one of my favorite Chinese noodle dishes. Mix the noodles with the little heap of minced pork, chili oil, and cooked spinach. BOOYAAARRH DELICIOUSNESS. Fuchsia Dunlop has a recipe for this in Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper that I keep meaning to try. Note to self: try it.
Double cooked sliced pork belly ($13.95): Thinly sliced pork belly mixed with tingly chili sauce and leek greens. I think my favorite version is still from Famous Sichuan, but this was perfectly fine. This is another dish I should add this to my "learn how to make at home" list. (The last thing I made at home didn't even involve cooking: it was a hodgepodge of a bread salad including cucumber, snow peas, cannellini beans, and canned corn. It lasted two meals, but I got sick of it after the first. Then again, I made it because I was feeling over-meat-ed, which isn't a problem that pork belly will solve.)
Half Camphor Tea Smoked Duck ($15.95): I didn't eat much of this, so I don't recall many details besides that the smoked meat wasn't dry, nor oozing poultry juices. Good, but didn't leave a big impression. There were more bony bits on the plate than I was expecting.
Crispy lamb fiilets with chilli cumin ($15.95): Perhaps I was too distracted with the lamb to think about the duck. This is one of my most favorite lamb dishes ever (and like many others, one of my favorite dishes at Szechuan Gourmet)—the lamb chunks are super tender and lightly dusted with cumin and chili, resulting in a very slightly crispy exterior.
We could've eaten much more, but it's a good thing we stopped there, just before the point of pants-popping stomach distension and grabbing my belly while moaning, "OH MAN I ATE TOO MUCH AGAIN WTF" (this happens with disturbingly high frequency). That just means I'll have to go back and try more dishes.
21 West 39 Street, New York, NY 10018 (b/t 5th and 6th aves; map)