Szechuan Gourmet: Lunch with “The 93 Plates Adventure”

Dear Food Diary:
First day back to work and I had lunch plans with Hagan from Wandering Foodie. The 93 Plates Adventure is his project for the month of January, 3 meals a day at an array of restaurants throughout the city (93 joints in total), shared with a different NYC food blogger each time. He’s disregarding his waistline and pursuing the adventure he envisioned *applause*, specially when most people’s new year resolution goes exactly the opposite direction.
When I arrived, they’ve already brought our table some appetizers. The Spicy Cucumber Salad is refreshing, garlicky and spicy. The flavors were really familiar and I kept thinking… I know this… finally I figure it out… The hot pepper sauce used is none other than this one: Lau Kan Ma (brand name) can be found in most chinese super markets.
RECIPE for this Spicy Cucumber Salad (my guess)
Cucumber (kirby, the asian skinny kind or english would work best)
Minced Garlic – Soy Sauce – Sesame Oil – apple cider vinegar (optional)
Hot Pepper Sauce (pictured above. It has chili oil, onion, and szechuan pepper.)
Mix, everything to taste and let it sit in fridge for a couple hrs. Best when done overnight.
The pork dumpling in hot chili oil was bad. The pork filling tasted a little sour, plus I prefer my dumplings non frozen with hand made wraps, thank you very much! So we dismissed this one real quick, yuk!
Hot and Sour Soup was good, actually a lot better than your average Chinese take out.
Ma Po Tofu is a staple in Szechuan cooking. I wasn’t convinced about this one. The spices actually tasted similar to the one from the cucumber (from the bottle) and didn’t compare to the distinct flavors I’ve come to love about this dish. A good one uses a mix of Szechuan spices and has burn your tongue heat, and this had neither.
I love Kong Pao anything, crunchy peanuts, spicy chilli pepper and cooked in a high heat wok, the combo just works with any meat (frog is my favorite). They had a Kong Pao Scallop, which I was totally looking forward to. The flavors were ok and I loved the crunchy bits of water chestnut, but wished the scallops weren’t breaded, it hid the natural sweetness and gave it a sesame chicken texture/thick coating. It was also sweeter than I would of liked.
The owners wanted the 2 of us to try their specialties, so while our table was full, the waiters surprised us with a Whole Bass Braised with Spicy Hot Chili. Can you say garlic? Hagan predicted about 10 cloves. It’s not as hot as it looks, trust me, I can’t take my heat and I didn’t feel a thing. It’s a little sweet & sour. If we weren’t so full already, we would of ate it all.
Hand down our favorite dish Stir Fried Pork Belly with Chili Leeks. I mean it’s pork belly, the star of any dish, any cuisine in my opinion. Who doesn’t love pork belly? that’s crazy talk! Tender slices, with peppers, leeks, garlic, chili and a little bit of black bean, this was love at first sight for us. Super fragrant, it holds all the good components of a stir fried dish. Oh so good with fluffy white rice. I would come back just for this! This dish alone would deserve plus.
Overall it’s better than your average midtown chinese take-out. I was a little surprised, in a good way. Not everything pleased my palate, but as I read their menu, I was quite impressed with the options (usually not found in this part of town, like duck tongue!).
Next time I’m back, I would have to try the following: Stir Fried Pork Belly, I would love to try their Ox Tongue & Tripe with Chili Peanut Vinaigrette, Spicy Mund Bean Jello Salad, Sauteed Sponge Squash (one of my favorite chinese veggies), Crispy Whole Bass with Pinenut Sweet Vinegar Sauce, Camphor Tea Smoked Duck, Braised Fish Filet with Cabbage, Leeks and Roasted Chili, Braised Sea Cucumber (this one is a real surprise, not even all the restaurants in Chinatown have it, but then again, the chef really has to know what he’s doing for a tasty final product) and Kong Pao Duck Tongue. Gosh, that was a long list, now I’ll just have to find an army to go with me =)
P.S. Chubby’s RATING: 
242 West 56th Street
212.265.2226

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