Every once in a while, I have this huge craving for Sichuan food, with its numbing sensation to the tongue that is so addictively delicious. It occurred to me, recently, though my wife Jun and I do not have a go-to Sichuan restaurant even though Jun also shares my passion for all the spicy dishes from one of the more well-known Chinese regions in New York City’s culinary scene. We did love our experience together at Birds of a Feather we had visited last year (see my review here https://kenscale.com/2018/07/31/birds-of-a-feather/) but a trek to Williamsburg, especially when L Train now runs only every 20 minutes on weekends, has become a little more cumbersome. I looked up some places and saw Szechuan Mountain House get some favorable reviews here and there so one day after our Saturday pilates class, I took Jun to the restaurant’s second East Village location (the restaurant also has another location in Flushing). It turned out to be quite a smart choice, as Jun and I had plenty of dishes to enjoy together.
The vast menu at Szechuan Mountain House can be overwhelming at times, and is not just from Sichuan. We of course focused only on ordering what we knew for sure were spicy dishes. The dishes we ordered were many of the usual classics in the Sichuan region, but one dish that particularly caught my eye, on the first page of the menu, was Liang Yi pork belly with chili garlic sauce. The photo of the dish (the restaurant’s menu helpfully has a lot of these photos for its dishes) showed a thin slice of pork and cucumber hanging on a little perch-like bar above chili garlic sauce. I was quite intrigued as I didn’t see anything quite like it at other Sichuan restaurants. It was a very delicious appetizer, with the combination of cold pork belly and cucumber working beautifully with the help of the chili garlic sauce dip. Jun is obsessed with spicy tripe at a Sichuan restaurant, so naturally we ordered a dish called the Fu Qi Cattle Tongue & Tripe. It was another winner that Jun decided after our meal was the best dish of our lunch. For the larger portioned dishes, we ordered one with prawn and another with chicken. The Ma La prawn, stir fried with dry red pepper, was the more successful one. I tend to take out shells when I eat shrimps, but the spicy cover that was so addictive meant I didn’t mind eating shells this time. Jun also enjoyed it, although she noted that the inner parts of the shrimps were not properly removed (I guess that’s part of the charm of eating these dishes?). The stir fried La Zi chicken with dry red chili also wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t much different from spicy diced chicken I had seen at other Sichuan places, the parts of the chicken used, according to Jun, had too much fat.
I don’t think the restaurant doesn’t accept reservations (I couldn’t tell online because it doesn’t have a website), and the dining room was quite packed with people waiting at the front on a Saturday lunchtime, so I imagine it will only get busier at dinner time. In other words, try to show up early or expect some wait time if you are looking to grab prime time spots. The clean décor and atmosphere of the restaurant feels more modern and trendy, but not in a way that makes you feel you are eating at a fancy Asian fusion place. I loved how there is a standing hot tea pot with mini furnace to keep the tea hot at all times; I didn’t carefully look at drinks menu but a bottle of Tsingtao beer seems to be the right way to wash down the food. Szechuan Mountain House appealed to both of us because it feels both novel and familiar at the same time. While the dishes we tried didn’t stimulate the type of numbness at other Sichuan restaurants, the balance of flavor actually worked better for our taste bud. Next time, we will bring some more people to the restaurant to share a lot more than four dishes we ate on our visit.
KenScale: 8.25/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.25/10)
- Creativity: 8.0/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
- Value: 8.0/10
Address: 23 Saint Marks Pl, New York, NY 10003
Telephone: (917) 388-3866