|Dan Dan Noodles|
The broth is milder on the heat scale than the mound of chilies would suggest and more complex and flavorful, featuring the floral tingling flavor of Sichuan pepper. The fish is unbelievably tender and buttery, and further underneath are large chunks of tofu that have soaked up the sauce. After devouring the dish perhaps a dozen times, I am still not sure whether it is sauce or soup, or both, but in any case my strategy is to ladle it into a smaller bowl and eat the fish with chopsticks.
Once I've polished off all the fish in there, I follow the staff's suggestion and take home the leftover soup/sauce to be cooked with more fish the next day.
|Ma Po Tofu (sans pork)|
|Lamb with Green Chilies|
On one visit, I witnessed the lady who I assume to be the owner carrying a giant bowl of sliced fish with spicy sauce soup out of the restaurant and down the street, making sure not to burn herself or tip any of the fiery liquid or chilies onto the ground. Someone at her other restaurant had asked for it, she explained. It's something Grandma would do.
Show them you're serious and you shall be rewarded. Like with dan dan noodles, nice and springy and tossed with an intensely fragrant sauce made with Sichuan pepper, perhaps one of the most exciting and exotic tastes for the American palate. Or ma po tofu, the Sichuan staple, which arrives glowing red and slippery and satisfying (try our recipe). In deference to my wife I order both without pork, which works out wonderfully.
|Wontons in Hot Oil|
Then fire it up again with sliced lamb with green chilies. I like it better than the cumin lamb, which I find a little dry and prefer to order at a good Hunan restaurant.
I can't tell you that Old Sichuan is the best Sichuan place in the city, or the oldest, or that it is as good as some of the places in Flushing or Lao Sze Chuan in Chicago. Some think the ma po tofu lacks some depth, and I don't totally disagree. But the food is fantastic when you're in the mood for something spicy, and it boasts one truly knockout dish. With the friendly casual atmosphere, Old Sichuan has become my go-to spot for tongue-tingling Sichuan fare in Manhattan.
65 Bayard St (between Mott & Elizabeth St)
Recommended dishes: sliced fish with spicy sauce soup ($18.95); dan dan noodles ($3.95); ma po tofu ($10.95); lamb with green pepper ($14.95); corn egg drop soup ($3.95); soup dumplings ($6.50).
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