|Ma Po Tofu at Han Dynasty, with chilies, thick-cut scallions, fermented black beans, and Sichuan pepper|
|Kung Pao Shrimp|
We felt compelled to respond because, respectfully, Wells misses the point. The allure of Han Dynasty is not that it serves the best Sichuan food, or the most authentic (it does not), but that it makes Sichuan cuisine accessible to New Yorkers in a fun, trendy atmosphere. And, importantly, it does so outside of Chinatown or Flushing.
|The Interior at Han Dynasty in University City, Philadelphia|
Compare that with the explosion of other Asian cuisines. Popular Thai restaurants in every neighborhood, like SEA in Williamsburg, serve tasty and attractively presented food in modern decor to crowds of diners, even though better and more authentic Thai cuisine can be be had at holes-in-the-wall like Pam's Real Thai on West 49th. Ramen shops like Ippudo and Momofuku Noodle Bar attract throngs of people waiting to enjoy their steamy bowls of soupy noodles in an upbeat and trendy atmosphere. Meanwhile, Sichuan and other Chinese cuisines, with flavors that are just as exciting, have almost no comparable restaurants at all, let alone one in every neighborhood.
|Wontons in Hot Oil|
But many New Yorkers don't want to be "cursed at" or go to "Queens" for their Friday night out with friends. Instead, we want what Han Dynasty offers: a trendy atmosphere, a good cocktail list, an East Village location. (For the unfamiliar, College Point is an area of Queens north of Flushing, and Little Pepper is about 40 minutes on foot or 15 minutes by bus from the nearest subway station--the last stop on the 7 line.)
Meanwhile, we thought the food at the University City location was perfectly good, even if not authentic. Dumplings swimming in bright red chili oil were a highlight, with only mild heat and good sweetness. Cumin lamb was heavy on the cumin, sweeter and more saucy than usual but quite hot.
|Dan Dan Noodles (pictured without pork)|
Even if it is not a pillar of authenticity, Han Dynasty proves that the American mainstream wants good, flavorful Chinese food and will even wait in line for it. Perhaps Han Dynasty's popularity will spur more Chinese chefs and restaurateurs to venture outside Chinatown and Flushing and show their stuff in exciting and upbeat locations. And maybe the neighborhood spot will be forced to improve just a bit.
Han Dynasty NYC
90 3rd Avenue (between 12th & 13th St)
New York, NY 10003