Mapo Tofu Passes the Test at Mapo Tofu
Midtown can always use more spicy tofu dishes. Just ask the the profiled Midtown Luncher from this week. Even though what we have today isn’t exactly a ‘stew’, it does have all the elements of a good spicy tofu stew – soft luscious tofu, fiery heat, and some meat/vegetable element to compliment the flavor of the dish. A tofu dish is exactly what one would expect from a restaurant named Mapo Tofu. This location used to be a Wu Liang Ye and was embroiled in some contraversy about who the owners are. We’re not exactly sure what the real truth is about the restaurant, but when in doubt- we choose to side with the food!
On the menu, it says lunch specials ($8.15 after tax) are served with soup (wonton or hot & sour), and some pickled vegetables. As you can tell from the picture, you get the dish you ordered, soup, rice, and then a fourth thing- which was neither vegetables or pickled.
Instead it was melons. Actually I was happy to get fruit since it offers a nice and refreshing break after the chili oil assaults your mouth (in a good way). These melons weren’t that sweet though so it was a bit of a let down. Also, I’m not sure whether they just did away with the pickled vegetables or if they ran out and substituted with the fruit. (I seem to remember this same issue coming up with another newish Sichuan restaurant.) If it’s a huge deal for you to get pickled vegetables, I’d always call ahead to be sure.
But the main event of the meal was of course… mapo tofu. The benchmark for a dish like this is the one at Szechuan Gourmet, the only NYTimes starred Szechuan place in Midtown. So what exactly do we look for in a good mapo tofu? As a Midtown Luncher, portion size is going to be a big issue. Szechuan Gourmet gives you a good amount, so any legitimate challenger is not going to be able to skimp on the portions. Mapo Tofu passed this test… actually offering slightly more than what you get at SG.
As for the taste, we’re going to need to feel the heat. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the kind of heat with Szechuan peppercorns that’ll give you that mala feeling in your mouth. You don’t quite get that here, but it’s still fiery good. There’s a red film at the top of the dish because of the chili oil, that would be a crime to skim off. You wanna drink that (it’s good for you.) There’s also bits of ground pork studded throughout the tofu and that’s good because without the salty and meaty components, the dish would fall flat. There’s also some leeks incorporated with the mapo tofu dish but it’s mostly there as an afterthought. I don’t need it but it’s nice.
Mapo Tofu has some Sichuan dishes on their lunch special menu, and if they’re anywhere as good as their mapo tofu, then I would have to say this place will be a good alternative to Szechuan Gourmet for those people who are stranded on the east side of Midtown.
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- I like my food hot and spicy
- I work in Midtown East, and want some quality Sichuan food
- The portion is good enough for two meals!
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- I don’t like that much chili oil on my food
- I’m a vegetarian! Why do they have to ruin a perfectly good tofu dish with pork
- This restaurant is owned by the Chinese government! And gave their workers the shaft! Boycott!!!
Mapo Tofu, 338 Lexington Ave (btw 39th and 40th st), (212) 867-8118