Szechuan Gourmet’s Szechuan Duck is Chinese Take Out Magic
We love Sichuan (or “Szechuan”) food, and obviously the original Szechuan Gourmet (on 39th btw. 5+6th) is an old Midtown Lunch fave. But I think it’s time people focused more on what’s going on at their second location (on 56th btw Bway+8th) And Robert Sietsema agrees! The reason you should pay more attention to them is because they serve basically the same menu and there’s less of a wait. Who wants to spend their lunch break waiting instead of eating? Not I! So, when I sauntered up to the restaurant last week I was pretty excited to see something new on the lunch special menu: crispy boneless duck with garlic sauce ($9.75 after taxes). I wasn’t sure exactly how new it was, but it was certainly new to me. And I figured since rocket ships can’t be built without science, neither can figuring out if lunch specials are worth it. It was for the sake of science that I ventured forth…
When I first opened my bag, I was a little disappointed actually. I thought crispy duck meant that it was roasted til the skin was crispy. This duck was uh, deep fried. Say what?! Yea, deep fried duck (note: it could’ve been frog for all I know, I can’t tell one protein from another). The menu said duck so I believed it was duck. The coating of the fried goodness should be familiar to anyone who eats take-out Chinese food, because that’s what sweet and sour pork looks like. If you’ve never had the Americanized-Chinese food version of sweet and sour pork, it’s basically pork fried like that, served with a side of neon orange mystery sauce. I always figured Szechuan Gourmet to be a few notches above any ordinary take-out joint, so I was willing to try this even though it wasn’t a looker.
Just like sweet and sour pork, the sauce came in a different container. Instead of being orange-ish red, this sauce was just deep red. It’s the color you get when you cook hot bean paste in oil. And that’s pretty much what this sauce is, hot bean paste, oil, ginger, scallions, and garlic. Probably some soy mixed in there as well and some corn-starch slurry to thicken it a bit. All of this is just an educated guess you know, not all parts of science can be proven.
But when you dip the fried duck into the sauce, something magical happens. I mean, more magical than when babies are created. It’s basically sweet and sour pork, but done right and with duck. Don’t get me wrong, this was still very reminiscent of take-out food. It’s just elevated take-out food. For some, the sauce would need to be hotter. I asked for extra spicy and it was pretty much mild. If you like it hot, you probably have to beg them to slaughter you with heat. I’ve sat through many sweaty meals at Szechuan Gourmet on 39th so I know they can do it. As far as science experiments go, this one was an A. You also get to have soup or soda to wash off this wonderfully fried meal, and by the end your stomach should hate you. Sometimes though, you just need lunch to fill you up so much it makes you feel alive.
Szechuan Gourmet, 244 West 56th Street (btw Bway+8th)