Sunday, January 14, 2007

Wu Liang Ye: The Real Deal

From Spicy Noodles to Seared Pork Buns, It Doesn't Get Much Better

I'm not sure, but I'd like to take a stab at how many Chinese restaurants there may be in Manhattan.....

a jillion.

Well, maybe not a jillion, but certainly more than I can imagine, and then some.... and way too many to ever try and sample.

That said, I've found a Chinese restaurant that is so completely satisfying, I'm perfectly OK not trying most of the others.

For some foodies in NYC, my post about Midtown's Wu Liang Ye may be old news. But when you find food this good, well, you have to share the news.

About a year ago, a colleague of mine told me about Wu Liang Ye, since we worked only 3 blocks away in Rockefeller Plaza. She told me of their amazing dishes, noodles and sauces... and sure enough, soon I was ordering take out from Wu and having it delivered to my office... so I could nibble and slurp while working away at my desk during lunch. I have always loved the food and had decided that it was surely the best take out in Midtown.

But last week, I finally had the opportunity to go to Wu Liang Ye, which changed my observation of this restaurant forever.

First, we sneaked into this Szechwan gem on 48th street just under the wire on a Thursday night (when the kitchen is due to close at 9:30pm). Entering the 2nd floor dining room with a friend, we noticed a jam-packed room of diners, many who were just ordering or getting their goodies. The manager sat us right away and we began to pour over the menu.

The best sign (for me anyway) about the authenticity of any restaurant is who is eating there. When we entered, we both noticed one small thing... we were to only 2 non-Chinese diners in the place. Really. There were groups, families, workers.... it was terrific. This is gonna be some good.

The menu at Wu Liang Ye is frustrating, only because you can't order everything that looks good. Just too much food. The table next to us had 6 people sitting around a round table with a lazy susan in the middle.... obviously professionals at this game. They had ordered 4 or 5 dishes that looked so good, we might have joined them for dinner if asked. For 2 people, you have a more limited experience, unless you are ready to take home a grocery bag of left-overs (which is worth considering I might add).

Let's talk food.

The chef at Wu is a master of many dishes, but there are a few that just can't be missed.

First, the Pork Dumplings in Chili Sauce are remarkable. Tender, fragile dumplings swimming in a dark red chili oil are fresh and spicy, a perfect balance that won't set your mouth on fire.

Next, are noodles.

Now, all the noodles dishes here are spectacular, but there are two that I think do a great job of getting your palate in that happy place.

The first are the Chilled Noodles with spicy Sesame Vinaigrette... a refreshing dish that comes in a small bowl and can be easily shared. But not to be missed are the warm Dan Dan Noodles... served in a similar bowl, topped with ground pork and spinach on top, and a small amount of chili oil on the bottom. Once you mix them together and sample, a huge smile should spring across your face. This is heaven.

Soups are also terrific here, but with killer dishes waiting, I usually opt out, as I just need the room.

So what to order?

For me, I like mixing a seafood dish and a meat dish (either beef, chicken or pork) and on this night, it was an easy decision.

For the seafood dish, we'd order the Fried Salt and Pepper Prawns. I didn't see them on the menu, but had been told about them, so if you don't see them don't worry... go right on ahead and order them.

These are giant shrimp.... butterflied with the shells on, lightly dusted in flour and salt and pepper and flash fried. What you wind up with is a shrimp so perfect, you literally eat the breading right off, suck on the shells, before your peel and eat the shrimp itself. It reminds me a great deal of the Salt and Pepper Dungeness Crab at R and G Lounge in San Francisco, a dish I equate to a religious experience. This is good stuff.

On the meat side I could have gone one of 100 directions, but decided to keep it simple and ordered the shredded pork with garlic sauce. Delicious.

There are other things you should know about Wu Liang Ye.

The prices are great, and worth every penny. They could charge more, and I wouldn't care.

You can eat exotic... frogs, tongue, jelly fish, tripe, etc..... so if this is your bag, knock yourself out.

The fried rice is the freshed and best prepared in New York.

The tea-smoked duck with ginger is becoming legendary. Order it for your date and watch her head spin.

So I am guessing by now you are figuring our just how much I love this place. Sure, Chinatown has great food (New Green Bo, etc) but why march down there when Wu Liang Ye has a few of these north of Midtown?

When it comes to Chinese food, I look for fresh, well prepared, robust dishes. For my money, Wu Liang Ye is one of the best places in Manhattan to get just that... and for me, that's good enough.

Wu Liang Ye
Authentic Chinese Cuisine

36 W 48th St, New York 10036
Btwn 5th & 6th Ave

Phone: 212-398-2308
Fax: 646-366-1505

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