Two weeks ago, as is the case when my coworker, Taiwai, and I both happen to be “bag lunchless,” a half hour before noon, we were busy plotting lunch. Usually we get Chinese, he being Chinese and I having been Chinese in a past life (in another I was Indian, another Jewish, and another Italian). Hing Won was considered — it usually is — but then I remembered I hadn’t tried Lan Sheng yet; the newish Szechuan place across the street from Szechuan Gourmet. He mentioned his wife tried it the week before, and said it wasn’t as good as Szechuan Gourmet, so I quickly moved on to researching new Indian lunch options, when Taiwai imed me, “a place that has rabbit at least deserves some respect.” Yes, true, especially in Midtown. Lan Sheng deserved a shot, so off we went.
Although rabbit was the draw, since it wasn’t on the lunch special menu (It would be truly awesome if it was), we ordered Enhanced Pork and Shrimp with Sze Chuan Sauce [both $6.95 with a choice of soup (hot & sour, wonton, or egg drop) or egg roll, and fried, brown, or white rice].
The Enhanced Pork, similar to Double-Sauteed Pork, is sautéed with leeks and black beans, but it’s sautéed less (hence not double-sautéed), and is more salty. According to Taiwai, the Chinese name for the dish means enhanced with salt. Although I don’t think more salt is an enhancement, I liked the Enhanced Pork because the pork belly was crisp at the edges, but still soft throughout. Double-Sauteed Pork can be very dry sometimes. As for the salt factor, eaten with a little more rice, it’s not even an issue.
I’d wanted to order the Shrimp with Sze Chuan Sauce because I assumed it would have the most Szechuan peppers in it, but the heat was from hot green peppers and red pepper flakes, and the mouth-numbing spice was largely absent. If you want the real deal, ordering off the regular menu or asking for more spice is probably the way to go. Even at Szechuan Gourmet, I find the lunch specials never having enough Szechuan peppers, although they still do a better job than at Lan Sheng. In any case, Szechuan spiciness aside, I liked my shrimp dish. I normally don’t order shrimp off Chinese lunch special menus because the shrimp used tend to be more of the fish-bait variety, but these, while admitting still small, were a decent size and were cooked well so they were still plump and juicy. Slicked with red chili oil and tossed with crunchy water chestnuts, it was a deliciously greasy lunch.
Although not as spicy as Szechuan Gourmet, the kitchen at Lan Sheng seems competent, and with a few tweaks, this newbie could become serious competition. I’ll be going back. Although as much as I like spending time away from the office, a thirty minute wait for a table at Szechuan Gourmet is too long when I’m hungry, especially at lunch time.