The Early Word: Scenes From Lan Sheng, Sichuan in Midtown
Lan Sheng opened its doors about a month ago, seemingly unafraid to compete with Schezuan Gourmet, which occupies the same block. As reported by Serious Eats, the chef here trained in Chengdu for years, and the sous chef came from another Midtown Sichuan spot, Wu Liang Ye. Like Wu Liang Ye, Lan Sheng is going for fancy--white tablecloths, upholstered circular banquettes, mod white china. But the prices are in line with Szechuan Gourmet's, and at dinner time, you can choose either a small or large portion of most dishes--so that when you can't choose between the ma po tofu and the spicy pumpkin, you can have both.
Chengdu braised fish ($20)
The ma po tofu ($8.95) is swimming in crimson chile oil, with ground pork and leeks. In comparison to other ma po tofu renditions, this one eases up on the chiles in favor of a slew of Sichuan peppercorns. One bite makes the inside of your mouth vibrate, and your lips go numb.
Rabbit with pickled chiles ($8.95) involves bony bits of bunny with dried red chiles and pickled red chiles--salty, tart, and incendiary.
To cool down, this plate of crispy cucumber ($4.95) performs admirably. The vegetables are marinated in a mixture that includes a bit of salt, sesame oil, and cilantro, and have a refreshing, watery crunch.