Tears in Eyes ($6.95)
Slippery strips of liang fen bean cake come doused in a ladleful of chili oil and a fiery-looking pickled pepper topping that is surprisingly bereft of flavor. Unlike the ones you get in Chelsea, which were among my top ten bites of last year, the predominant impression we got here was one of wateriness.
Beef and Ox Tripe in Chili Sauce ($7.95)
Refreshingly cool and crunchy, the dish is surprisingly mild despite the orange glow of chili oil.
Dan Dan Noodles Cheng-Du Style ($5.50)
Served warm and slightly past al dente with a beguilingly puckering pile of pickled mustard root and a dousing of roasted chili oil and vinegar. It's a decent rendition, though not quite balanced in execution.
Sichuan Cucumber ($5.95)
Salted, crisp, and lightly seasoned with sesame oil, these are the Sichuan answer to the brine pickles you get at neighborhood diners. An essential side dish to add crunch to a meal full of oily, slippery textures.
Famous Sichuan Pickled Vegetables ($5.95)
Bright pink radishes are pungent and hot with a mildly sulphurous aroma. If I hadn't been spoiled by the first Legend's version which has deeper chili flavor and a better balance of salt and acid, these would have blown my mind.
Red Rabbit ($8.95)
The effort needed to pull thin slivers of over-salted, over-smoked flesh from needle-like bones is not worth the effort.
Sour & Hot Sweet Potato Noodles ($6.95)
Here we go—finally a dish with some true flavor! An intense vinegary broth flavored with peanuts and fermented beans comes to the table a dark brooding brown. Put away your cell phones and tie on your bibs when you see it making its way to the table—the slick sweet potato starch noodles swimming in its depths will make a mess as you slurp them up. A fine example of what Sichuan food can be when it's not packed with chilies or Sichuan peppercorn.
Fried Lamb With Cumin ($15.95)
Lamb with cumin is a Northern Chinese Uyghur dish typically made with crunchy stalks of Chinese celery. Somewhere on its trans-global voyage it shed those stalks for the chunks of bell pepper that would be more at home up the street at Ollie's. In either case, the lamb is plenty tender and well seasoned, though it lacks the dry crunch that the best examples of the dish have.
Boiled Sliced Beef in Hot and Spicy Chili Sauce ($13.95)
The best part of the boiled sliced beef is the bed of punchy pickled cabbage. But you'll have to work your way through the boiled beef that comes spackled in a cornstarch slurry so thick that the individual chunks form a solid raft that reclines listlessly in the bowl. Whatever bright flavor it may have it lost in its unrelenting starchiness.
Pickle and Fish Stew with Pickled Cabbage ($21.95)
Easily our favorite dish on the menu, the broth is rich and balanced with a sharp bite from the pickled cabbage and mustard root, tender slivers of fish that are thankfully not-too-cornstarchy, and just enough chilies to add aroma without much heat.
Spicy Cellophane Noodle with Minced Pork ($10.95)
UWS Legend's Spicy Cellophane Noodle with Minced Pork ($10.95) is far soupier than any version of the traditional Sichuan bean thread noodle and pork dish, which is curious, as their downtown version is a little too dry. Flavorwise, however, it's pretty close to on point with a hint of citrusy, camphorous Sichuan peppercorn (the only real whiff of it we got) and a hot-but-not-burn-your-mouth-off level of chili heat.
Sichuan Spicy Ma Po Tofu ($10.95)
Did the chef accidentally drop the whole box of corn starch in here?, I thought as I tried to take a bite of the Ma Po Tofu ($10.95). It was so starchy and slimy you could actually build little piles of sauce in the bowl that held their shape. Our party of six finished all of two bites of what is typically one of my favorite dishes in the world.
Dry Spicy Tasty Chicken with Ginger and Peanut ($14.95)
Greasy nubs of fried battered fried chicken that look far more flavorful than they really are.