>> Chuan Yue 川粤 | Eat the World NYC

28 January 2021

Chuan Yue 川粤


COVID-19 UPDATE: Chuan Yue has space for outdoor dining but on a recent winter evening were takeout only. When indoor dining resumes in NYC they have roomy tables separated by plexiglass.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Written by Joseph Gessert, photographed by Liv Dillon.

The classic pathway to finding good cheap eats is to order whatever is popular at a modest restaurant with heavy foot traffic and some hand-written signs. Sichuan food in NYC does not work like that. Sichuan is one of the wealthiest provinces in China, and immigrants from the province have generally been better-off and later-arriving than their predecessors from Fujian and Canton. As such, Sichuan restaurants are often a little more expensive and modernized, geared towards wealthier immigrants and their children.

Sichuan food in the Brooklyn Chinatowns has been slow to catch up with the quality on offer in Flushing. Bay Ridge’s Grand Sichuan House has long offered excellent Sichuan. In the past two years they’ve been joined by several new restaurants specializing in whole fish, as well as 7th Avenue’s Chuan Tian Xia, and now Chuan Yue on a quiet industrial block of 64th Street. Chuan Yue is closest in intent to Chuan Tian Xia, with both offering modern dining spaces and modestly upscale menus with some variations on traditional Sichuan cooking as well as excellent versions of the old-time standards.

Century egg with green peppers ($7.95, above top left) comes mounded in birds eye peppers and less-spicy grilled green peppers. Diners unfamiliar with century, or thousand-year eggs will be challenged by their appearance, with the whites treated with ash and turned translucent black. The flavor, however, is mild and familiar, and the rich eggs are a beautiful balance to the tang and spice of the peppers and dressing.
Thai-style wood ear mushrooms ($7.95, above top middle) is a similarly lush version of a common dish, with the mushrooms again dressed in bird's eye peppers, as well as cilantro and (unusually) slices of lemon. Pickled peppers put in an appearance in this dish, in this case small fermented yellow peppers that could be distant cousins to pepperoncini. Pickled and preserved peppers are more universally found in dishes from neighboring Guizhou and nearby Hunan provinces, but are a welcome addition to Sichuan dishes.

Also pulling from Hunan culinary traditions is a beautiful dish of garlic sprouts with Chinese bacon ($13.95, above). The garlic sprouts are leeks, and and the Chinese bacon is perhaps closest in Western analogy to Iberian ham, strips of dried and preserved pork leg that in this case have been stir-fried with dried peppers and vegetables until the meat’s smokiness permeates everything else. Chuan Yue’s version is less tough than what you might find in Hunan or Sichuan, but that might well be an improvement.

Dry wok cauliflower ($11.95, below) is a perfect vegetable offset to the rich meat dishes, while hot and sour duck blood ($15.95, top photo, top right) was the most unusual dish during a recent dinner. The duck blood is cut into tofu-like cakes, as with pig blood in South East Asian cuisine, and again is much milder and more appealing than it might sound to diners new to Sichuan food. This preparation is strikingly different from most Sichuan chili oil dishes, with spice (and sour) here coming from two varieties of pickled pepper while the chili oil leans heavily on Sichuan peppercorn and its familiar numbing properties. While Sichuan food is famously spicy and numbing, Hunan cuisine is spicy and sour, and this dish provides an unusual and very successful mashup of the two.

Several online menus exist for Chuan Yue, creating some confusion with ordering and unavailability of some dishes. Best to work off their newly-revamped website, which includes updated availability and package deals for family dinners, and to confirm your online order by phone. One recent order arrived with a complimentary order of soup dumplings, which while notably un-Sichuan were actually quite good, and provided a nicely mild counterpoint to the fireworks of everything else.

South Brooklyn diners in search of Sichuan lunch or dinner will be hard-pressed to decide between Chuan Yue, Chuan Tian Xia, and Bay Ridge’s Grand Sichuan. All have standout dishes, and happily all have their own specialties that are quite different from one another. Here’s to hoping that all three make it through the next few months and are around for years to come.


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