The Boston Globe
- Sunday, February 15, 1996
"Cheap Eats: Chinese Food That's Worth the Trip out of State"
"I find it a general rule, with some notable exceptions, that the farther you go from Chinatown, the less likely you are to find good Chinese food. It's also a general rule that you should not order a martini in a Chinese restaurant. People who stir-fry well don't seem to stir gin and vermouth well, and the reverse is probably also true.
But all rules should be put to the test now and then, which is why I was in Manchester, New Hampshire, on a snowy evening watching with some trepidation as the bartender hoisted a bottle of Beefeater. As she strained the drink into the glass, a second person arrived (a quality control inspector, perhaps), looked at the drink, and shook his head. A hushed conversation began, and the waiter joined them for a summit conference. I tried to imagine what a martini made by committee would taste like.
Still, Szechuan House had been highly recommended by an impeccable source. The menu was promising, so I guess I deserved whatever I got beverage-wise. What arrived in the little stemmed glass was perfect -- crisp and icy cold. I was tempted to order another immediately before the committee lost whatever it had going for it. Less patient and less scientifically minded folks at the table, however, wanted to move on to the food.
We ordered willy-nilly, and without realizing it, we created a theme of crispiness. First came the scallion pancakes ($1.95), crispy and flaky on the outside, moist and tender within. They came with a dipping sauce that might some day be declared a controlled substance. Egg rolls ($3.50) were light and also crisp -- made on the premises, we'll bet, not at some egg roll factory.
The entrees arrived with a big bowl of rice -- which, naturally, we hardly touched. Sesame chicken ($8.50) was breast meat pounded to imperial slimness, crackling crisp in a honey-accented sauce. Chicken with garlic sauce ($7.25), one of our non-crispy selections, turned out to be crispy anyway. The crunchy julienne vegetables contrasted well with the tender chicken.
Orange beef ($10.50) carried a hot and spicy warning, but we found it relatively mild. The beef was sliced just thick enough to retain a tasty moistness inside while the crusty exterior stood up well to the sauce.
Hunan pork in black bean sauce ($7.25) featured tender strips of bamboo shoots. The bean sauce could have been more assertive, but it did have a pleasant after-bite of spiciness.
Crispy duck ($9.25) was truly a bargain -- a huge portion of duck that had been marinated in spices, steamed, and then fried. Steaming had obviously eliminated most of the fat and the result was delectable, served with a tangy, hoisin-based dipping sauce.
We went slightly over the limit for what turned out to be the hit of the meal, crispy spicy fish ($12.50). It was a huge filet of cod swimming in suitably spicy Hunan sauce, the crispy outside embracing the succulence within."Bob MacDonald