For JewMas Eve a buddy of mine and I, after a couple rounds at Soccer Tavern watching the Rankin-Bass Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town alongside the most multi-cultural melting pot assortment of bar regulars in NYC, decided to hit up Chuan Yue, an aiming-high slightly-off-the-beaten-path Sichuan place in Sunset Park. My second visit, his first. Unfortunately on my two visits I was with friends with moderate heat palates, so I haven't yet been able to delve into any of the three-chili-pepper dishes.
That aside, it was probably better than the first visit. The menu has changed a bit (and the website hasn't been updated to reflect that) but there's a new chef running the kitchen - in fact, they "stole" the Bib-Gourmand-winning chef from Chuan Tian Xia, the place on 7th Ave. (Haven't been to CTX since he left, but there are still lines out the door most nights)
Chuan Yue is a place the foodizens shouldn't be sleeping on. While I wouldn't compare it to a DaXi, they may be the most interesting Sichuan place in Sunset at the moment. Granted, that's a small data set.
The staff are young and outgoing (two visits and I already have a mild crush on the tatted-up butchy-haircut emo girl Maitre D' / owner-I-think) and they're certainly aiming for a more "modern" vibe with the bar seating (I can't think of another traditional Chinese place with that off the top of my head), decor, and craft beer list. A couple of them might be a little over-friendly - both times, we were the only gweilo in the place, so they may have doted on us a bit more.
While there haven't been any dishes thus far where I'd say "this is the one to get" (like the pork shank at Guan Fu) everything was done very well. Favorites so far have been the conch with burnt peppers, cold sliced beef shank, dry pot frogs (bony but tasty), and the broiled oysters in "house-made spicy sauce" - which honestly seemed braised, not broiled, but whatever, they were good - and not overcooked, as I find in a lot of places. Tea-smoked duck, which we tried simply because they had run out of the more-interesting-sounding peppercorn pigeon, was also a really good rendition. Juicy with still a wee bit of crunch to the skin.
Every table seemed to have a whole grilled or braised fish on it, so maybe that's the thing to get. There were only three options the other night - tilapia (fuck that), some mid-range fish they weren't quite sure what the name of was in English that we tried to order but they'd run out of, and a larger small-mouth bass, too big for the two of us. There was also a table of what appeared to be fifteen-year-olds playing shot pong, and I'm just going to assume it wasn't with baiju and not ask any questions.
Still haven't gotten to the pork brain mapo tofu. It's a one-chili dish on the lunch menu, has two chilies on the online dinner menu, and then three chilies on the printed menu. So, not knowing what we we'd be in for, I've spared my companions.
The beer list is still better than any other place in the neighborhood while simultaneously appearing to have been put together by someone who doesn't drink beer. But points for trying.