One month in to our move to Philadelphia and we discovered the Manayunk neighborhood. I love Main street with their charming shops and eclectic range of restaurants. On our first visit to the area we planned on having Persian food but were disappointed to find the restaurant closed on a Sunday. So we wandered the street until we reached Han Dynasty. The Count wasn’t in the mood for Chinese food but after seeing all the award and zagat rated stickers on the door we decided to try it anyway. Note: this review is based on two trips made to the same location.
I’ll start with the service which was horrible. It is a very small restaurant with waiters running around from left to right, yet we stood at the front for what seemed like 15 minutes before someone acknowledged us. There were plenty of open tables so we finally asked one of the staff if we could take a seat. Once we were seated we waited another 10-15 minutes before someone came to our table. Once we expressed our concern with the service they seemed to pick up their pace.
Now onto the food. The menu is true Szechuan (pronounced Zesh-won) and has been rated one of the best in the country. After tasting it I am not surprised. What I loved most is that the menu is one page only not like other Chinese restaurants who present books as menus to flip through. There are your appetizers, entrees and side dishes. Szechuan is a style of Chinese cooking which originated from the Sichuan province of Southwestern China. What makes it so popular are the bold flavours, particularly the pungent and spiciness resulting from the use of mounds and mounds of garlic and chili peppers. You can choose your dishes based on the style of sauce you prefer and the meat or vegetables. Then you can choose the spiciness level ranging from 1 being tolerable to 10 being the spiciest. (See Menu)
We started off with an order of wontons in chili oil. Once I took the first bite I was immediately hooked. I love garlic and am known to use a lot of it at home. What made the dish so special was the garlic chili sauce sprinkled with sesame oil.
Next we tried the wontons in chili oil sauce. The flavors were the same although the wantons come in a larger quantity and seem to have more filling. It was also delicious.
There were four of us on our second trip so we decided to order two main entrees and share. First order was the Dry Pot Style served in a mini wok and cooked in a spicy hot sauce with black mushrooms, bamboo shoots, bell peppers and Sichuan peppercorns. We ordered the level 7 spice thinking it was a happy medium. It arrived on top of a mini gas stove sizzling hot served with a big bowl of white rice. Again the sauce and the spiciness and the liberal use of garlic made it so good. In fact, the best I’ve ever had.
The cilantro topping added that additional punch of flavor but also worked against the burning spices.
We also ordered a side of bok choy with black mushrooms. It was presented so beautifully like a plate of flowers.
It was the perfect side dish to offset the meat and spice. The bok choy was fresh and crunchy, the mushrooms were so good and the sauce even better.
Our next entree was the prawns in garlic sauce. As if there was not enough garlic in the other dishes this plate was mainly covered in garlic. Did I complain? Of course not, it was truly one of the best sauces I have ever tasted. The prawns were large and generous amounts were presented in the plate. On our first trip we had the garlic sauce with the beef as opposed to the shrimp. I think I preferred the beef to the prawns for this dish. The garlic sauce is my favorite and I know that I’ll be a regular based purely on this sauce. Just thinking of it is making my mouth water.
Was the meal amazing? Yes. Will I be back? Yes. Did the service turn me off? A bit but the food is too good to let the bad service get in the way. Plus there are several different locations and I am determined to try them all.