Saturday, February 6, 2010

Dynasty Szechuan

It was another one of those days where the hubby was arriving home from an out-of-country business trip and, naturally, it was my excuse not to cook. “Honey, you’ve had a long, hard trip; let me treat you out to dinner.” It seems to works every time. And this particular Saturday evening was no exception.
The weather on this evening wasn’t particularly grim or foreboding, although the temperature was hovering somewhere around Alaska in the dead of winter. I didn’t have to waste too many brain cells deciding where to go for dinner because Maarten had already scoped out the place where he wanted to go earlier in the week. “We should go to that Chinese restaurant up the street,” he eagerly suggested. I don’t know if his decision was based solely on the fact that the restaurant was two-tenths of a mile from our house, he was really itching for Asian fare or that was the only place he could recall, but I was game.

It would be an early dinner. Maarten had just returned from Kiev and was completely pooped, so I knew from experience that the snoring would begin well before he actually went to bed. At six o’clock, we jumped in the car and headed to Dynasty Szechuan; less than three minutes later we were being shown to our table. From the outside, Dynasty Szechuan looked like it once housed a bank; the inside didn’t look much better with 70’s styled mirrored walls, busy carpeting with a pattern designed to hide the various drink spills and food shrapnel that hit the floor, and harsh diner-type lighting that nearly burned a hole through my retina. Let’s hope the food was better.

When we initially sat down, a bowl of puffy fried won ton strips were placed on the table along with a sweet and pungent dipping sauce. Man, those won tons were addictive! Unfortunately, I had more time than I ever wanted to nosh on the won tons because the service at Dynasty Szechuan was incredibly slow. At least ten minutes had passed before the waitress came to take our drink orders, and even then she nearly skidded to a halt at the table like she had been running a marathon and had to force herself to come to a complete stop. Had we been thinking rationally, we would have ordered our entrĂ©es along with the appetizers right then, when we had the waitress cornered, but decisions were slow to come that night—just like the service. Alas, we only managed to come to terms with the starters—miso soup and spring rolls.

While we waited for the starters, we looked over the menu. I have to admit, there was quite a bit to choose from. The two Asian-styled food offerings were Chinese and Japanese so we had some reading to do. The Dragon and Phoenix, which is a dish that I’ve seen on many a Chinese menu, was beginning to look very good to me. The thought of a split dish with lobster meat in Szechuan chili sauce on one side and the House Special Chicken on the other intrigued me as it was a dish that I had never tried before. Ultimately, however, I settled on the Plum Duck. Maarten seemed to be in deep conflict with his inner self over what to order. He went back and forth from one exotic dish to another, muttering various things such as “No, that may be too spicy,” and “That looks like it’ll be too heavy.” After much deliberation, he went for the very generic and bland sounding Sliced Chicken with Mixed Vegetables.

When the waitress finally showed up again—this time with our starters—we took that opportunity to order our entrĂ©es, and then began to chow down. One sip of the miso soup led to a dismal disappointment. It was far too light in flavor and was missing that special ingredient that makes miso soup, well, miso soup. There was also something a bit off-putting about the uniform balls of tofu floating around in the soup, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was so bothersome. I had higher hopes for the spring rolls, which were unusually large, like they were on steroids. They turned out to be little more than giant tubes of crunchy grease that were lacking somewhat in robust flavor. Thank goodness for soy sauce. On the plus side, however, there was that whole size thing to take into consideration, and they were incredibly flaky and stuffed with vegetables. After we were finished with the starters, there was nothing left to do but wait.

And so we waited.

Glancing around the restaurant, it was fairly easy to see that Dynasty Szechuan could use a Gordon Ramsey-styled Kitchen Nightmares makeover. The dining room had a cold, impersonal feel to it, and in an archway separating two portions of the room was a large fish tank that was distracting as hell. The eight giant goldfish trapped inside looked like they wanted to be anywhere else but in that crappy tank, and the water was so cloudy and murky that I expected to see a centuries-old sunken barge at the bottom of the tank and The Creature From the Black Lagoon lurking about. There was a decent looking sushi bar near the entrance, but its placement seemed to be a mere afterthought to fill an empty space.

Finally, after a wait that was so long that I was on the verge of eating the table cloth, the food arrived. After that miso soup and spring roll, I wasn’t really sure what to expect and dared not get too excited about the plate that was placed in front of me. Although I wasn’t expecting the duck to be coated and fried, it was a nice prelude to a party in my mouth when I took that first bite. The duck, covered in a sweet and savory plum sauce, was surprisingly tender and bursting with flavor. The addition of caramelized pecans was a decidedly nice touch and added another interesting texture to the plate. To my surprise and delight, this was a genuinely great dish. It aroused three of my five senses—my sense of sight, sense of taste and sense of smell—all important elements where food is concerned.

Maarten’s dish was a-whole-nother story. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the worst dish on this great planet we call earth, but it was right up there near the top of the list of “The World’s Blandest.” Visually, there was nothing about the dish that would qualify as “astounding,” “stupendous”, or even remotely “spectacular.” It was, quite simply, chicken and vegetables. But here’s a plus: there was an abundance of veggies! Broccoli, water chestnuts, snow peas, carrots, mushrooms and baby corn abounded. Unfortunately, quantity doesn’t necessarily make up for quality. Against my better wishes, I closed my eyes and tried a forkful of the dish. When I bit into the chicken, I didn’t taste a thing. It was all texture and no flavor. And so much for any sense of taste with the waxy snow peas. Such a shame, too, because vegetables get a bad rap as it is; there’s absolutely no need to add to the debacle.

In the end, I cleaned my plate. Yup, damn near licked it spotless. I’d like to say I did it because I know there are people starving all over the world and it would be a travesty to let good food go to waste, but that would be a complete and baldheaded lie. I did it because I’m greedy and the Plum Duck was good—plain and simple. I can’t say the same for the Chicken with Mixed Vegetables. Sure, there were leftovers on Maarten’s plate, but he declined to have it boxed up to bring home. What would be the point? The little Styrofoam container would sit all the way in the back of the refrigerator for a few days, a green and black fuzzy coating would materialize on top of it and slowly morph into the likes of a science experiment, and finally I would be forced to toss the whole heap in the trash because it would be unduly influencing all of the fresh and tasty food in the fridge.

I have mixed feelings about Dynasty Szechuan. The food went from bland and greasy to absolutely delicious. Could it be that there exist those specialty dishes that the chef can work wonders with, yet falls flat on the most basic of meals? If I think long and hard enough about this, it would be a shame because consistency should be paramount to any restaurant. I shouldn’t have to place bets on whether or not my food will be edible from one visit to the next. I guess in the end it comes down to how much of a gambler I am—do I want to roll the dice and take that chance each time I walk into Dynasty Szechaun? Only time will tell. I may get hungry enough one day to say to myself “Self, I think I’d like to try the Tangerine Chicken,” and that will be the catalyst for another visit to the restaurant. Until then, I’ll either let somebody else contend with greasy spring rolls and flavorless chicken or be a true creature of habit and only order the Plum Duck each time until I'm all ducked out.

Would I recommend Dynasty Szechuan? Once again, I’m torn. After only one visit, I’ve had good and bad here. Is this a bad sign? It could be, especially given that three out of the four different items that were eaten were so-so. But I’m an optimist at heart, so I would be inclined to try the restaurant again simply because that duck was so delicious.

Is Dynasty Szechuan a good value or do you need to take out a loan to eat here? The prices at Dynasty Szechuan are quite reasonable, from the soups to the appetizers to the salad bar and beyond. It’s not gourmet Asian food, so don’t expect to break the bank.

What about atmosphere and ambience? Well, if you can stomach looking at a creepy tank full of depressed looking fish with a suicidal slant, and you don’t mind a stark cafeteria-like presence, it’s not too terribly bad. As far as ambience, well, there is none. It’s a simple place that feels like it doesn’t really expect too much from itself, so why should the clientele?

Dynasty Szechuan, 559 Newfield Avenue, Stamford, CT  (203) 425-9998


  1. closed in Jan 2012

  2. Rest in peace, Dynasty Szechaun. It's probably for the best.