Ollie’s storefront
There is a premium to uniqueness, and in New York City, diners are programmed to shun chains. So my trip to Ollie’s 42nd street branch did not begin on a very positive, confidence inspiring not, for not only is Ollie’s 42 part of a Chinese restaurant chain in the city, it is also located on the edge of Times Square, an area with such a bad reputation for having overpriced, mediocre food. The interiors, unchanged since its last occupant (most probably an Italian trattoria) also looked ill-suited for a serious Chinese restaurant. However, the lines told another story. Sure, there were tables of tourist families just looking to fill up on American-Chinese dishes with the likes of Chop Suey and General Tso’s chicken.  On the other hand, there were also a fair amount of Chinese groups waiting patiently to order from the Szechuan menu, which Julia, a spice lover from the neighboring province of Hubei  assured me was as, if not more authentic than my midtown standby, Wu Liang Ye.
Skipping past the rest of the menu, we focused our attention on the Szechuan dishes found in the cold appetizers/ Chengdu small dishes/ New wave & Traditional Sichuan dishes segments. I found the cold dishes, including the numbingly spicy ox tongue and tripe dish and mung bean noodle dish sure to bring tears to your eyes on par to Wu Liang Ye’s. The braised fish with bean paste was superior to the one I ate with my parents 3 weeks ago, with really tender meat bathing luxuriantly in a salty and spicy gravy. Chicken with dried red peppercorns yielded nuggets of chicken, fried with a peppery coating tossed liberally with a fragrant mix of dried red chili fingers, ginger, onions, peanuts and the tiny but fiery szechuan peppercorns. Sifting through the plate for a piece of the tender meat was like a exhilarating walk through a spicy minefield.  A casserole of fresh seafood and pieces of coagulated pig’s blood bubbling under a layer of red hot chili oil also found its way on our table. Needless to say we ate our way through it with the help of a lot of rice.
Not surprisingly, the least satisfying dish we ordered was a plate of fried dumplings, the least Szechuan of all that we had eaten. However, it is the plates of mediocre dumplings, dim sum and cantonese styled roast meats not quite done right that I have always associated with the Ollie’s brand. I seem to have short-changed it with the 42nd street branch, but if they want an image change, then something’s has to be done with the non-Sichuan half of the menu too!
Ollie’s 42
 411 W42nd St (Betweeh 9th & 10th Aves)
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