Wa Jeal Sichuan Chili House | 1588 2nd Ave. (Bet. 82nd & 83rd Sts.) | 212.396.3339 | wajealrestaurant.com

ONE OF MY former favorite neighborhood Chinese restaurants was a popular if expensive place called Wu Liang Ye, which used to be located on 86th between 3rd & 2nd Avenues. The had a decent run, but closed down a little less than a year ago when their rent escalated exponentially, and management couldn't merit raising menu item prices any higher (although they did try for about a week, with disastrous customer response!).

It recently came as a welcome surprise to me that a new place that opened near 82nd Street on 2nd Avenue named Wa Jeal—to which I initially reacted, Ugh, not another Chinese place!—was under the same management as the aforementioned Wu Liang Ye.

I scrambled to MenuPages to see if Wa Jeal's menu was as replete with the more traditional and "outré" Chinese fare, such as ox tongue, tripe, and shark fin soup; they did.

And they had transferred their culinary concentration as well, that if highly spicy Sichuan seasoning, preparation and cooking, featuring the use of many different types of chilies

I decided to order a lunch delivery, to see if they had maintained the same high quality of food, choosing a Diced Rabbit—yes, rabbit!—and Peanuts appetizer, that's served with (in) a chili garlic black bean jam, then the Double Cooked Pork Belly with Chili Leeks lunch special, which, at $6.50, doesn't also generously come with fried rice and a spring roll, but was actually cheaper than the rabbit appetizer.

My delivery arrived in about 15 minutes (three Maxwell songs), smelled great as I opened each container, and plated very nicely as I took advantage of the empty yet repainted and refloored apartment next door to use as my "studio" to take pictures of my lunch.

Your first question, probably: What did the rabbit taste like? I could usually tell you. I've had it once before, in a stew, and in that particular application, it was only subtly gamey, and it absorbed the flavors of the broth and vegetables that surrounded it.

Honestly, in this preparation, so layered in chili peppers and chili oils and different garlics and other spices, I couldn't really taste the rabbit. The texture of the rabbit meat, unique as it is—firm but pliable, much like duck meat—was nicely accounted, and worked as a nice base for all those other flavors to play on. There was so much going on that halfway through the rabbit—a little extra busy work as well separating the meat from its more inherently skinny and hidden bones—my tongue started to tingle, but in a fun tasty way. (I've had similar experiences sampling the spicier hand pulled noodle dishes at Xi'an Famous Foods in Chinatown.) It's more of an acquired experience than an acquired taste,but one I would recommend to the more adventurous eaters among you.

The pork belly dish was a more commonly flavored dish, and nicely so. (FYI, although it's presently the pork dish du jour in the modern foodie universe, the Chinese have been using pork belly in their dishes for, well, thousands of years!) Nice tender, slightly chewy strips of fatty and salty pork accented by hot chili and sharp, pungent leeks, and tempered by the sweetness of soy sauce and hoisin sauce.

Both meat dishes provided the proper amount of flavor depth and sinus-clearing, brow-beading heat, and were support so well by the aromatic and yummy fried rice that I, hours later, for dinner, walked two blocks over to Wa Jeal to take home an order of their House Special Fried Rice, with diced cured pork, yacai (Sichuan pickle), scallion and egg. I figured I could eat half that night and save the other half for the next day.

All of the rice was done in an hour...!

Bun Apple Tea!


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Wa Jeal Sichuan Chili House | 1588 2nd Ave. (Bet. 82nd & 83rd Sts.) | 212.396.3339 | wajealrestaurant.com