My favorite Chinese restaurant in the city is Grand Sichuan, partially because of its multiple convenient locations (I go to the ones in Chelsea and on St. Marks), mostly because their food tastes like awesome (if you know what to order, at least) and spans four of my favorite food groups: spicy awesome, vegetable awesome, dumpling awesome, and noodly awesome. According to my Flickr archives, I've been there six times since February, easily more than any other restaurant in the city. Granted, half of those times were just to get a quick, cheap lunch near work, but they still count in my grand total.
However, the lunches don't count as contributors to the Grand Sichuan 'Splosion Experience. My first Grand Sichuan 'splosion was spurred by Kathryn and her laundry list of recommendations. When Kathryn recommends something, you listen. Because she's always right. She, along with Dan, Kathy, and Greg, help me plow through most of her favorite dishes. That dinner rekindled a flame in my GS-loving belly...a flame that mostly burned for cucumber in scallion sauce. (You'll see. Oh yes.)
AND THEN I NEEDED MORE—MORE SCALLION SAUCE, MORE BEEFY GOODNESS, MORE DUMPLINGS, RAWRGFLUNG...[calmly wipes flecks of spit off monitor]. About three weeks later I arranged another Grand Sichuan 'Splosion Experience aided by Ulla, her boyfriend, and her sister, Diana, Greg (agaaain), Lee Anne, and Chris. You know how much food eight people can eat? A lot! Yay!
And with that introduction, I present the food porny results to you. Since you're unlikely to find deliciousness by blindly picking items from their menu, here are some of my favorite dishes.
Cold cucumber with scallion sauce: One of my favorite dishes is not a meat, nor is it spicy, nor is it even cooked (nor, despite its non-meatness, is it vegetarian, but I'll get to that in a bit). IT'S JUST CUCUMBER NUBS IN SAUCE! But...but magical, vibrant peridot-green sauce with the concentrated deliciousness of scallion squeezings. Lee Anne uncovered the simple components of this sauce: sesame oil, scallion oil (pressed in-house, or whatever), chicken broth, and salt. At least, I think that was it. Methinks the chicken broth contributed much tastiness; it's not a flavor you'd expect to find in what is basically a cucumber salad.
- CAN YOU TELL THAT I LOVE THIS STUFF? Photo taken by Greg.
I liked it so much that I poured the fat-globular remains into my bowl of rice, even though my stomach was past the point of, "Stop feeding me, please, cant you just..oh fuck whatever." Even though I wasn't even that hungry before the meal began, I ended up finishing off the sauce and the rice. Moderation fail.
Dan dan noodles: Mildly chewy, medium-thick noodles topped with a splodge of ground pork and chili oil goo. Even the minimal greenery adds a hint of refreshing something or other. The only thing that I've found out of place with dan dan noodles is that the bowl is never large enough to allow for easy non-messy noodle mixing—that is, some pork chili goo will probably fend up soiling the tablecloth—but maybe the inadequately-sized bowl is there to ensure you mix it carefully. Or maybe they just don't have slightly larger bowls.
Sichuan wonton with red chili oil: I kind of like anything swimming in chili oil. Including these dainty pork wontons.
Pork soup dumplings (xiao long bao): Soup dumplings have a short lifespan of deliciousness compared to most other dumplings—bite into one after it cools down and you're left with a lifeless pocket of pork and fatty pork juice. ...Which doesn't sound that terrible, but trust me when I say it's a gazillion times better when hot. Although Grand Sichuan may not be the place to go for the best soup dumplings, their version is perfectly good—fairly thin skinned and plump. I usually order them when eating with a large group.
Gui Zhou Spicy Chicken: This is one of the roasty spicy chicken nubbin dishes you should get. It's fried! It's crispy! What's not to like? NOTHING.
Chong Qing Dry and Spicy Chicken: This is the other spicy fried chicken nubbin dish you should get. It's not as enjoyable as the first one since the dish is seemingly 75% chili peppers that you shouldn't eat unless you're a masochist (or maybe my taste buds just can't handle it), but the peppers do lend their nice burninating flavor to the tender chicken nubbins. Another annoying part about this dish is that the chicken and chili peppers are similar in color and size, thus leading to the situation where near the end of the meal, you think you've fished out a wayward chicken nub buried within the graveyard of peppers when, in fact, it's just another goddamn pepper.
Fried beef with cumin flavor: The first time I tried this, I thought, "Yeah, it's quite good." The second time I tried it, I thought, "HOLY CRAP I LOVE THIS, OH GOD." (I don't know what happened from Point A to Point B, as I'm pretty sure it tasted the same.) Thin slices of tender (really tender...yes) beef lightly breaded in something cumin-laden, fried to a crisp, and served with cilantro and onion. For whatever reason they only provide you with one mantou bun cut into four sadly insubstantial slices, but maybe they'd give you more if you ask. Because...really, one mantou with a pile of beef? What?
Smoked tea duck: Moist, fatty meat covered with a layer of crispy, fatty skin. No spice, but still awesome.
Sautéed snow pea shoots: I LOVE YOU, SNOW PEA SHOOTS. I LOVE YOU FOREVER! So crispy and sweet, you are. Admittedly, you're quite expensive in most restaurants, so I may as well just cook you at home.
I think that ends my list of favorites. Not to say there aren't other awesome dishes on the menu. Sautéed string beans, for instance: I love them, but I prefer the ones from Famous Sichuan, which I have sadly not eaten at in a long time. I think another visit is in order...
EDIT (3/25/09): MORE DISHES!!
I totally forgot about these other dishes that I love since I hadn't eaten them in the past two months. BUT THEY ARE STILL WORTHY OF MY LOVE! And your love. And your stomach acids. Here they are:
Mapo tofu: Minced pork, jiggly soft tofu cubes, and lots, lots, lots of hot, oily chili sauce. EVERYWHERE. Potentially painful, but in a good way.
Eggplant: Eggplant logs that are partially sliced at even intervals for ease of eating, but are left mostly intact for that satisfying, "Holy crap this is an EGGPLANT LOG," sensation. Aside from "fried," this is my favorite form of eggplant: soft and creamy as butter, doused in burning hot chili oil goo. (This dish may or may not come with pork. You should ask if you care.)
Chicken and spinach noodle soup: (At the Chelsea location and not St. Marks, according to the online menu.) It's not spicy. It's not fried. And it's mostly liquid. (Or mostly noodles, but...there's a lot of soup, yes.) So why do I like it? There's something comforting about it. And salty. And chickeny. And spinachy. It came to my rescue when this morning after going to the dentist to get a crown put in, my jaw still ached by the time lunch rolled around. I couldn't eat anything spicy, sour, or sticky, and considering the ache, preferably not anything that required much chewing. The chicken and spinach noodle soup was perfect: nothing required much chewing (everything had about the same super-soft texture), but there was enough non-soup substance to fill me up. I only needed to eat half of the portion (you get a small bucket for $6.25), so I get to eat it again for lunch tomorrow! WOOHOOOOO!
All the food in this entry was from the St. Mark's location:
23 Saint Marks Pl
New York, NY 10003
I've also frequently eaten at the Chelsea location with good results:
229 9th Ave # 1
New York, NY 10001
And there are others listed on their website that I can't vouch for, but I'd assume they're also good.