Thank goodness for Jewish friends and those sticking in the 11211 zip code over Christmas, no matter how much I rip on it. For practically a decade I was stuck entertaining myself, this year I had two options: classic movie and Chinese food and low key Brooklyn party. I thought I might handle both but I got sidetracked.
We started out watching Juno at Union Square, which barraged me with enough sass and quirk to last me through the entire new year (and could a character just get an abortion already in 2008?). But can I say that Michael Cera is completely hot and totally legal? Then, we needed walking-distance Chinese. I was trying super hard not to be an authenticity snob but given a choice between Grand Sichuan St. Marks and Sammy’s, there’s no floundering.
I figured G.S. would be safe for all three palates involved. Last Christmas I had a hard time with my spice-hating friend Heather putting soy sauce on her Vietnamese noodles, and as we were dining together again this December 25th I vowed to ease up on the intolerance. You can order things like bbq ribs, scallion pancakes and sesame chicken and it’s no biggie, so accordingly, we had all three.
Plus, Todd Barry was one of the seeming hundreds who thought they’d be the only one waiting for a table. It would’ve been a total indie comedy Christmas if the Flight of the Conchords guys showed up. And if Mo Rocca made an appearance I would’ve totally plotzed.
Even if I know I’ll be eating the bulk myself, I can’t resist tendons or tripe bathed in chile oil, buzzing with peppercorns. These had a subtle tingly creep that only kicked in after a few mouthfuls.
No one hates a rib.
Or a scallion pancake either. Peacemaking food.
Chicken with dried chiles were just that. The crispy bits were punchy but not painfully hot.
But then, I’m no judge of hot because Heather insisted her benign choice, sesame chicken, was spicy.
I figured red-braised pork would be safe since the amount of fat included is way scarier than the heat level. I’ve never encountered a pork belly dish I didn’t like, plus the richness of chestnuts pushes boundaries.
Pumpkin seemed like a wise seasonal vegetable. I was mildly concerned that the green strips in the photo would be bell pepper, which I’m fussy about. But luckily, it was a mild green chile.
I’ve resolved to leave town next Christmas (but I’ve been saying that for years to no avail). But if for some pathetic reason I’m still skulking around NYC on the 25th in ’08, there would be worse places to while away time than at Grand Sichuan. (12/25/07)
This seems to be happening more and more lately. I dine at a restaurant very rarely, maybe once every year or so, and end up ordering practically the exact same thing without any recollection of the previous meal. It’s like Cold Case or one of those nondescript crime dramas that I’ll happen to watch once every few months and catch the same episode both times. Anyway, I ordered dan dan noodles, roast pork with chestnuts and chicken. The only difference being chicken with massive amounts of dried red chiles instead of last visit’s beef. At least I know I have a "type." (1/5/05)
Bizarre. My nose is running, my eyes are watering and my throat is raw (all in the best way possible) after eating a leftover shredded beef dish from Grand Sichuan for lunch. It’s odd because I don’t recall the food being this spicy the first time around. The oily burn is a great mid-afternoon pick me up, the only thing that could further improve the intensity of bodily reaction would be the buzz of Sichuan peppercorns. They seem to be lacking (though now that I’m sitting still and focusing I can detect a subtle numbness on my tongue and palate) which isnt shocking since technically they’re contraband.
Grand Sichuan is one of those biggies that tends to get the nod from the authenticity police. I’ve never been to China, so who am I to judge? Spicy and Tasty in Flushing is where I’d previously experienced persuasive Sichuan food. The only thing I like better there is the cold dish station in front with a chef wholl prepare little plates of oily, chile-laced goodness (like jellyfish or bamboo shoots) on the fly.
There’s really no reason why I’d never visited a Grand Sichuan branch previously. I’m hardly a denizen of the East Village, but it took a location opening oddly on St. Marks, in an urban strip mall, next to a Chipotle, to draw me in.
If you want to be schooled in what makes each region of Chinese cuisine unique, they have a bound handbook explaining Sichuan from Hunan from American-Chinese with a little Mao history thrown in (I think people were upset by the peasant garb the wait staff wore when the St. Marks location first opened, whatever, the Mao memorabilia chic has been done in Asia before without freaking everyone out). More than you mightve ever wanted to know is also available on their website.
We ordered dan dan noodles, the spicy shredded beef dish and red cooking pork with chestnut, supposedly Maos favorite dish. I’m a sucker for anything made with pork belly and the chewy chestnuts soaking in rich mouth searing sauce combined well. As it stood, we’d ordered lots of meat heavy dishes brimming with oil. The oil is a trademark of the cuisine, I can deal with it. But next time a vegetable item or something vinegary, sour or fresh and crispy might be a better balance. (10/22/04)
Grand Sichuan St. Marks * 21 St. MarksPl., New York, NY