Over my years living in NYC, I've learned that Restaurant Row, though it has it's gems (I'm looking at you Bourbon Street), is typically a seedy place to eat dinner. You've got the hustlers trying to get suckers to pay for their overpriced pre-theater menus, and just the general hustle and bustle of that neighborhood can be a bit too much to handle. So you can understand my hesitance when I was invited for dinner at Grand Sichuan last weekend. My mom was in town and we had plans to see Tom Hanks in Lucky Guy (excellent! go see it!), so I suggested we give this place a try.
First thing I noticed when we were ushered back to our table in the back room of the narrow, white-walled, simple restaurant--everyone was speaking Chinese. That piqued my interest because you know those people aren't there for the General Tso's Chicken or the Beef with Mixed Vegetables. Maggie (I don't think that was her given name), our bubbly and cheerful host for the night gave us a bit of perspective about the menu. It was mostly Sichuan-inspired, with some more traditional elements as well (for the tourists who stumble in most likely). She did warn us that Sichuan food is inherently very spicy but was very nice in suggesting things for us that were not as hot, while still authentic.
First up, we tried the egg drop soup ($2.25). While it was similar to the egg drop soup I'm used to, this version had a lot more flavor. It was made with vegetables and had a bit of a peppery kick to it. It would definitely be nice to cuddle up with on a cold winter's day.
|Egg Drop Soup ($2.25)|
Next up, we opted for something a big on the spicier side that had rave reviews on Yelp. Dan Dan noodles are as traditional as you come in Sichuan food, and Grand Sichuan offers two different versions; plain or Xie Lao Ban's version from the Dunlop book (both $4.25). We chose the latter because Maggie said it was fairly famous and had a lot more flavor and no sugar added. Wow, was this delicious. My mouth is seriously watering now just thinking about it. However, it was one of the spiciest things I've ever eaten in my life. It was the kind of thing that you have to just keep eating because if you stop the heat will just take over and your mouth will explode (see all that bright red in the bottom? yea, that's straight hot pepper sauce). But the strange thing was that even though this dish was so spicy, it had so much flavor and I actually went back for seconds after the rest of our food came, event though that was slightly masochistic.
|Xie Lao Ban's Dan Dan Noodles ($4.25)|
The menu offers two different duck options, and we went for the Smoked Tea Duck ($16.95) which was served crispy with buns and sauce you use to make little sandwiches. This meat was delicious and super moist. You could even taste a slight tea flavor under all that crispiness. Good stuff.
|Smoked Tea Duck ($16.95)|
Then the entrees started coming. First were the beef short ribs served with a corn salad and topped with spicy shredded beef ($13.95). Next to the meat there was something that Maggie even had a hard time describing. It was like a white film made from milk that was fairly bland tasting and two brownish balls that were liquidy when you poked them and those were made from meat and that's all I can tell you about that. The shortribs however were jam-packed with flavor and super tender and delicious (as they should be after being cooked for 80+ hours!). The corn was a bit funky (do they even grow corn in China?), but the meat was soooooooooo yummy.
|Beef Short Ribs ($13.95)|
We were also sent out a dish of the curry chicken ($9.95), which is on the chef specialties list even though curry is not typically found in Sichuan food Maggie told us. Still, the meat was delicious and the sauce full of flavor.
|Curry Chicken ($9.95)|
We opted for the vegetable happy family as our last entree because, well, you can see that we had been eating fairly heavily before that. I was a bit puzzled by this dish but it was very fun to look at. It had some boiled pieces of pumpkin, sweet potato, potato and squash and was served with a radish foam, tomato/pepper puree, spinach jello like things, and dried flakes of different vegetables. I'm still not sure exactly how this is Chinese, but it was nice so have some fiber included with the meal.
|Vegetable Happy Family|
All in all I'd say we did pretty well. We got some looks from the other patrons when Maggie kept bringing out dish after dish. I'd venture to think they got some kicks out of seeing us eat those Dan Dan noodles. We turned down Maggie's offer of dessert because we were so full, but they did bring us some orange slices and fortune cookies to round out the meal.
|Our table once we'd given up|
|Orange Slices and Fortune Cookies|
I must say that I've got to rethink my entire opinion of Restaurant Row after eating at Grand Sichuan. Maybe there are some more [authentic] hidden gems on that stretch of West 46th Street, and I'll definitely add this to the list!