Checking Out Grand Sichuan Eastern in Chelsea
An Irish slur or actual school of yoga?
One night a few weeks ago, I had a vague report that the Grand Sichuan at Ninth and 24th in Chelsea -- at one time the flagship of the fleet -- had been closed, only to be replaced by a new one on Eighth Avenue and 18th Street. The rumor turned out to be false, and the original was merely closed for a quick remodeling. But, indeed, there was a new one on Eighth Avenue, dubbed Grand Sichuan Eastern.
Cow tongue and tripe (and tendon) in hot oil was totally on the money.
When I got there, the facade wasn't too promising: A sign in the window advertised a "Drunk Hour," and encouraged diners to learn "Irish Yoga" -- was it some anti-Irish slur? Nevertheless, I decided to come back and check the place out, even though we have about a dozen places called Grand Sichuan in town, apparently under two separate sets of ownership, but all eventually traceable to the original Grand Sichuan that still stands in Chinatown.
A friend and I arrived at about 7 p.m., and the scene was none too encouraging: The room, which boasted a red super-graphic on one wall, was half-filled with snowy-haired ladies eating with forks, who were treating the place as a sort of regular Chinese restaurant and eating fried rice and wonton soup. (More power to 'em!)
But I gasped when I opened the menu, because nearly three-quarters of the stuff therein was doctrinaire Sichuan food of an authentic sort. The first item on the menu was "ox tongue and tripe in spicy peppery sauce" ($7.95). I asked the spiky-haired server, "Is this dish ma-la? Does it contain Sichuan peppercorns?" He looked up at me blankly, and said, "What's that?" Not a good sign! However, he went back into the kitchen to ask the cook, and came back beaming: "It's a powder," he said, which was fine with me.
Pea shoots and garlic -- vegan, wonderful, and pricey
Cured pork with garlic shoots
When it arrived, the tongue and tripe were glistening with red oil, and alternately tender and chewy. There was certainly some tendon in there, too -- even though there are several cold dishes designated "spicy peppery," they're all in the same bucket and the plater just scoops some of them out and deposits them on the plate. I did enjoy the novocaine numbness of the peppercorns, even though I couldn't see them.
In quick succession, we also got cured pork with garlic shoots (it turned out to be smoky pork belly, more fat than meat, $13.95), snow pea shoots with fresh garlic (wonderful, $14.95), and, odd dish out, pork soup dumplings ($6.95 for 10, smallish and not very good). As you can see, the prices are steep, but the plates are very large, so that you could easily get by with one less than the number of diners if you were a foursome.
I'd say this place is better than the Grand Sichuan in the West Village on Seventh Avenue South, as good as the one further west in Chelsea (the flagship), and not quite as good as the best one, which is on St. Marks in the East Village. And the place is especially appropriate if you want to participate in "Drunk Hour."
Grand Sichuan Eastern 172 Eighth Avenue 212-243-1688
The latest Grand Sichuan, and the second in Chelsea
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