Revisiting the Original Grand Sichuan


   A dozen years back, the original Grand Sichuan on Canal Street opened just across from the triumphal entrance to the Manhattan Bridge. It was first out of the gate, gainsaying the Szechuan Empires, Szechwan Gardens, and all the other pallid evocations of Sichuan cuisine that had left us yawning. Now we have Sichuan stalls in Flushing that heap on the ma la peppercorns, sit-down spots in Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge that wow us with the cuisine’s nuance and complexity, and a pair of great chains in Manhattan itself that deliver reasonably authentic versions of Sichuan. But return with us now to the original Grand Sichuan, now detached from the Grand Sichuan empire of seven restaurants here and in Jersey.

The tea-smoked duck (above) remains the jewel of the menu, a not-hot smoke-up of an entire specimen that develops a copper-colored skin with a thin layer of delicious smoky fat underneath, served with hoisin sauce. I sat with four friends on a Saturday afternoon in the window table. While the restaurant didn’t deliver the mouth-searing hotness we sometimes crave, the food was still did a fine job of balancing chile oil, dried chiles, and pickled chiles. So long neglected, it’s the tart flavors that the original Grand Sichuan excels as, as witnessed by the splendid sour beans and minced pork (shown below), which contains finely sliced yard beans that are themselves pickled, a dish from the Hunan menu implanted in the larger menu (It’s called the Mao Ze Dong menu, because that’s the province he came from.)

The dan dan noodles (shown below) were only adequate. While the meaty and beany flavors prevailed, the dish was sadly lacking in Sichuan peppercorns. We wondered if this wasn’t due to the fact that the place now caters to backpackers who ride the Fung Wah bus to Boston, which stops just up the street.

The whole fish with hot bean sauce (a towering Sichuan standard) we judged good, but not great, having recently had a spectacular version at Bamboo Pavilion in Bensonhurst. See both dishes below for comparison.

Grand Sichuan’s whole fish with hot bean sauce

Bamboo Pavilions whole fish with hot bean sauce

Still, the prices at the original Grand Sichuan on Canal Street are considerably less expensive than other similarly named restaurants, amounting to a savings of 30% or more. There are many fine dishes, and the cooks enjoy a special relationship with vegetables. Though the premises are now somewhat shabby, and you won’t find the range of arcane dishes seen elsewhere (kidneys, for example) the place is still one of the more interesting restaurants in Manhattan’s Chinatown. 125 Canal Street, 212-625-9212 



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