This is my fourth report on Grand Szechuan (first, second, third) and my first since December 2014. We’ve been eating there regularly all year, however—I’ve just been waiting to post one large round-up of dishes that we hadn’t had before or that I hadn’t reported on before. This is that round-up. (Though there are a few familiar items in here too.)
Since my last report on Grand Szechuan there’s been a bit of ferment in the Twin Cities Sichuan scene. Little Szechuan has closed their West End location (we haven’t been back to their St. Paul mothership in a while, and so I don’t know if they’re still religiously hotpot only there). There have even been some reports of decline at Grand Szechuan (and some speculation about possible changes in the kitchen). Well, we’ve been eating there all year and we haven’t noticed any decline. And on our last visit we confirmed that Chef Luo is still running the kitchen. In fact, they have some new dishes, though only listed in Chinese on a board stuck to a wall, and I’m happy to report on them here.
Descriptions and comments on the dishes are in the slideshow below. I have nothing else to say about the restaurant itself except that it continues, in our view, to be well above the competition in the area when you look at the general consistency of their execution and the breadth of their menu. And it continues to be very reasonably priced as well.
I thought I’d start the slideshow with some more familiar items. Their wontons and dumplings in chilli oil are always reliable.
As is their bo-bo chicken (on the bone as you can see).
And their tripe.
I’d mentioned their consistency above but there are some dishes that come out differently from time to time. Compare this version of their pork belly with mashed garlic with…
…this one. Both were very good though.
Your companions will give you grief for ordering this and will mock you all the more when it arrives; but then as they begin to eat and as the fries soak more and more in the chilli oil at the bottom they will acknowledge your genius.
Now for some main dishes that are on the regular menu: After not ordering this here for a long time we’ve been getting the classic dish more often of late, and it’s been very good each time.
Here is a particularly virulently hot version of one of our favourite fish dishes there. (You have to ask specially for it to be at this setting.)
Pretty much what the name says and very, very good.
The dark grey blocks are the taro jelly. May not look very appetizing but this is quite good. The duck is a bit fiddly; the taro jelly is all about the texture.
You have to like your intestines. Best to get it in a large group probably.
No squirrels involved. The dish is so named because it is made to look like the tail of a squirrel. Why is it made to look this way? I don’t know. Anyway, this is sweet and mild.
Crispy fried chicken with some nice heat around the edges. Better than their Chung King chilli chicken if you’re looking for a crispy chicken dish.
A mildly spicy fish dish that serves as a nice counterpoint if you have too many things in a livid red sauce on the table.
Their version is very mild, and it’s not my favourite.
This is from their “Szechuan Noodles” menu. A chicken with bone and skin in a very comforting broth with noodles and napa cabbage.
A very mild dish.
Now we come to items not on the menu but listed in English on the wall near the captain’s desk. This is “Spring Water Chicken”, which you could think of as the spicy version of the previous but with potato starch noodles (good news for you if you’re doing the gluten free thing).
And an unnecessary closeup view of this one as well.
You have to like tofu and you have to like the interplay of crisp and soft textures. The soy sauce is not particular spicy. Another dish that’s best got in a large group.
This is one of my new favourites there: a mildly spicy dish of chicken with cauliflower. I suspect I like it because it in some way evokes South Asian flavours.
They don’t always have the whole walleye but when they do it’s very good. In a broadbean sauce that you need to ask for on the spicier end of the spectrum. Get it in a large group, both because it’s expensive and because it won’t be any good as leftovers.
And now we come to the exciting Chinese menu. This is stuck up on the wall just as you open the first door to the restaurant (before you enter the restaurant proper). Not sure how long it’s been there but we noticed it a few trips ago and a couple of trips ago I had our regular server (the excellent Kang) translate it for me. We’ve since eaten 6/8 items.
This is the one item that is translated on the list. It’s a very nice spicy, slightly sweet stir-fry.
I loved this one but it may be a hard sell if you’re not into soft tofu and fatty brisket. It is a very mild dish and a good change of pace both texturally and flavourally.
Okay, this may be a harder sell for most but this is really very good. Scrambled pork brains in a hot and numbing sauce. Kang had the kitchen make it extra hot for us to “bring the flavour out”. If you’ve not had brains think softer but much milder liver. Try it but maybe also get it in a group of six people; for even if you like brains there’s a limit to how much brains two people can eat (even on Halloween weekend).
This was described to us as fish in hot pot broth. I suspect this is just the classic Sichuan water-boiled fish. Anyway, it’s very good (with bean sprouts lurking below) and might be our new favourite there in this general genre now.
Altogether milder, this is the whole fish version of the other off-menu steamed fish fillets we usually get for the boys. The fish is steamed with soy sauce, ginger and scallions. Delicate and excellent.
Maybe another hard sell on account of the black chicken (all of which is in the bowl)? Anyway, don’t let that deter you: it tastes just like regular chicken and the mild broth is wonderful. The orange things are wolfberries, we were told.
So, if you still haven’t gone to Grand Szechuan for some reason, you really should. If the stuff above looks too hardcore, check out my other reviews—there’s lots of more familiar, less offal-centric stuff there (and they do also have an American-Chinese menu if you want to mix and match to ease yourself in). But if you have been going but haven’t been straying off your beaten path maybe there are some ideas here for you. We look forward to going back soon to try the two remaining items on the special menu: another fish dish, I was told, and a rice cake dessert. Please do go and help ensure that the best Asian restaurant in the state stays with us and continues to flourish!