Pandemic Takeout 03: Grand Szechuan (Bloomington)

We’re almost into the second month of the quarantine with no clear end in sight. Our governor, the excellent Tim Walz, has extended Minnesota’s “stay at home” order through May 4. Will it end there? I doubt it even though it appears that the state has done a fairly good job so far with social distancing and flattening the curve (two terms I never want to hear again once this is over). Even if the stay at home order does end, however, I don’t think there’s much chance of restaurants reopening to dining in for a good while yet. I’m certainly not going to be comfortable going out to eat in May. As supportive as I am of the industry as a whole, and especially of the places closest to our hearts/stomachs, I think it’s going to take a while for us to feel comfortable again with the notion of dining in close proximity with a bunch of strangers. I do miss that buzz and energy of eating out that takeout can never even begin to approximate but we’re going to be cautious going back, as I think we all have to be. In the meantime, however, takeout has meant we can continue to enjoy the food of some of our favourite places and help support them.

It should be noted, of course, that kitchen workers at restaurants that are continuing to do takeout and delivery may be putting themselves at risk. I certainly don’t feel entitled to our favourite places staying open through the pandemic. Absent any information to the contrary, however, I assume they are taking precautions and making the best decisions for their future. While they’re open we will do our prudent best to support them.

Grand Szechuan, in Bloomington, is about a 35 minute drive from us and strains the sense of “local” even more than House of Curry in Rosemount does, but they have a lot on their menu that easily survives a long drive and does well with being heated up as leftovers. I go once every two weeks and place an order of the size we would with a group of 8 and we enjoy a meal a day for 3-4 days. El Triunfo meanwhile is on a weekly rotation. Though we’re both seasoned cooks and normally cook at home most days, our days right now are overloaded and it’s a relief (and privilege) to be able to ease some of that load with tasty takeout food.

What have we got so far? The constants have been the green beans, which everyone in the family wants (I reheat these in the wok to keep them crisp) and the dan dan noodles, which the younger brat insists on. Beyond that we’re engaged in a slow-motion tour of their menu. Basically, if it isn’t a dish that relies on crisp texture (nothing deep fried) or that is at risk of becoming soggy/gummy by the time it gets home (no wontons in chilli oil or hand cut noodles or sauteed greens, alas), we are likely to order it. The general system is to get a range of textures and flavours, always with a mild soup and some soft tofu alongside some more robust flavours. A welcome and unlooked for surprise in all of this has been our older brat’s sudden flowering of adventurousness. He has eaten and become a big fan of two dishes he’d refused to try before: kung pao chicken and fish-flavoured pork. My next run will be at the end of next week and rather than ask for a repeat of one of these he’s said I should get another dish he’s not tried before that I think he’ll like. Sometimes parenting is rewarding.

Launch the slideshow to see what we’ve been eating and for ideas for what you might get yourself if you live within reasonable range as well. I’ve included pictures of their takeout menu which is less unwieldy than the menu on their website. The menu images are quite large so click on the link at bottom right in the slideshow to load them full-sized.

Oh yes, how does takeout work here? Well, like House of Curry, they neither take payment over the phone nor do curbside delivery. You call the order in, go in and pay using a chip card reader and pick up your food. I’ve been going at lunch time and am yet to encounter another customer while there—just the one staff member working the cash register. (It is sad to see the large, usually vibrant restaurant sitting empty and deserted.) A friend who picked up food in the evening last week noted that they seemed to be getting a steady trickle of takeout customers in the evening with occasionally a few more people going in simultaneously than he was comfortable with while he was waiting outside. Now that more and more people are wearing masks this may not be as much of an issue but I’m going to continue picking up takeout in the middle of the day.

Edit to add: A reminder again that you should avoid using predatory delivery services like Grub Hub etc., especially in these times when restaurants need all the money they can get. The commissions that continue charged to the restaurants by those services are unconscionable. If you’re not too far away, just call in an order and go pick it up. Hell, I’m driving 70 minutes roundtrip!


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