Here is a quick, somewhat anxious check-in at Grand Szechuan, the Twin Cities metro’s house of Sichuan delights par excellence. Why anxious? Well, late last year—as noted in my annual year-end survey of our meals eaten there—the voluminous menu at Grand Szechuan suddenly shrank. The large “leather”-bound menus were replaced by a somewhat makeshift menu on folded printer paper. I did not see this myself but this was confirmed by a number of people. And a number of favourite dishes were not on that menu. The word was that there were staffing problems that caused this. We left for India shortly thereafter, had a busy February after we got back, and then I was off in Seoul in early March. And so it wasn’t till last week that I finally had a chance to go see for myself where things stood. Here is what I found.
We were there for a dinner on a Thursday evening. There were not many tables occupied but that picked up as our meal went on, with a few large groups joining the fray. The large menu is still not being presented but what we were given was not trifold printer paper but a smaller glossy menu that resembled their old takeout menu. Our server insisted that everything that used to be on the old menu is on it but this is not in fact the case. There’s no spicy hammered chicken on this smaller menu, for example, to name only one of our favourites (I have not done a detailed comparison). But that said, most of the old menu is still available and it’s possible other things may be available if asked for. So, so far so good on the menu front. How about the staffing issue?
I did not see very many familiar faces in the front of the house—only two in fact. The surly young gent who usually mans the front was not present and nor were there any familiar faces visible in the kitchen. Chef Luo can usually be seen through the doors and he almost always emerges into the dining room at some point during service. On this occasion he was not present and indeed there seemed to be a completely different chef in the kitchen. I asked our server—one of the two familiar faces—if there had been changes. Her response was that different people were in the kitchen and in the front on different days. We were still a bit nervous—having in the intervening months also heard rumours of a change of ownership—as we waited for the food to arrive.
But when the food arrived all our anxieties were allayed. I have no idea what’s going on with staffing or ownership or who is now in charge of the kitchen, but I can tell you that the food we got was a) excellent, and b) prepared exactly how it’s always been. So if there have been changes—and that’s a very big “if”—it has made no difference to what the kitchen is putting out, and as diners that’s what we care about.
So, what did we eat? We were a group of five adults, celebrating one person’s birthday. And so we got an array of her favourite dishes: Chengdu spicy wontons, couple’s beef, cumin lamb, Chengdu-style grilled fish fillet, war bar combination, Szechuan green beans, stir-fried a choy, and, of course, triple flavour squid/spicy squid roll. If that last had not been available there might have been trouble—but it was available and it was excellent, as was everything else.
The missus and the boys were not able to join at this dinner for school night reasons (I had my spring break last week) and I was tasked with bringing food home as well. Accordingly, while we were on the home stretch of our meal, I placed a takeout order as well: fish flavoured pork, mapo tofu, fish and tofu in chilli broth, eggplant in sweet bean sauce and another order of the green beans. We ate some of this for dinner the next day and then finished it over a couple more meals over the weekend. Everything in that order was also as it had always been, which is to say, excellent.
For a look at the current menu and what we ate, click on an image below to launch a larger slideshow. Scroll down for price and to see what’s coming next.
I was not allowed to contribute to the cost of the birthday dinner and so cannot tell you how much it cost. The takeout order was $77 before tip (remember, you pay a small surcharge if you pay by card and not cash). So still very reasonable. We got eight adult meals out of the takeout, which means the effective price was less than $12/head for that part.
So, I’m not panicking about Grand Szechuan. I am intrigued though to find out what’s going on there with staffing. If any other regulars have been recently (last few weeks or months) please write in and let me know if you had a similar experience with (un)familiar faces or if you saw more of the old crew.
Alright, what’s next? This week I’ll post two of my remaining three Delhi reports and one from either Seoul or Goa. That’ll be on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Whisky reviews tomorrow and on Friday. This weekend we might go out for Mexican food in St. Paul. If so, that might be next week’s Twin Cities report; though the missus and I did also eat at Tenant this past weekend.
I am not a regular; in fact, my wife and I visited for the very first time in mid-February when we found ourselves attending an event nearby. We arrived with a copy of your suggested-dishes blog post. It was around Midwestern lunch time and the place was nearly empty, filling up a little only later (it was raining hard that day; that may have had something to do with attendance).
We were given the menu you got on this visit. I noted a couple of recommendations you made that I could not find on the menu, so I would confirm the suspicion of others that items have been “disappeared” (though they may be available on request). We ordered the Szechuan green beans, the Beef Tongue in Chili Sauce (which resulted in a challenge from the waitperson and an assurance that I knew what it was and would eat it, but which turned into Couple’s Beef by the time it arrived at the table) and either the Chicken with Cashews or Chicken with Broccoli (sorry).
What I can say is this certainly is the best Chinese food I’ve eaten in the Twin Cities in years and possibly even in the 40 years I’ve lived here. Very tasty food at a fair price. Several Chinese restaurants are closer to our home than this one but this one is worth the drive if the roads are at all passable. I’m glad it passed your quick check.
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For what it’s worth, the spicy hammered chicken and the jellyfish with scallion sauce—to take two appetizers not on the current menu presented in the restaurant—are both still on the menu on the website (though neither are on the menu that appears if you try to open an online order). So it might just be that some stuff got dropped from the printout for formatting/space reasons. Contrariwise, the couple’s beef, which is on the new printed menu is not on the website but is on the online order menu. So, who knows.
Have you tried Boludo? Pizza and salads and empanadas and a tiny space. Pizza crust is buttery, almost a pastry. Salads are voluminous and delicious.
Is the triple flavor squid usually very chewy? I tried a number of your suggestions recently and was a bit disappointed with the texture of the squid.
It’s chewy, yes, but not rubbery.