Pandemic Takeout 22: More Heat from Grand Szechuan


It’s been almost two months since my previous Grand Szechuan report but don’t worry, they’re still in business and we’re still eating their food on the regular. As of August 1 they are once again open seven days a week, but they’re still open only for takeout. That takeout business appears to be brisk—at least on weekend evenings. The place was hopping—in a masked and socially-distanced kind of way—when I picked up our most recent meal on a Friday evening. There seemed to be more staff visible as well. I hope they’re doing decent business at lunch and on weekdays as well. But to be safe we should all keep ordering from them. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 14: Grand Szechuan Again


The pandemic may have fucked up all our lives but it’s not stopped us from eating the food of our favourite restaurant in Minnesota: Grand Szechuan. There are a few fine dining restaurants we like a lot but—as I’ve said before—no restaurant in the state makes us happier as a family than Grand Szechuan. Ironically, we’ve been eating their food more since the pandemic began than we otherwise would have been. We normally hit them up on a monthly basis but have been going to get their food almost every two weeks since dining out became first an impossible and now a dubious proposition. Grand Szechuan, by the way, has not yet opened up to dining in. I laud them for their good sense in not doing so; at the same time, I worry about a possible hit to their business now that others have in fact opened up. There were far fewer people there picking up food this past Sunday than I’ve seen on all our takeout trips previous. Then again, it was a holiday weekend and people may have been out on their boats or grilling at home. At any rate we had another excellent meal. Here is a report on that meal and the one previous, from just about two weeks ago. Continue reading

Golden Joy (Calcutta, Jan 2020)


Indian Chinese food, as I’ve said before, is arguably the country’s true national cuisine. (I am speaking here not of the more recent, putatively more “authentic” Chinese food that has made inroads into the higher end of the market in major metros but which has a more limited reach.) This is true in two senses. It is available all over the country—in large cities and small towns, from fancy restaurants to street stalls to dhabas in the middle of nowhere—and has been for many decades. And it is a cuisine that at this point has been adopted without much/any rancour in every part of the country it has gone to (which is to say, again, to every part of it). This latter cannot be said, for example, of North Indian restaurant food—which is also everywhere but whose popularity inspires grumbling in many places outside North India. The only other contender is South Indian food of the idli-dosa-vada-sambar kind (I refer to it generically because that’s largely how it’s presented and received outside the South)—but that has never quite shed its (broad) regional origins. Indian Chinese food, on the other hand, is now of everywhere and from nowhere. And in most places there are no Indian Chinese people actually associated with preparing or serving it. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 8: Back to Grand Szechuan


It’s been two months since restaurants closed to dining-in and I am very glad to say that Grand Szechuan is still open for takeout. This is not to say that they’ve not been affected severely, of course. Though I do see more people picking up food each time I go, business is obviously down drastically: they’re now closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. I do hope that the staff—most of whom must have been laid off or furloughed when this began—are doing well and have managed to get access to financial support; I haven’t read much about what support systems are in place for restaurant workers in Minnesota, and have generally not read much about what programs/support networks there are for restaurants outside the high-end in general. (It’s quite possible I’ve missed things that are out there—if so, do point me in the right direction.) Against all hope I hope that we will see all the familiar staff again when restaurants can open fully and we feel confident enough to go back and eat in again. In the meantime, we also hope to be able to continue to get Grand Szechuan’s food as takeout. As I said in my first pandemic takeout report on them, we get a huge order from them once every two weeks and eat it all slowly over four or five days. This report is of our last two orders. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 3: 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. Continue reading

Magic Noodle (St. Paul, MN)


Magic Noodle, which opened on University Ave. in St. Paul (the Twin Cities’ true Eat Street) last summer, represents a small step in the evolution of the broader Chinese food scene in the Twin Cities. The local Sichuan scene is already pretty strong, with a few restaurants that would be viable propositions in much larger metros with larger Chinese populations. But beyond that there’s been little: our dim sum seem hovers around the edge of dismal, there’s no real Cantonese food of quality or any other regional Chinese restaurants for that matter (that I’m aware of at any rate). And so to have a decent hand-pulled noodle shop open up feels like a big thing. Yes, similar noodle soups are available at restaurants like Grand Szechuan as well but it’s good to have a specialist. Based on our meal at the start of the month I wouldn’t say that they’re very much more than a decent hand-pulled noodle shop at the moment but I’m not complaining too much. Continue reading

Grand Szechuan, 2019 (Bloomington, MN)


Here is my annual report from meals eaten at Grand Szechuan, the restaurant we eat at more often than any other in the Twin Cities metro. It is probably our family’s favourite restaurant in the area, one we eat at over and over again without repeating too many dishes from their voluminous menu. Twin Cities restaurant reviewers often make inflated claims for the quality of our restaurants relative to those in major cities. Oddly, Grand Szechuan never seems to be brought up in these conversations—odd, because in our opinion it is the one restaurant in the area serving any kind of Asian cuisine that would hold its own in Los Angeles. I’m not saying it would be in the top tier of Sichuan restaurants in Los Angeles but it would be a successful restaurant (and in fact their menu includes things we have not seen at our favourite restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley). Of course, I am referring here only to their Sichuan menu (which is the bulk of their menu). I have no idea what their American Chinese offerings are like; they’re probably good but they’re not the reason to go here. Continue reading

Wandering and Eating at Chelsea Market (New York, August 2019)


This was actually our second full day in New York, and our first Sunday. The major plans for the day involved a walk on the High Line followed by a production of Puffs (a Harry Potter parody/tribute we took the boys too and which they loved). After that we were scheduled for early dinner with an old friend at Bombay Bread Bar. Those dinner plans changed later—we ended up at Ippudo Ramen instead and ate at Bombay Bread Bar the following weekend—but we needed to grab an early lunch before getting on the High Line. Looking around on Google Maps, Chelsea Market looked like a good place to get a range of things we might all like. Continue reading

Dim Sum at Nom Wah (New York, August 2019)


Since our most recent dim sum meal had been so dire—at Mandarin Kitchen in Bloomington, MN in July—I’d asked for recommendations on Mouthfuls for dim sum parlors in Manhattan. Now, the best dim sum, or for that matter the best Chinese food in New York, is said to be not in Manhattan but in Queens. On this trip, however, our focus was on eating not the best possible versions of the things we were interested in but the best possible versions of the things we were interested in that were also within easy reach of other places we were going to be visiting. And so when it came to pass that we were going to be in the vicinity of Chinatown for lunch one day we were only too happy to stop in at Nom Wah Tea Parlor, which had been recommended by a few people. What did we find? Read on. Continue reading

Golden Horseshoe II: Sichuan Boogaloo (St. Paul, MN)


I have a double bill for you today. Having already posted a pan of a bad meal at an inexplicably praised restaurant let me now counter the negativity with a rave for a very good meal at an inexplicably ignored restaurant: Golden Horseshoe, the Sichuan residency at Cook St. Paul. I have already posted a longer review of our first dinner there. This will be a much shorter post with the aim of urging those of you who have not yet gone to go. And to inform/remind you that time is running out on the possibility of going. The residency was supposed to run through the end of August but is now terminating at the end of July. Sunday, July 28 will be the last service. As they only do dinner Thursdays to Sundays (5-9 pm) this means you have eight opportunities left to go. Go this week if you can; you’ll probably want to go again and will kick yourself if you don’t leave yourself the opportunity. Continue reading

Dim Sum at Mandarin Kitchen (Bloomington, MN)


Oh boy, this post is going to win me even more friends and well-wishers in the Twin Cities food world.

My views on dim sum in the Twin Cities have never been popular. Many people here say that the dim sum scene in the Twin Cities is very good. In this they are supported by members of the local food media. Exhibit A for this position is Mandarin Kitchen in Bloomington, a restaurant whose dim sum selection has recently been described by one critic who dislikes me intensely as “dizzying, dazzling”. Alas, our opinion—the missus and mine—has always been that Mandarin Kitchen is in fact the worst of a ho-hum lot. We liked Jun Bo in Richfield better (before it closed) and still prefer Yangtze in St. Louis Park and the far less written about A&L Chinese in Inver Grove Heights. However, our last meal at Mandarin Kitchen was some years ago. That meal was so bad we’d sworn to never go back; but my parents are in town again and they always want to go to dim sum and Mandarin Kitchen is the most conveniently located of all dim sum houses for us. And so we decided to go back and see if things have improved. Here are our findings. Continue reading

Crown Princess (Toronto)


Back to Canada. We took the train from Montreal to Toronto, a journey that takes longer than I’d thought it would before we purchased our tickets, and which mostly goes through rather boring countryside. Well, there may be things of interest in there, I suppose, but nothing very interesting to look at from the train. Arriving at our hotel around 2.15, we were all starving—we’d foolishly assumed there’d be food to eat on the train and there was nothing beyond snacks, and so very few of us had eaten anything since breakfast. Along with a few others I went out for a small snack to a Taiwanese place down the road from our hotel. This is not an account of that small snack. This is an account of the meal a few hours later that is the reason for our having gone out for only a small snack: a full-on Cantonese banquet dinner at Crown Princess, rated by many as the best formal Cantonese restaurant in Downtown Toronto. The best Chinese food, otherwise, I’m told is out in the suburbs of Markham and Scarborough. I’ve no idea where Crown Princess ranks in the Greater Toronto Cantonese hierarchy but I can tell you this was a very good meal. Continue reading

Golden Horseshoe at Cook St. Paul (St. Paul, MN)


Though you wouldn’t know it from the silence of the “major” Twin Cities food critics and reviewers*, there is currently a very interesting set of Sichuan meals to be had in St. Paul, at Golden Horseshoe, a “residency” at Cook St. Paul (on Payne Avenue in East St. Paul) that will be running through early September. Cook St. Paul is an interesting concept—a diner most of the time, and host to various pop-ups at other times. As far as I know, Golden Horseshoe is the first extended engagement they’ve hosted. It got going a week or two ago with a small number of dishes available at dinner (Thursdays through Sundays, starting at 5 pm as long as the residency goes on). Each week a couple of new dishes join the menu. The plan is for there to be almost 20 dishes on the menu by the time the residency comes to an end. Is this something worth going to given that we have the excellent Grand Szechuan available to us every day of the year, to say nothing of creditable Sichuan food at Szechuan Spice and Tea House? Yes, I’d say it is. Continue reading

Dim Sum at Lunasia, Again (Los Angeles, January 2019)


Dim sum is always high on our eating agenda when visiting Los Angeles. While there are some in the Twin Cities who seem to genuinely believe that there is dim sum here as good as anywhere else in the US, this has not been our experience in the 12 years we have been eating dim sum in Minnesota. And believe me, I would really, really love it if that were true. There are indeed cuisines and culinary genres in which the Twin Cites now have solid representation that matches well with all but the biggest and most diverse metros but dim sum is not one of those. On our trip to LA this winter, however, dim sum was not very high on my agenda. This because I was just a few weeks away from having eaten a number of dim sum and other dumpling-related meals in Hong Kong (see here). The missus, of course, was having none of that, not having been in Hong Kong with me. And so off we went to the San Gabriel Valley, the day before our return to southern Minnesota. Usually we’d go to Sea Harbour or Elite but on this occasion we decided to go back to Lunasia. We really enjoyed our meal there a few years ago with Sku and his family. Alas, the families couldn’t get together for dim sum on this trip—though we did eat some excellent Korean food together (on which more soon)—but we did manage to enjoy this outing by ourselves. Continue reading

Rui Ji Sichuan (Los Angeles, January 2019)


On our recent trips to Los Angeles our Sichuan eating has happened entirely at either Chengdu Taste or Szechuan Impression in the San Gabriel Valley (in the Alhambra motherships of both restaurants). This limited focus is not a mistake on our part: these are probably the two best Sichuan restaurants in the US. As our last meal at Szechuan Impression was in 2016 we’d planned to go back there on this trip. However, late-breaking extended family plans on the day we’d set aside for that meal saw us heading down to the South Bay instead. Casting around for possibilities in the general area we were going to be in I lighted upon a reference to Rui Ji Sichuan in Lomita. The cousins we were dining with were only too happy to give it a go and so we arrived for lunch in a large’ish group: four adults, one teenager and four kids below the age of 10. I am happy to report that all were very pleased with their meal. Continue reading

Big Wong (Delhi , December 2018)


It’s hard to know what to say about Big Wong, a chain with seven or eight locations in the greater Delhi metro, past its logo—I mean, just look at it. There are Chinese restaurants in the US with the name Big Wong as well and if any of them had a logo that looked like this you can imagine how it would be (correctly) read. In India, however, there is little outrage about this sort of a thing—even if my nephews, who picked this as the location for a Chinese meal in Gurgaon in December, were a bit embarrassed about it. On the one hand, the deployment of imagery like this in an Indian Chinese chain—whose owners are not Indian Chinese—does not signify the same things that it would in a contemporary American Chinese chain, precisely because the discourses and demographics of race in India are not the same as those in the US; on the other, and it pains me to say this, it shows just how casual racism in India continues to be. The people responsible for the Big Wong logo would probably be very shocked to hear that there’s anything problematic about it. Continue reading

Grand Szechuan, 2018 (Bloomington, MN)


A little later than usual, here is the 2018 edition of my annual roundup of meals eaten at Grand Szechuan in the past year. Those who follow my restaurant reports closely—if any such exist—know that I’ve said in the past that Grand Szechuan is, in sum, my family’s favourite restaurant in the Twin Cities metro area. I mean this across all genres. Yes, there are better ingredients being used and more elaborate techniques being deployed at some high-end restaurants in the area but when it comes to flavour and satisfaction and value, Grand Szechuan is it for us and it’s the one restaurant that we go back to month after month. For this reason as well I do not review every single meal we eat there. It would get too monotonous and there wouldn’t be enough variance from meal to meal to justify it. Hence these annual reports that give a snapshot from our year’s worth of meals. Continue reading

Dumplings etc. (Hong Kong, December 2018)


A quick roundup of small meals/bites that even I don’t have the energy to blow up into individual posts of their own. First, breakfast on arrival at Crystal Jade’s branch in the Hong Kong airport. This is where we had our first and last meals of our trip in 2016 and there was no way in hell I wasn’t going to eat there again right after landing. A bit of disappointment here as I was looking forward to a bowl of their excellent congee—what could be more restorative after a 15 hours flight?—but discovered they’d recently taken congee off their menu at the airport. It’s just a small selection of noodle dishes and dumplings now. Well, the dumplings themselves were not disappointing at all. I got an order of the pan-friend dumplings and an order of their XLB. A pretty good first meal in Hong Kong.  Continue reading