Pandemic Takeout 66: Grand Szechuan (Bloomington, MN)


It’s been just about a month since my last pandemic takeout report. At the time of that post (a brief write-up of takeout from Matt’s Bar) I’d begun to think we were done with mostly takeout meals. We ate dinner in at Tenant, we ate in at all our meals in Kansas City, and we came back to the Twin Cities and ate in at Estelle. The coda to that Estelle meal, however, was a call from the restaurant the next day alerting us that a server had tested positive for covid and that they’d be shutting down for a few days as a result. A bad omen it seemed like and so it proved to be. With the rapid spread of the delta variant we’ve gone back to our previous cautious posture. We did not eat in anywhere in Madison and are unlikely to be eating in anywhere until either the numbers approve or vaccines are approved for <12 yos. We’re happy to eat at places with outdoor seating (see Taco Madre) and we’re happy to bring food back to eat with cautious and vaccinated friends at home. And that is what we did this past weekend with a a takeout order from Grand Szechuan. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 60: Grand Szechuan, Again


It has been almost three months since we last got food from Grand Szechuan, a situation that suggests dangerous negligence. But don’t alert the authorities: I went back this past Saturday and picked up a large order to eat with some of the friends we’ve been eating with throughout the pandemic. We have not yet eaten in anywhere and we haven’t yet had anyone but our pod friends inside the house. Both these things will change soon. Well, we might aim for outdoor eating at a restaurant before we take the plunge to go indoors. And it is quite likely that Grand Szechuan won’t be our first dine-in experience. This because they too are being cautious and are not yet open for dine-in. On Saturday I was told that they’ll almost certainly be opened back up for normal service in July and possibly as early as the end of June. Let’s see how it goes. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 50: A Midweek Grand Szechuan Feast


So the plan for last week’s pandemic takeout had been a return to Homi in St. Paul. But for tedious reasons we don’t need to go into—not least because it would involve my having to divulge my own idiocy—these got spiked on Wednesday. The options were no pandemic takeout last week or something midweek. The former option being clearly unacceptable we ended up doing takeout dinner on Thursday—and as a bonus we ended up getting food from Grand Szechuan. So winners all around and it turns out I was not an idiot after all but a hero. We’ll try to go back to Homi this week. In the meantime here’s a report on Sichuan excess. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 39: Grand Szechuan to Start the New Year


Can a year that begins with mapo tofu as excellent as the one pictured at left possibly be bad? Of course it can. We ate Grand Szechuan’s mapo tofu several times last year and it was a shit year anyway. So while I am very happy to have started 2021 with Grand Szechuan as our first pandemic takeout meal I’m not taking this as a portent of anything. Cheerful bastard, aren’t I? But a thing to be very happy for, regardless of your outlook, is that Grand Szechuan is still in business and that, if the number of people arriving for pickups while I was waiting outside this Sunday is any indication, they are not in danger of closing any time soon. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 34: Grand Szechuan (Bloomington, MN)


Well, we are back in quasi-lockdown in Minnesota. I say “quasi-lockdown” because nowhere in the US have we had anything resembling an actual lockdown since the beginning of the pandemic. Perhaps if we’d had one back in the first half of the year things wouldn’t be quite as fucked as they are now, with numbers spiking higher than they were in the first wave. Our own part of Southern Minnesota has been hit particularly hard with our little “metro area” down here regularly showing up once again in the “top 10” rankings for infection rates in the country. At home we have clamped down pretty tight. No more meals on the deck with friends and no more visits/meals inside with those we were podding with. (Alas, this means we’ll be doing Thanksgiving on our own for the first time in more than 15 years. We’ll manage.) I did one large Costco run earlier in the month that should take us through mid-December—it’ll be curbside grocery shopping for the foreseeable future after that. The only indulgence will continue to be weekly takeout runs—though we will be eating on our own for the foreseeable future. Hopefully most places will move to a curbside takeout system; if I need to go in for pickup I’ll double mask it as I’ve been doing in enclosed public spaces for the last month, and as I did at Grand Szechuan this past weekend. For yes, I went back to pick up yet another excessive order from them. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 28: Szechuan Spice (Minneapolis)


I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to keep up our long family walks on Saturday mornings in parks in the Twin Cities Metro. It’s about to start getting pretty cold. The maximum for this coming Saturday is forecast to be 46f, which means it’ll be in the high 30s at the time we usually start our walks. This past Saturday, however, was not quite so chilly and we went for a walk around Bde Maka Ska in Minneapolis. It’s a 3.2 mile look around the lake but we managed to get off-track right at the start and added another .3 miles on to it. Which meant that by the time we picked up our lunch and took it home to eat with friends on our deck we were good and hungry. A good thing then that we picked up a lot of food. Where did we get it from? Szechuan Spice, which is just a few minutes drive from the lake. Continue reading

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

Pandemic Takeout 08: 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 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. 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

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

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

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

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

The Sichuan Chef (London, June 2018)


Okay, back to London in June and back to Sichuan food. We’d planned to eat at the Sichuan Chef on our much longer trip in 2017, after seeing a Fuchsia Dunlop tweet about it but somehow it never came to pass. It had apparently just opened then, a branch of Sichuan Folk in Spitalfields—which we also did not eat at. But on this trip we were staying within walking distance of it in Chelsea. As it happened, we ate there right after moving to our AirBnB from our friends’ place in Kingston, building up our appetite with a 25 minute walk, and then walking off our meal at the Natural History Museum.  Continue reading

Lao Sze Chuan (Minneapolis)


Sometime in the last year, Lao Sze Chuan, a Chicago-based mini-empire of Szechuan restaurants, opened a branch in Minneapolis. As I don’t really follow the Twin Cities food media very closely, I missed this. A chance reference to it on Facebook alerted me to its existence recently, and shortly thereafter we descended upon them with a group of friends to see if this was a worthy addition to the Twin Cities’ unexpectedly strong Sichuan scene. Short answer: it is. More annoying answer: it’s nothing very special, however. And while the original bills itself as “the best Chinese restaurant in America”, this one is not the best Sichuan restaurant in the Twin Cities; nor is it, for that matter, the best Sichuan restaurant within a 1/4 mile radius. That award would go to Tea House, which is walking distance from Lao Sze Chuan. The best Sichuan restaurant in the Twin Cities metro area, of course, continues to be Grand SzechuanContinue reading

Tea House II (Minneapolis)


Our first visit to Tea House in Minneapolis was almost three years ago. In my review of that meal I noted that while it was fine on the whole, nothing about it made it worth driving 20 more minutes each way over going to Grand Szechuan. However, after our recent return to Szechuan in Roseville, I figured we should give Tea House another try too—especially as occasional commenter, Jim Grinsfelder always speaks highly of them. Well, we went back a few weekends ago with most of our regular eating-out crew. And I am very happy to say that we liked this meal more than our first. Read on to see what we ate.  Continue reading