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
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
I’ve previously written up two meals at Chengdu Taste, the celebrated and absolutely essential Sichuan star of the San Gabriel Valley. Though I call it essential—and it is—it has somehow been two and a half years since our last visit. This is partly because it has been one and a half years since our last visit, and partly because on our last two trips we’ve docked instead at Szechuan Impression—essential in their own right. We were resolute, however, that we would return to Chengdu Taste on this trip. Annd we were there for lunch on Tuesday, less than a day after arrival. They are now a mini-empire—with three locations in the SGV and one in Las Vegas—but the original in Alhambra (which is where we always go) is no less busy for it. We got there just after noon and were given one of two empty tables. When we left at about 1.15 there were a lot of people waiting inside the door. On a Tuesday. For lunch. But the food tells you why: our third lunch was as good as our first (and that was just about a year after they’d opened). There’s been no resting on laurels here. Continue reading
Our first meal in London, shortly after arrival, was lunch at a Sichuan restaurant just a few steps from our flat in Westminster. We ate there twice. This is not that restaurant (and nor was Chilli Cool). I plan on making my review of that restaurant the last of my London food reviews (because after all we ate there first). This is a review of a Sichuan meal eaten almost at the very end of our trip, at Baiwei in Chinatown. It’s one of a few outposts of the Barshu group (the eponymous Barshu, Ba Shan and Baozi Inn are the others); it opened in 2013 and apparently Fuchsia Dunlop was a consultant on the menu. We were very disappointed to have this be one of our final meals in London, but not because we didn’t enjoy it. On the contrary, we liked it very much—it was the best of the Sichuan meals we ate—and wished we’d gone there much earlier so we could have gone back and sampled more of the menu. Ah well. Continue reading
Dim sum isn’t the only Chinese food we ate in London; we predictably also ate a fair bit of Sichuan. Predictably, because our love of Sichuan food is of a piece with the general food culture’s love of Sichuan food. Just as the Twin Cities have no other decent regional Chinese food worth the name but boast a handful of quite good Sichuan places, London too has seen an explosion of Sichuan restaurants in the last decade or so. Leading the way is the Barshu group, which in addition to their upscale eponymous restaurant also has a few hipper, more affordable outposts. We didn’t eat at Barshu but we did eat at another pricey Sichuan place opened by an ex-Barshu chef (more on this later) and at one of the Barshu group’s aforementioned hipper outposts (more on this later as well). First up, however, is this writeup of the altogether less fashionable Chilli Cool on Leigh St. in the King’s Cross area, a hop, skip and jump from the British Library and not too far from the British Museum (or, for that matter, the Dickens Museum). Continue reading
We ate at Szechuan Impression on our trip to Los Angeles last winter and at the end of my review I noted that I expected we’d be back on our trip in the summer. Well, this came true almost immediately upon our arrival in Los Angeles. We got in on the evening of July 1; we ate lunch at Szechuan Impression on July 2. Joining us for lunch were Sku and his family, with whom we eat on every trip, and with whom we love eating (as they are one of very few families whose attitude to eating out is exactly like ours, that is to say, excessive). Since our last trip Szechuan Impression has opened a second branch but we made a return to the original in Alhambra. I am glad to say that expansion has not had any negative effects on the kitchen: our meal was as good as the previous, and that one was one of the best Sichuan meals we’d ever had (and better than the Michelin starred one we ate in Hong Kong a few weeks later). Continue reading
Eating Sichuan food in Hong Kong is probably a bit like eating Mexican food in New York but we couldn’t resist. All the Cantonese food we’d eaten so far on the trip had been so superior to their analogues in the US that it didn’t seem unlikely that the Sichuan food would be too. Then there was the fact that stray dishes with Sichuan flavours that we’d eaten at early meals at Crystal Jade and Lei Garden had been very good indeed. And so we swapped out our original plan of eating a Shanghainese dinner with a reservation at Qi – House of Sichuan, a very well-reviewed restaurant that recently picked up a Michelin star. Even if it wasn’t likely to be as good as eating Sichuan food in Sichuan, we figured it would give our favourites in the San Gabriel Valley a run for their money. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. Continue reading
Szechuan Impression opened in 2014 and almost immediately became the major rival to Chengdu Taste in what could be called the second major wave of Sichuan restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley. The first wave, by my reckoning, crested in the early 2000s with the debut of Chung King in Monterey Park (on Garfield). Chung King carried on for a decade and a half (about three lifetimes in the SGV), moving to new digs in San Gabriel in the process, but by the time they ignominiously folded up last year they had well and truly been eclipsed by the new standard bearer, Chengdu Taste. I will note, however, that the coverage of Chengdu Taste always seemed to me to forget how good Chung King had been in its prime. Still, Chengdu Taste’s newer dishes were a revelation and their greater attention to ambience was also a far cry from the utilitarian aesthetic of Chung King and Yunkun Garden and co. One way to describe Szechuan Impression is to say that it goes further along both of those axes. Continue reading
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.
It’s been more than a month since I got back from Los Angeles but I still have a number of meal reports to go. After a string of sushi reports here now is a brief account of our return to Chengdu Taste in late July. Our lunch there was one of the highlights of our trip last summer; despite noting in the write-up of that meal that we’d be back on each trip, we unaccountably failed to go in December. Well, there was going to be no such error on this trip. Once again we escaped the long lines by going for lunch on a weekday, not too long after they opened. We still had to wait but not for very long. And this time we had our table to ourselves. While the restaurant was full throughout, it does appear that the opening of the new branches in Rosemead and Rowland Heights have eased the pressure somewhat (our meal was again at the original Alhambra location). Though I’m sure weekend lunches still draw the lines.
At the end of my review of Tea House in Minneapolis I noted that I was considering finally trying Szechuan in Roseville. It opened at about the same time as Grand Szechuan but early reports had made me wary and somehow we never went. A friend who shares my view of Tea House, recommended it as worth a try after reading that review and so off we went. Once again, my visiting parents (who are always willing to eat Chinese food, and Sichuan food in particular) rounded out our party, which meant we could once again try a bunch of things without the risk of being stranded with lots of leftovers of food we didn’t care for. Continue reading
Chengdu Taste opened right before we got to Los Angeles last year and was immediately anointed the best Sichuan restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley (which is to say in the United States). We opted not to eat there last year on account of my general suspicion of hype. There were plenty of other places to eat excellent Sichuan at, we reasoned, and if it were still considered great a year later we’d eat there on our next trip. Well, the next trip is now and Chengdu Taste is still all the rage and so we decided to give it a go. Continue reading
Little Szechuan put Sichuan food in Minnesota on the map a little less than a decade ago. From the original location on University Avenue in Saint Paul they expanded first to the tony West End mall in St. Louis Park and then later to the university area in Minneapolis. By the time of their expansion, however, they were no longer the best Sichuan food in town. That torch had been taken by their original chef to his new restaurant Grand Szechuan in Bloomington—and he’s pretty much held it there since then. I’ve noted before that I’ve found the quality at Little Szechuan to be highly variable since Chef Luo left—and I’m not sure how much stability there has been in the kitchen. Continue reading
As I noted in my review of our meal at Yunkun Garden a month and a half ago, Chung King was for a very long time our go-to place in the SGV for Sichuan food. This was until we inexplicably switched our loyalties to Yunkun Garden a couple of years ago, since which time we hadn’t been back to Chung King. As I try to trace the timeline of this switch this I think it might coincide with our first trip to LA with both our boys, not too long after the second was born. I suspect that at that point the 20 minutes of total driving time saved by going to Yunkun Garden might have trumped nostalgic loyalty–especially as Yunkun Garden is as good as Chung King. Well, on this trip, with our boys hanging out at my mother-in-law’s daycare till 1.30 each weekday we had more flexibility, and so decided to return to Chung King. Fascinating stuff, I know. Continue reading