Checking Out Grand Sichuan Eastern in Chelsea
One night a few weeks ago, I had a vague report that the Grand Sichuan at Ninth and 24th in Chelsea -- at one time the flagship of the fleet -- had been closed, only to be replaced by a new one on Eighth Avenue and 18th Street. The rumor turned out to be false, and the original was merely closed for a quick remodeling. But, indeed, there was a new one on Eighth Avenue, dubbed Grand Sichuan Eastern.
When I got there, the facade wasn't too promising: A sign in the window advertised a "Drunk Hour," and encouraged diners to learn "Irish Yoga" -- was it some anti-Irish slur? Nevertheless, I decided to come back and check the place out, even though we have about a dozen places called Grand Sichuan in town, apparently under two separate sets of ownership, but all eventually traceable to the original Grand Sichuan that still stands in Chinatown.
A friend and I arrived at about 7 p.m., and the scene was none too encouraging: The room, which boasted a red super-graphic on one wall, was half-filled with snowy-haired ladies eating with forks, who were treating the place as a sort of regular Chinese restaurant and eating fried rice and wonton soup. (More power to 'em!)
But I gasped when I opened the menu, because nearly three-quarters of the stuff therein was doctrinaire Sichuan food of an authentic sort. The first item on the menu was "ox tongue and tripe in spicy peppery sauce" ($7.95). I asked the spiky-haired server, "Is this dish ma-la? Does it contain Sichuan peppercorns?" He looked up at me blankly, and said, "What's that?" Not a good sign! However, he went back into the kitchen to ask the cook, and came back beaming: "It's a powder," he said, which was fine with me.