Burning Questions – Is Grand Sichuan the Best Lunch Spot on Restaurant Row?
Restaurant row (46th st between 8th & 9th) barely registers as a blip for any New Yorker who’s plugged in and knowledgeable on the local food scene. This is for good reason, as the street serves as a sluice-way for the tourist overflow in Times Square, and the restaurants found here tend to serve safe, affordable, but uninteresting food catering to tourist taste buds from Italy to Iowa. With the exception of Becco, which serves reliably good pastas and affordable wines, I’ve never found reason to dine on this street. However, my bias caused me to overlook Grand Sichuan, which opened on restaurant row in June of 2010, and has an attractive $7.95 weekday lunch special.
Grand Sichuan is no new comer to the New York food scene. The owner, John Zhang, launched the mini-chain of Grand Sichuan restaurants (there are 6 locations now) in 1997, after a controversial split with the legendary Wu Liang Ye restaurant in midtown. Over the years, they’ve raked in their share of positive feedback, including pat on the back by Eric Asimov at the New York Times in 1999, and a plug from food luminary Ruth Reichl. And I’ve had memorably good dinners at their other locations over the years, underlined by tongue scorching mapo tofu, addictive dan dan noodles, and plenty of cold beer to put out the flames.
The $7.95 lunch specials include your choice of soup (wonton, egg drop, or hot and sour), choice of rice (white, brown, vegetable fried rice), and entrées, which tend to sway towards the ersatz American take on Chinese – General Tso’s, pepper steak, kung pao chicken, etc. If you’re a fan of hot and sour soup like I am, you’re probably going to like the version served at Grand Sichuan. Far from the wan, greasy soups of your average Chinese take-away, the broth was brawny and rich, with welcome notes of tartness and brightness. It finishes with a lingering and tingling burn, in a manner that only Sichuan peppercorns can achieve. And it was absolutely crammed with tofu, enoki mushrooms, and swirls of egg.
Their version of General Tso’s chicken also doesn’t disappoint. Fresh chunks of white meat get only the slightest coating of batter before being fried, which I found to be a nice alternative to the overly bready and heavy versions found elsewhere. The sticky sauce leans towards the sweet side of the flavor spectrum, but is reined in by plenty of garlic and ginger. The kitchen sends out the dish with a handful of dried red chili peppers, just to let the diner know that that they’re not f***ing around when it comes to spice.
Perhaps the only other hole I could poke in this dish is the portion size, which is a mite smaller than what you may get at say, Hop Won. But Grand Sichuan stands in stark contrast to the steam table, turn and burn operations. Here the dishes are cooked to order, the quality of the chicken served here seem to be much more choice, and the dining room is comfortable and tidy.
The regular menu is also available during lunch, and if you’re here with a crowd, I’d recommend splitting an appetizer or two. There’s won tons ($4.25), slicked with red chili oil, dan dan noodles ($4.95) straight from the authoritative cook book of Fuschia Dunlop, and even the curiously named “Old Mom`s Rabbit Head At Chengdu Airport”, made famous by Andrew Zimmern. However, in the summer heat, I’d recommend the Sichuan cold noodles ($4.95), which are immediately refreshing, but open up to a comforting thrum of spice and garlic. Peanut butter makes an appearance to round out the flavors and add depth.
Sure, there may be cheaper, faster options for Chinese in Midtown, but Grand Sichuan is certainly keeping things spicy on restaurant row.
The + (What somebody who likes this would say)
- The $7.95 lunch special is a filling and tasty bargain
- I’d rather have my food cooked to order instead of off of a steam table
- I love spicy food, especially the ma la (numbing & hot) spice of Sichuan food
The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- For $7.95, those portions don’t stack up to some of the other Chinese take-outs in Midtown
- Restaurant row is a bit out of bounds. Plus I hate dealing with tourists
Grand Sichuan ,368 W 46th St (between 8th & 9th Ave) ; (212) 969-9001