Do you have a favorite restaurant where you go again and again and always order the same things? We do. That restaurant is Grand Sichuan on St. Mark’s and I can’t believe I’ve never written about it.
Our meal always begins with the dish you see above: pork soup dumplings. “Can’t we try something else?” I ask Craig each time we go but Craig is adament, especially about his soup dumplings. “Nu uh,” he says. “We’re getting soup dumplings.”
For those who’ve never had one, a soup dumpling is an enticingly dangerous proposition. First, you douse the soup dumpling with the gingered soy sauce they bring on the side:
Then you bite the top off, removing the nipple, so to speak. (Freud would approve.) Here’s where it gets dangerous: if you were to slurp the soup out, or put the whole dumpling in your mouth here, you would die. Your soft palate would melt, your tongue would explode into a million blisters. Believe me, I’ve done it before. It is PAINFUL. No, no, no, you fool, you must blow blow blow. Blow into that flapping nipple hole (James Beard society, pay attention: this sentence deserves an award.) Once you’ve blown a hurricane’s worth of wind inside, it’s time to slurp. You slurp the broth out and then put the dumpling in your mouth. Yum! Wasn’t that worth it?
Craig sure does love his soup dumplings:
He also insists on two other dishes. (Note: Craig was the one who introduced me to Grand Sichuan on St. Mark’s, and these are the dishes he’s been ordering since the dawn of man.) First, he orders Gui Zhou Spicy Chicken:
The first time I ate this, I thought it was way too spicy. Perhaps, though, my tolerance has increased: now I enjoy the heat. And it’s a truly authentic Sichuan dish, the kind of dish one goes to Grand Sichuan to experience.
The other dish he insists on ordering, and I insist you order it too, is the dry sauteed string beans:
Some schools of cooking seek to celebrate an ingredient in its purest form; others, like the Sichuan school, throw purity out the window: they fry, they douse with sauce, they sprinkle on pork bits. Such is the case with this dish; the furthest thing from canned cafeteria string beans you can imagine. It’s one of the great dishes in New York and something any food-loving tourist should seek out.
Have we ever explored outside our fixed menu? I’ve forced the issue several times. We’ve sampled the double cooked pork, we’ve sat eye-to-eye with a whole braised fish. Ultimately, though, we always return to this menu and I think that’s ok. Everyone’s entitled to a favorite repeat restaurant meal, and this is ours.
Which begs the question: what’s yours?