Mapo Tofu Review: Grand Sichuan lunch special and I am myopic
Usually when I’m jonesing for Sichuan food, I hit up Szechuan Gourmet for dinner or it’s their take-out lunch specials like their pork belly with chili leeks. If you’re feeling sluggish at work, this would definitely light a fire under your ass. Almost literally too… Last week I ventured to the east side of Midtown in search of something new. I already knew from Midtown Lunch that I wasn’t supposed to order any bubble tea at Grand Sichuan but I figured that $6.75 for a lunch special was reasonable if it came with a can of coke (and you could substitute soup or an egg roll). I picked the most Chinese sounding thing on the lunch special menu: gui zhou spicy chicken.
You figure that with a name like gui zhou spicy chicken, the chicken has to be spicy. Except it wasn’t spicy. There were some chili peppers in there but they didn’t pop ’em open when they cooked this thing. On a scale of 1-10 in terms of how much I sweat while eating this… this probably comes in at a 4. (For future references, a 10 is when you’re sweating so profusely the waitress brings you a free iced tea because you don’t look like you’re gonna make it.) So in terms of spiciness, the kids would call this weak sauce. Sad face time.
The second thing that was disappointing about this dish was that it was heavy on onions. Compared to Szechuan Gourmet’s pork belly and chili leeks dish, the gui zhou chicken from Grand Sichuan was packed with filler. Digging for piece of chicken in the pile of onions was tough. Tim Geithner would have an easier time searching for healthy banks, and we all know how few of those there are.
Like with any other restaurant experience, it’s all about tempering your expectations. If I had walked into a tiny hole-in-the-wall Chinese joint serving Americanized version of Chinese food, and this was the product? I would be absolutely delighted. But Grand Sichuan bills itself as a serious Sichuan restaurant and the heat was just ok. I’ve had the spicy hot pot at that exact same store and it was no joke. Their hot pot is serious business. As far as lunch specials though, go in expecting the same thing you get anywhere else.
In other news, I saw on Grub Street that there are a lot of chefs who’re signing this online letter asking Obama to make sustainable food an issue and and promote it nationally! Yay! I just wonder, if out of those 300+ chefs who have signed that letter, how many of them have served any of the fish on this fish guide. Have all those chefs been sustainable? The other thing is, I like how Obama is rooted in science, empirical data, and pragmatism. I wonder how pragmatic Dan Barber’s tasting menu is in the ghettos of DC. Or how many inner city kids can afford Babbo for dinner? Cheap shots by me, to be sure.
I continue to wonder about the same issues day after day. Do these chefs know who their clientele is? Do any of them cater to anyone below the middle or upper middle class? Do they know the rest of the country out there can’t afford their restaurant? I feel like it’s Donald Trump telling me tips on how to find an apartment in NY. Look, it’s one thing if people want to repeal the farm bill because that’s actually very good for competition and helps everyone. It’s quite another when you’re cooking sustainably, and you absolutely cannot deliver your goods to the masses. And then you sign a letter to ask the president to do the job that you can’t do. Wha?
Growing up, my mom bought food from grocery supermarkets like Kroger or Meijer or Albertson’s and some random Chinese grocery store. Of course my memory is skewed, but it was always delicious. I guess pot lucks are pretty popular with Chinese folks and everyone loved my mom’s food. That’s because my mom kick ass ok? That’s not because she uses free range chicken. I can’t even begin to tell you the kind of carbon footprint you would see on a Chinese vegetable in the middle of Tennessee. They sure as hell weren’t grown next to hillbillies. Maybe I’m myopic and my viewpoint is stemmed from a shallow anecdotal vision. But I know what I ate growing up and it wasn’t some $98 dollar 3 course tasting menu with a $56 dollar wine pairing or some bullshit like that.
The truth? The truth is that you can create FUCKING DELICIOUS meals with meat shipped over from New Zealand, grown in a cage, and vegetables hydroponically grown in a Siberian greenhouse and flown to the US via FedEx. The problem is not that my cow traveled farther than your cow. That’s an energy problem. The problem is people don’t know what to do with their damn cow after they get it. Somehow foodies reading food blogs have this idea that oh, the only good food is ones that travel less than 100 miles. Well, if it’s so good, how come NO ONE is doing this food for the masses? Are you saying that the masses that eat Applebee’s and Chili’s wouldn’t appreciate sustainable food served in a similar setting? Or is it just impossible to take your froufrou farm to a frugal table? And if you can do this in a commercially viable way, for the masses, you wouldn’t need to ask the President to lift a finger. Every TV chef out there would be trying to make a buck as the first TV chef to bring sustainable food for the masses. The question you have to ask yourself is… which TV chef is going to be the first to capitalize on eating sustainable? Or is this just talk for the rich?
Mapo Tofu227 Lexington Ave.New York, NY 10016212-679-9770