Just went to Grace Garden in Odenton for the 3rd time this past Saturday. Both my Shanghainese wife and I loved it before, but a couple of dishes this time were just swimming in grease. Puddles and puddles of the stuff. The braised szechuan beef and crispy eggplant were really oily. The beef chow fun, cold beef tendon, and pork with rice powder were fine. The squid dish, while not greasy, was cooked to the consistency of pencil erasers.
Did we catch an off night? Have they gone downhill? Do you just have to avoid certain dishes? What's going on here?
The chef is very willing to cut back, but for some of the dishes the "authentic" or "correct" technique is apparently to use a good bit of the oil or other fat. As the chef once told me, one is not supposed to eat it all, but having it there during the cooking is perportaedly critical to the dish turning out the way it's really supposed to. "The flavor is carried in the fat." was how he put it.
The intent, per the chef, is that one drains the excess off as one serves it, but the chef will also use MUCH less, on request. "Some people are scared of fat, scared of oil. It's OK, if you not eat too much, but people worried about health - don't even like to see it" he observed. He emphasized that he can adapt on request.
Other dishes heavy on the oil include the Szechuan Fish Fillet, the Ma Po Tofu, and some of the Pork belly dishes.
If you've been there other times and liked what you had, they may have noted you as among those who like and want the "real" version, so the wife may not have asked about whether to hold back on the oil, as I've heard her sometimes do with people she doesn't recognize from prior visits.
Next time, just mention that you'd prefer those dishes easy on the oil and I'm sure they will work to meet your desires.
The squid, however, might have been an "off night" thing. The times I've had squid at G.G. it's been delightful in texture and flavor.
That's good to know. I think we'll ask for less oil next time. They might have loaded up because my wife is Chinese. At the end of the meal I asked not to dump the oil into the carryout boxes and the waitress replied, "But your wife likes it." She doesn't, but I suppose that's their notion of Chinese home cooking. Personally, I have eaten in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, and Shenzhen and never seen anything 1/2 as greasy. My wife, who lived in China until her late 20s, never has either. I suppose different families in different regions have their own ways, though.
On a more positive note we finished the leftover pork in rice powder and it was real really good. We'll go back, but we'll ask to cut back on the oil.
Thanks for the tip,
In Sichuan cooking, the ingrediens are added and cook in a way that most dishes wind up with a "paste" or a very thick for the sauce and the oil separates from the thick sauce. If the cook is not careful, the oil incorporates into the sauce and you eat it withou knowing it. If you have ever seen CSIPI reporrts on an 1800 calorie chinese dinner, this is what leads to those numbers. If the cook is careful, th oil separates and you can either eat it or not as you choose.
Remember that Sichuan cooking is a poor people's cooking and the oil and the fat from pig was a main source of calories. A meal would consist of a huge bowl of rice with a very small portion of the food and lots of "grease". The grease is incredibly flavorful and makes the rice into something special. WIth a little prosperity, the proportions reversed and the Sichuan Food we eat today is a huge plate of meat & veggies with a small bowl of rice.
I went to Grace Garden for the first time about a week ago, after reading up on all the postings on Chowhound. The food, as predicted, was truly outstanding and I was amazed at this level of achievement at this location. I wasn't quite as blown away by the fish noodles as some others, but they were still so far above the competition that it is churlish to even make such distinctions. Truly outstanding was the cantonese braised chicken, incredibly tasty morsels of bone-in chicken with crunch garlic halves in oyster sauce. Bok choy was superb. After what everyone wrote on this site I couldn't resist a pork belly dish and it was also great, but next time (and I plan to return whenever possible) I will go for some of the fish and tofu dishes.