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Aug 21, 2009 08:58 AM

MSP: New Restaurant(?) - Grand Szechuan in Bloomington

I did a search, and didn't see this listed anywhere...

Grand Szechuan in Bloomington - at the NW corner of France and Old Shakopee - in the Cub strip, near the opposite end. 10602 France Ave S. - looks like it just opened.

We went there for lunch yesterday and tried the lunch specials - a Kung Pao Chicken and a Double-Cooked Pork. Lunch specials were $8 (although they gave us a mystery 15% discount on the check) and included:

Hot and sour soup - not incredible hot or sour, but a pretty good soup
Salad - a bowl of lettuces (not iceberg, or even romaine) with some kind of gingery/sesame-y dressing - it was nice
Egg Roll - not bad, but I've come to really prefer the Vietnamese-style egg rolls
White Rice - Um - it was rice...

The entrees were both very good. Even though it's probably not the most challenging thing on the Szechuan menu, I like to order Kung Pao just to weed out the complete hacks. I'm happy to report, Grand Szechuan passed the complete hack test - there were no carrots, corn, celery, lima beans, peas, or any of the other things I've found in my Kung Pao over the last few years of ordering it in Minnesota, It was "purist" Kung Pao - chicken, dried peppers, peanuts, and a few scallions. Tasty, although not incredibly spicy - we'll work on that next time. The double-cooked pork was also good - thin slices of pork, with green and red peppers, in a mildly-spicy sauce (once again, we'll work on that next time). Both entrees were good starts, especially since there were off the lunch special menu.

What got me a little more excited, though, was the rest of the menu. Looks like a full-fledged encyclopedia of Szechuan dishes. Here are some examples:

Ma La Pork Tripe
Chung King Chili Chicken
Elder Sister Diced Rabbit (with bone)
Jelly Fish with Scallion Sauce
Mouth Water Chicken (with bone)
Beef in Szechuan Chili Broth
Ma Po Tofu
Milky Crispy Shrimp

Now, I haven't tried all of these, even at other restaurants, but they look like some that I've seen in other Chowhoud-verified "real" Szechuan places. There's a huge selection on the "Szechuan Specials" menu - quite a few are vegetarian, too.

Like I said, we've only been there once, but I'll definitely be checking it out a few more times over the next few months. If anybody's interested in a particular dish, let me know - I've got the menu sitting here in front of me.

Give it a try...

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  1. It is my understanding that the opening of this place was the result of a walkout/staffing changes at Little Szechuan on University which I (and possibly some others) reported - albeit with very few details, some weeks ago. A friend who is connected to the local chinese community got wind of it and based on that i originally mentioned the changes on a LS thread, but had no details on what happened or what the walkers-out would be doing. Just a few days ago i had heard about this new spot, so thanks for reporting in.

    Its good to know that the menu has all the makings of a good place, and ill be interested to hear further reports of their execution.

    4 Replies
    1. re: tex.s.toast

      that is good to know because that area is almost a wasteland

      1. re: tex.s.toast

        The kitchen cooks walked out of LS in St. Paul in June and placed an add in a local Chinese newspaper announcing such.

        1. re: scoopG

          My wife and I were inspired to give this place a try Saturday night. First surprise was the long line at 7:30 pm. The place was packed with Asian customers, probably because Grand Szechuan advertised heavily in Chinese newspapers and offered a 15% discount until Aug 31. I saw only one Caucasian table (fellow Chowhound?). The hostess told me they've only been open for a week.

          Service in Chinese restaurants can range from incredible efficiency to awful. Grand Szechuan is closer to the awful side. Lots of waitstaff were available, but they lack efficient work processes. I saw waiters carrying 2 glasses of water from the kitchen to a table, then back to the kitchen. They don't seem to realize that stopping at a second table would save a trip to the kitchen. It took the hostess 5 minutes to write down our name and give us a number. They need an experienced manager.

          With just the two of us, we couldn't order much. Here's everything we ordered.

          Dan Dan Noodles - Not bad. Not as good as Teahouse East, but far better than Teahouse West. Decent flavor, not overwhelmingly spicy.

          Sweet and Sour Soup - Stay away. In general, stay away from the first two pages of the menu which lists courses only in English. The rest of the menu has dishes in both English and Chinese.

          Pea Tips - Very tough, we exceeded our daily fiber requirement. These are not a Szechuan specialty, so it may not be fair. (Mandarin Kitchen continues to have the most tender pea tips, even though the same distributor probably supplies all Chinese restaurants. I think they must blanch them first before stir fry.)

          Crispy Duck - They were out of duck with taro, which is authentic and traditional. The crispy duck was very moist, but a little bland. This dish usually comes with dipping salt, but did not here.

          Tea - Never offered us tea, which is strange giving the overwhelming Asian clientele.

          Take Away - Apple West is a wasteland, so we can't afford to be picky. The food has possibilities, but the staff is overwhelmed by the success of their advertising. I plan to wait three months and try again.

          1. re: scoopG

            This makes sense - I knew the Kung Pao tasted familiar. I've only been to Little Szechuan a few times, but that's where I'd tasted it before.

            Good to know there are professionals in the kitchen. The lunch wait staff were fine, if a little unorganized, but there were only 5 or 6 yables full when we were in there. From the posts below, it looks like things get jumping in the evening. Good to hear.

        2. We went to Grand Szechuan today for lunch. For reference, we're very familiar with eating at Little Szechuan, and lived in SF for a bunch of years, so have a pretty decent basis for comparison. Tried some of the usuals:

          - Chung King Chili Chicken. I felt that this was very close to Little Szechuan. Spicy, maybe a little saltier than LS, but still good.
          - Milky Crispy Shrimp. This is generally my wife's favorite from Little Szechuan. She did not like this version as much as LS, although I still liked it. The sauce was a little darker / milkier than LS. The LS sauce seemed a bit more vibrant. Shrimp were really well cooked, however. Broccoli seemed a little more of an afterthought (slightly over-steamed) but still good.
          - Szechuan Green Beans -- These were good, but again we felt they were not *quite* as good as LS. LS seems to let their beans "blacken" a bit more than our dish at GS. The GS beans were fresh, though, and you could taste the bean flavor. Good dish, just not as much "wow" as previous experiences with this dish at LS.
          - (weekend Szechuan "snack" special) Sweet and Spicy Noodles. *Really* spicy, not sweet at all. Noodles looked homemade, chewy. Good as a small bite but way too spicy to eat by itself. I probably won't try this one again. Actually I ordered it because I did not see Dan Dan noodles on the menu until later, when I realized that I had just missed them.

          Don't read too much into my nitpicking... Grand Szechuan is far above almost all other Chinese restaurants in the cities; the slight negative comparison to Little Szechuan is simply because that seems to be the bar that has been set. In general I liked G.S. a lot better than Tea House West, both in food and decor.

          Our service was very good. Friendly waiters who seemed to help each other out. (Multiple people took our dishes, bill, filled our water, etc.) We were one of only two non-Asian tables in the place.

          Anyway, if it truly has only been a week or two that they've been open, then they're doing great so far. I will definitely be trying them again.

          9 Replies
          1. re: chrismpls

            Has anyone been to Little Szechuan since the split?

            1. re: MrSlippery

              Can anyone verify that Grand Szechuan is being run by the former Little Szechaun staff? I was under the impression they would be reopening in the same area off of University in St. Paul. If this is true then it would be nice to have a PURE Szechuan restaurant in the western suburbs. I love Tian Jin but it really isn't a 100% Szechuan restaurant.

              1. re: dave43

                Grand Szechuan is staffed with the former kitchen staff of Little Szechuan and run by former Little Szechuan Head Chef Luo. I haven't been to Little Szechuan since the rift, but Chef Luo (he's from Chengdu), his wife, and several other kitchen members were the heart of the fantastic cuisine there, so I can't imagine it's as good now. Any experiences to the contrary?

                1. re: jmofro

                  My husband and I ate at LS sometime in July. At that time, we knew no more than that the head chef had been replaced. We ordered 3 dishes and found the flavoring to be different. We also felt that all the dishes were sloppily put together both in terms of cooking and plating. But, we attributed our observations to "We are being hyper-sensitive to any sign of change because we didn't want any change. It must be all in our heads." Another thing we found strange was that none of the wait staff we were familiar with was there, and this made us wonder if the ownership had changed. Our conclusion was, "Let's not go back until we hear reports of 'all is well again (or better)." I guess that is not happening (anytime soon.) We are glad to know where we should go instead.

                  1. re: Ms. Fennelbulb

                    It was the entire kitchen crew at LS that walked out in early June and placed an ad in a local Chinese newspaper announcing such.

                    1. re: scoopG

                      Ate there this weekend. The space is decorated nicely. I had the Fish Fillet in spicy broth. It was good. It wasn't very hot even after I asked for it to be hot. I was told the Owner/head chef was actually cooking which was surprising as the dish didn't seem to be on par with what I remember from LS. I also had the Pork ear in Chili sauce which was very good.

                      1. re: dave43

                        Thanks Dave! I may be back in town for the Gopher-Air Force game on campus (I refuse to say TCF) and will try to check it out....

              2. re: MrSlippery

                Yes, I've been there twice and since I go at least once a month I noticed a difference. I had not heard of the split but the dishes were coming out all wrong. I sent two back each time. One for lack of salt and the other for lack of flavor at all. The waitstaff told me that the chef had received a complaint about the food being too salty so he was toning it down but a friend in the Chinese community told me that the Chef left over an argument and started Grand Szechuan.

                1. re: G039260

                  I made my second visit today, had the Chung King Chicken. It was gooooood!

            2. Checked out Grand Szechuan for lunch today.

              I am a veteran of Szechuan at Tea House (Plymouth) and Tian Jin (Chanhassen), but I decided to act naive with the (very young) waiter for my first visit to Grand Szechuan to see how it went. Other than saying that I like spicy stuff I played dumb. Right away he recommended my usual favorite Asian dishes of Beef (or Pork or Shrimp) with Szechuan Chili Broth and Chung King Spicy Chicken, stating that these dishes are listed at the top of their respective sections of the menu for a reason. I watched as some of these and other dishes went by en route to other tables, all looked & smelled fabulous.

              I went with the Beef with Szechuan Chili Broth. Very similar to the Boiled Beef with Szechuan Spicy Sauce at Tea House and Tian Jin. The GS version has slightly thinner sauce, but the spice level and portion size were very impressive! Even without my asking for extra spicy (like I usually need to do anywhere I go) it was just enough to start a little bit of the nose running and forehead sweating. Very tasty, lots of tender beef, and just the right amount of the correct veggies. Very happy stomach!

              About the place itself: Very big, about 2x the size of the Plymouth Tea House and 3x Tian Jin. No buffet, menu only. The greeting & seating came with ice water, a tea cup, and chop sticks. I was not given or even offered a fork (I am an Italian guy so it's not like they assumed I didn't want a fork because I'm Asian...)
              The menu has a few of the obligatory Chow Mein & Fried Rice type items for typical Minnesotans, but most is dedicated to Szechuan specialties. Plenty of non spicy items also (although I really don't see the point :-)
              Prices are right in line with similar places. Beef/Pork dishes $12 bucks, Chicken $11, Seafood & Lamb slightly higher around $14. But again the portions are huge - two people could have easily dined off of the one beef dish I had today.

              Bottom line: Highly recommended! I can't wait to go back and try the Chung King Chicken!

              4 Replies
              1. re: mtmazz


                Hopefully when you go the owner/head chef we still be cooking. They said he would be cooking until the restaurant was established. Also if you are going to the Gopher game you have to check out Pagoda which is only a couple of blocks away. I had their dim sum recently which I believe to be the best in the Twin Cities.

                1. re: dave43

                  Hi Dave. I really haven't tried any of the non-spicy dishes, but judging from their hot stuff I'd say just about anything on their menu would be great. I have had non-spicy Scechuan dishes at Tea House & Tian Jin, so based on that for non-spicy recommendations in general I'd say try the double cooked pork, chicken & mushroom, or a noodle dish - especially with seafood. I'm sure they can "tone down" or adjust the spice level onmost anything too, the staff seems very accomodating and helpful. Good luck!

                2. re: mtmazz

                  What non-spicy items would you recommend for a wimp?

                  I know you probably didn't try those, but what does your intuition about the place tell you?

                  This place is near where my mother lives, so a trip there is in our future.

                3. My family and I went to Grand Szechuan for a nice lunch on Saturday - no lunch specials on the weekend, by the way.

                  As soon as we sat down, some manager-looking guy came up to the table and explained to us how this was a "very special Szechuan-style restaurant", but if we weren't interested in the Szechuan dishes, there were some more traditional (Minnesota-like) dishes on one of the pages. I guess we had that look about us. There were quite a few Asian-only tables seated. When I told him I was thinking about the Chung King Chili Chicken, he warned me again about the spiciness, but I chalk it all up to politeness - not some anti-Minnesota condescension :-). Service was great - multiple waiters working together.

                  So, even though I was warned, I ordered the chili chicken. My wife ordered the broccoli with fish sauce, and my son ordered the orange chicken.

                  We also ordered, from the "Szechuan Snacks" menu - only available on weekends from 11:30-3:00, the "steamed mini buns (6)". I put quotations around that for two reasons: 1. they were much more like dumplings than buns, and 2. there were probably about 12-15 of them - a whole steamer basket-full. They were good, but were really much more like round, sausage-filled dumplings. They were good enough, but if I'd known they were dumplings and not "buns", I'd have ordered the Chengdu Spicy Dumplings instead.

                  The orange chicken was very flavorful - not overly sweet, but sweet enough, and just a hint of spiciness. Even the broccoli (Broccoli?! That's nature's poison!) was pretty good (for broccoli). The fish sauce was well-seasoned - hard to describe - kinda fish-saucy - with, again, just a touch of hotness.

                  Then we come to the Chung King chili chicken. It was also good - dry - little sauce - with onions and green and red peppers - and salty, but not overly so. But, as others have mentioned, well, just not that hot. I think they got a wimpy batch of dried peppers. There were tons of them in the dish, all crushed up to release the hotness, but I ate a few of them whole, and the heat just wasn't there. And the numbing of the Sichuan peppercorns was completely missing (I forget - is that the "ma" or the "la"?). I had this dish at South Legend in Milpitas, CA a few years ago, and couldn't feel my lips for an hour after I ate. I was looking for that -but only got a pleasantly spicy, and tasty, chicken dish.

                  So, all the dishes were very good - especially compared to most in the Bloomington area - and we'll definitely be back to try more. It's a great addition to the lunch rotation...

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: greghoffman

                    I stopped by Tian Jin in Chanhassen last night and had their Chung King Chili Chicken. I prefer it over Grand Szechuan's.

                    While TIan Jin's wasn't any hotter (spicier) than Grand Szechuan's, it did have an abundance of whole Sichuan peppercorns, and gave me that nice numbing sensation, and added lots of flavor. The Tian Jin dish also had, in addition to the chicken and green/red peppers, lots of sliced garlic and what appeared to be bamboo shoots (?) - just a couple, though. The chicken was in larger chunks, too - I think that kept it just a little moister.

                    Once again, there were a ton of dried hot peppers in the dish, but they just weren't that "hot" - maybe it is just a wimpy year for peppers...

                    1. re: greghoffman

                      Tian Jin...IMHO, has the best Chung King chicken in town. I agree with you on the spice level. I think Little Sichuan sources hotter peppers then TJ. GS didn't blow me away the one time I was there. I would assume they would keep their same suppliers that they had at LS but who knows.

                      1. re: greghoffman

                        Odd, I found no evidence in my two visits to TJ that they were using Sichuan peppercorns, which are usually roasted and then ground - not used whole. Dried red peppers are only hot if you eat them. Often they are cut open and de-seeded to better control the heat level. And I found TJ put red and green bell peppers into every dish they made for me!

                        1. re: scoopG

                          There were definitely whole sichuan peppercorns - fried nice and crisp. You could see both the little black "seeds" and the husks, and the "ma" was definitely there.

                          No idea if they use it in anything else, but it was in the Chung King Chili Chicken.

                          1. re: scoopG


                            It is the seeds and veins from the peppers that contains the heat not the skins which you find in Chung King Chicken. I have found that all of the spots in Mpls...TH, LS, TJ use whole sichuan peppercorns. We won't rehash the bell pepper debate as all the restaurants above use these also. If it truly is authentic to ground the peppercorns I wonder why all the local restaurants are not doing this? i will have to ask Ryan at TJ why he uses them whole.

                            1. re: dave43

                              Thanks Dave - just returned from the Twin Cities (I did get to Pagoda) and fuller reports to follow. Maybe we are talking about two different foods here - dried hot chili peppers vs Sichuan peppercorns. In many Sichuan recipes the dried hot chili peppers are cut and somewhat de-seeded. This way you can add more more of them. Or they are used whole. The flavor of Sichuan peppercorns is much more intense when they are toasted and/or roasted and then ground. And they use the whole Sichuan peppercorns as well in Sichuan cuisine.

                      2. I stopped in over the weekend and do not think it is as good as Little Szechuan in St. Paul. They may need more time. After being seated I waited 10 minutes before anyone came back to bring a menu. I think they are toning down the spice and heat levels - this may have to do with their suburban location. I had:

                        Dan Dan Noodles - although the noodles were perfectly cooked, this dish was missing bean paste which is usually mixed with ground pork. The addition of sesame paste or oil was not needed and is normally not found in Dan Dan Noodles.

                        Cumin Lamb - not as juicy as LS and a very skimpy portion at $14. LS does it better, cheaper ($1 less) and with a much larger portion.

                        Kung Pao Chicken - large portion and well seasoned but was short on peanuts. Could have used more garlic and ginger. Not as spicy as I would have expected.

                        Stir Fried Pea Tips - they did this very well with very little oil.

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: scoopG


                          Yes, I think we are on the same page...The dried chili peppers have no heat as they have been deseeded like you mentioned. I have mainly noticed peppercorns whole in the chung king but as you mentioned I would be surprised if TJ didn't ground some of them in the dish. Another dish I get alot is the Fish filet in spicy broth where the Ma is more intense. I have noticed whole peppercorns in this dish also but have never inspected closely to check for the ground peppercorns. Although with all the chili seeds it might be difficult to see. I agree with you on GS's use of heat. Since this restaurant is LS in a different location I don't see why they can't maintain there status as a good sichuan restaurant. I look forward to your Pagoda review and I encourage you to give TJ another shot. Since you like Cumin Lamb, ask them for it dry style. I also encourage you to try one of their none sichuan dishes like Stewed Oxtail and tounge, Mandarin beef with golden garlic, or steamed sliced pork with preserved mustard. These dishes are more adventerous and usually ordered by Chinese but I think they are a good representation of northern chinese cooking.

                          1. re: dave43

                            I didn't do a full blown review of Pagoda. I found Yangtze to be better than Pagoda overall. Sometimes the skin on a few of the har gow or shu mai dumplings were broken - telling me they were oversteamed. But I'd go back to Pagoda on any Gopher game day!


                            1. re: scoopG

                              I will have to check Yangtze out...I think it is actually closer to me too. If you find someone who does Shanghai soup dumplings let me know. I have asked everywhere and no one does them. although I did hear Teahouse St. Paul used to.

                              1. re: dave43

                                They're called juicy buns on the Teahouse menu, and I'm pretty sure they still serve them.

                                1. re: dave43

                                  by shanghai soup dumplings, do you mean "little dragon bun"? miss it!

                                  1. re: Ummm

                                    Yangtze has the soup dumplings but they are not so good. Three pieces to a serving (not six) and just not up to snuff if you've had them in Shanghai, Taipei, or NYC. Then again if you have a craving they may do in a MSP pinch...

                                    The long2 籠 in 小籠包 Xiao3 Long2 Bao1 or XLB in chowspeak here means “steamer basket,” not dragon. These are the Shanghai style soup dumplings. So XLB means "little steamer basket buns."

                                    生煎包 (Sheng1 Jian1 Bao1) are often called juicy buns and are a bit similar: tiny mantou like buns filled with a ground pork mixture and lightly pan fried on one side. So I wonder what Teahouse exactly is serving....

                                    1. re: scoopG

                                      Funny you say that...I ordered shanghai soup dumplings at Pagoda and they brought buns filled with pork mixture you described.

                                      1. re: scoopG

                                        thanks for clarifying! i forgot it's 'basket'... but since in cantonese basket and dragon sounds the same, that's what came to my mind first.

                                        are there any good shanghai restaurants/food in the twin cities? for "shanghai stirfry noodles (the "thick" noodles), deep fried buns etc?