John Zhang, the owner of the Grand Sichuan minichain, has just opened a new restaurant in the West Village. He's aiming for a slightly more upscale vibe than the St. Mark's, Chelsea, or Jersey City locations, trying to implement healthier cuisine than other oil-centric Chinese restaurants while still including a variety of Sichuan and Hunan specialties.
Intrigued after reading about his plans on his website, which has extensive primers on trends in "new Sichuan cuisine," I saw that he was hosting tasting events over the course of three nights to get feedback before the restaurant opens (now serving dinner only, with full service apparently on its way in two weeks). I emailed him and managed to score an invite to give feedback on his food, decor, etc.
I'd been to the Grand Sichuan on St. Marks before, and was already a fan of the Hunan (billed as "authentic Mao-style") food that I haven't really seen anywhere else in Manhattan, and at only a few places in Flushing.
When we arrived, John Zhang was sitting at a large circular table with 7 or 8 guests. Soon, plate after plate of food began to arrive; as each was passed around the table, John asked for feedback and even criticized his chef's work (he accurately warned us that the tea-smoked duck tended to be too salty, for example).
There were some American-style Chinese dishes (orange chicken, beef with broccoli, fried rice), which he included to give us an idea of the range of "Chinese" styles that the menu would encompass. There were also dishes that attempted to use Chinese cooking techniques and spices with less conventional ingredients: a flash-fried tilapia in a Sichuan peppercorn sauce smothered with dried red chiles and corn (!) was the biggest hit of the night.
Overall, John was refreshingly candid, and in addition to being a gracious host, was more than willing to incorporate some of our suggestions into the restaurant's menu, like adding smaller plates of classic Sichuan appetizers and giving the option of some smaller-sized entrees to permit sampling a wider variety of dishes during a meal.
Everyone at the table agreed that the authentic Sichuan and Hunan dishes were the best, with an especially great preserved-vegetable hot pot and braised sliced beef with chilis.
Most importantly, the food we were served was flavorful and well-prepared. Here are some additional photos:
The Hunan pumpkin is always popular...
...as is the double-cooked pork...
and the Chong Qing spicy chicken.
Chicken soup with pumpkin seeds and goji berries
According to its website, the restaurant is now serving dinner only, with full service apparently on its way in two weeks:
Grand Sichuan West (7th Ave)
15 Seventh Ave. South, nr. Leroy St.