By The China Insight Restaurant Review Committee
Szechuan 四川 is a province in Southwest China with its capital in Chengdu. Grand Szechuan 大四川 is a restaurant in Plymouth, Minn., near the Carlson Company Towers where Highways 494 and 394 intersect. There is also the original Grand Szechuan 大四川, which is in Bloomington at France and Old Shakopee Road.
Our China Insight Restaurant Review Committee visited the Plymouth Grand Szechuan 大四川 recently for Father’s Day dinner. The same as last month, our committee was challenged by logistics, as two committee members showed up at the Bloomington location first. This venue was packed, and it is not a small space. A phone call sent them on their way to Plymouth, which also had business, but was not packed. While waiting for the rest of the group, our committee took comments from customers waiting for take-out or take-away at the Plymouth location.
A gentleman, a medical device technician originally from Boston, freely spoke about his loyalty to Grand Szechuan 大四川 in Plymouth. He said he had frequented a favorite, very authentic Szechuan eatery in Boston (the #1 Yelp local Chinese Restaurant), which his Chinese associates also loved. Grand Szechuan 大四川 in Plymouth, he claimed, is on par with his favorite in Boston. Plus, “you can’t beat the lunch specials – the price is amazing! It is far better and cheaper than going for a sub sandwich.” The technician’s all-time favorite dish at Grand Szechuan 大四川 is the Chung King Chili Shrimp 重庆辣子虾. “One chili pepper noted by a dish on the menu may be a little much for some Minnesotans because Grand Szechuan 大四川 is not joking around with the spice.” However, he liked the spice, “It is good spice, just perfect for Szechuan style cuisine, and just like my friends from Szechuan Province fancy. Moreover, the chef will adjust the spice to your taste.”
Just then, the technician’s order of Chung King Chili Shrimp 重庆辣子虾 came out hot and ready to take home from the kitchen and he was on his way.
David, who was running the front of the restaurant this night, informed us that the chefs at both Grand Szechuan 大四川 restaurants come directly from Szechuan Province, which is why the cuisine is authentic and fresh. The servers will speak Mandarin for the linguist or Chinese customers. The Bloomington location has beer and wine offered, but no bar as that is not Chinese style. The Plymouth location does not yet have a liquor license.
When our committee arrived and assembled, they introduced themselves as a graduate student who is getting his master’s degree in family and marriage therapy, an administrator who works in international development, and a China Insight staff writer. There were only three reviewers this time as there were conflicts in scheduling due to the holiday. However, all three were up to the task, and we were able to experience Grand Szechuan 大四川 on a holiday, which is beneficial. All committee members are committed to eating out, and the Administrator has done take-out from Grand Szechuan 大四川 previously. We will include those comments. The future Therapist had eaten take-out from the Chinese restaurant that used to be in this space that Grand Szechuan 大四川 Plymouth now occupies. He had nothing good to say about the previous restaurant; he was looking forward to a completely new experience. Finally, we all agreed that we LOVE spicy hot so we were in the right place!
We ordered two appetizers and David, our server suggested a third, Dandan Noodles 担担面. The Chengdu Spicy Dumplings 红油水饺 were the best. They were melt-in-your-mouth awesomely delicious stuffed dumplings with a tangy spicy sauce. The portion was generous and the dumplings disappeared quickly. We tried Cream Cheese Wontons 云吞, which are always a pleaser. Again, the portion was epic (six enormous wontons for US$4) and the wontons were crisp and fresh. The Dandan Noodle 担担面 dish was a tasty starter with a kick of spice.
Our entrées began with the Quick Fried Crispy Fish Fillet 炝锅鱼, a suggestion of David, our server. Our committee member who does not like fish was completely committed to this dish, once he had tried it. He kept going back for more and remarking, “I do not like fish and I love this dish! It does not have that fishy taste.” Bravo! A second committee member felt the fish dish had too much breading for his tastes. The third committee member liked this dish.
Our second entrée was the Chung King Chili Chicken 重庆辣子鸡, which is also listed on the Szechuan Specialties Menu. This two peppers dish lived up fully to its two red peppers. It was plenty hot and went well with the white rice that accompanies Chinese cuisine. A committee member thought it was too dry, while the others felt this was the typical for Chung King Chili Chicken 重庆辣子鸡: a desert fire that brings up a sweat.
Finally, bonding with the Szechuan Specials Menu, we had the very authentic and unusual Tofu and Pork Intestines in Hot Pot 五更肠旺. Our committee member who chose this mentioned having a Southern dish, chitlins, with Chinese flair. When the Hot Pot arrived, we again noted that Grand Szechuan 大四川 does not skimp on ingredients. The spicy hot broth was brimming with both tofu and pork. The tofu was firm and fresh, not at all mushy and it did not fall apart when picked up with chopsticks. The broth was flavorful and rich with neither a greasy nor a heavy consistency, but nice and light just like a Chinese broth should be. Again with this dish, two out of three enjoyed the unusual ingredients in the hot pot – for one committee member the tofu and pork intestines were a little bit too off the beaten track of his daily fare.
During our dinner, many Chinese families came and went for Father’s Day family events. There were also Caucasian customers who came and went with take-out. Most people in the restaurant were speaking Mandarin - this place is definitely the real deal!
The Grand Szechuan 大四川 online reviews are positive, for the most part. Once in a while there is a slip in service, or a dish comes out of the kitchen resulting in disastrous disappointment for a customer with certain great expectations. Yelp has a rating of four out of five stars and Urbanspoon gives an 89% overall approval. Most of the online complaints seem to be more in the service area and could be affecting tips. Although our service was good, both our server and the manager seemed to have tip anxiety. Our server, David, pointed out that they now list the percentages for a proper tip right on the receipt. The manager, Dan, voiced concern that we would properly tip the waiter for our event at Grand Szechuan 大四川. This tip anxiety may have more to do with the fact that these restaurants are authentic and have many Chinese customers. In China, customers do not tip like what is expected in the United States. At the same time, providing restaurant service in a congenial manner to customers to earn a good tip is sometimes not protocol globally. Among world travelers this would be a lively discussion.
Grand Szechuan 大四川 Plymouth is authentic Szechuan cuisine with Szechuan chefs and servers that will speak Mandarin (or English) from start to finish. (Chinese students – here is your chance to do the ordering for your family and use your Chinese, without a visa.) The menu is expansive with attention to detail. At Grand Szechuan 大四川, one has entered the world of Chengdu, China with only a trip across town.
For take-out, one of our committee members, who has been to China, noted several more dishes.
The Triple Kung Pao has shrimp, chicken, and beef stir-fried with peanuts and a very spicy Szechuan sauce. It is pretty good, with lots of meat but not enough vegetables, yet a good portion size. The spiciness was a little much at times, but otherwise a solid choice, if missing the veggies. It comes with white rice for a B+. The Combo Tofu Claypot is tofu, glass noodles, Chinese cabbage, ham, and a few dried shrimp in a savory broth. It was not really what was expected, but the portion size is large for the price. The tofu was a little soft, the other ingredients a little sparse, but the broth was flavorful, if better suited for a cold winter day (B-). The Chengdu Spicy Wontons are always a definite winner. These meat-filled soft skinned steamed wontons served in a knockout spicy Szechuan sauce are A+. The portion size is enormous (for only US$5); one order could be an entree for one person. The wontons are super meaty and the spicy sauce, garnished with spring onions, is finger-licking good and comforting.
The carry-out service is quick and everything is nicely packed; the staff is friendly, but beware, the menu is enormous. You will have to make choices.
The Committee Members all agreed that we will return to Grand Szechuan 大四川 Plymouth for both eat-in and take-out. The next time his work place orders catering, our Therapist will insist on Grand Szechuan 大四川. It will take many visits to completely try the menu, and that may never happen actually, because we have already found some favorite delicious offerings from the expansive cuisine at Grand Szechuan 大四川 Plymouth.
A note about tips:
A Chinese restaurant comes to mind that has stellar service, a balance of both Caucasian and Chinese customers, and no tip anxiety. Service is attentive, the wait staff earns their good tips by providing excellence to a very loyal clientele, and they probably make good money. I know folks that go for Friday dinner every week to this restaurant – both Asian and Caucasian.
Grand Szechuan 大四川 Plymouth
187 Cheshire Ln N
Plymouth, MN 55441
Grand Szechuan 大四川 Bloomington
10602 France Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55431