Happy New Year: spectacular spicy lamb at Grand Sichuan.

Okay, I keep going on and on about Grand Sichuan, and I realize that I’m to some extent belaboring the point. I wouldn’t be tempted to keep writing about it, though, if I didn’t keep having incredible meals there – last night’s being, without question, the best yet.

My roommate and I slid in to a table at the Chelsea location last night – not wanting to trek to the outer boroughs, but craving soup dumplings, he had suggested it. And why not? It’s a great place, and I wasn’t in absolute need of a new restaurant to write about (guess I’ll do that article tomorrow, heh). Upon inspecting the menu, I had an urge to try new things, particularly after the successful experiment documented in last week’s article. While my roommate ordered his beloved soup dumplings, I ordered a spicy dan dan noodle.

The soup dumplings (crab and pork) were up to their usual standards. The dan dan noodles were quite interesting – very soft spaghetti served with spinach and spicy oil. The oil arrives only in the bottom of the bowl – the noodles aren’t pre-dressed. After mixing, I quite enjoyed the noodles, and I’m sure they could have been enough for a whole dinner. The spice level wasn’t overwhelming, and didn’t seem to grow out of proportion with the quantity of noodles consumed, which was nice.

The real kickers came with the entrees, though. Remember how I complained that Sichuan peppercorns were rare as hen’s teeth in Grand Sichuan? Turns out I was ordering the wrong stuff. Yes, my roommate’s twice-cooked pork (which is apparently available in both fatty and lean iterations – I’d probably order fatty, but the lean was decent), we found few peppercorns in and amongst the scallions, water chestnuts, ginger, and green peppers (ironically, most peppercorns seemed to be hiding inside the peppers). In fact, we wouldn’t have noticed them there at all, if not for his biting into one and noticing that half of his tongue went numb.

Of course, we were excited, and picked over the remaining pork and peppers with a fine-toothed fork, chewing on errant peppercorns until our tongues were good and numb. I say “we” because my dish didn’t arrive until his was practically finished – I had ordered something called a “spicy lamb casserole” from the special Chinese New Year menu. Understand, of course, that I had NO IDEA what was going to emerge from the kitchen. “Spicy lamb” runs the gamut from merguez to noodle soups, right?

More like a stew than anything else, my lamb casserole emerged from the kitchen both spectacularly late and spectacular looking: a black crock containing brown broth with extraordinarily tender hacked lamb pieces (including fall-off-the-bone rib parts, joints, and god knows what else), dried red chiles, ginger and some kind of melon. The dish also crawled with cracked Sichuan peppercorns, sometimes in clusters of three or four. The peppercorns had lent their flavor and some of their analgesic properties to the stew, but the flavor of the broth would have been just as good without it. Not overly spicy but far from bland, it tasted somewhat like the broth at Super Taste. It made me wish I hadn’t had all those damn noodles already.

I realize that the lamb casserole is a splurge at $15, but this could easily feed two adventurous people, provided they didn’t mind sucking the meat off of various bones (the meat is tender and flavorful enough to make this rewarding). Again, this is seemingly a limited-time-only menu addition – given that the Chinese New Year celebrations run through mid-February, you have absolutely no excuse not to go to Grand Sichuan and check out the casserole and whatever else looks good from the special menu.

Some business: I give belated but appreciative credit to reader TJ Jackson for suggesting a link to Sietsema’s lists – an obvious idea that had totally eluded me, given that I work from printed copies of the lists. Anyway, it’s now the first link in the right column, so check ‘em out. Thanks, TJ!

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