When New York Times announced that it was swapping in Pete Wells for Sam Sifton as the publication’s main food critic, food lovers rejoiced, and for good reason. While I do enjoy an occasionally witty phrase from Sifton, I’ve grown weary of his writing style and more importantly his restaurant choices.
During his tenure as the NY Times critic, Sifton visited 3 Chinese restaurants, only 2 of which are still in existence. Perhaps in an attempt to appear fair to the Chinese population centers, one review went to Chinatown, and another to Flushing. As someone who is ethnically Chinese, his reviews of Chinese restaurants probably means as much to me as the common Yelp user writing about sushi.
Then the unthinkable happened. Sifton included a dish from Hunan Kitchen in his “10 Best New Restaurants” feature. This obscure restaurant in Flushing now sits on a list that includes Ciano, Danji, Red Rooster, Boulud Sud, The Dutch, Empellon, Tertulia, and John Dory (M Wells is no longer open). Thing is, I liked all of those restaurants, and have written about them all. Could Hunan Kitchen of Grand Sichuan be nearly as good as its peers?
It’s not. Not even close.
Hunan Kitchen of Grand Sichuan is a solid Chinese restaurant, but is nowhere near as good as Sifton makes it sound, and compared with its Flushing neighbors, really doesn’t have a reason to stand out. The first dish, a stir fry of cured meat with cured radish and cured vegetables was salty, but lacked other dimensions of flavor. The speed at which the dish arrived at our table also made me question whether parts of this was reheated? There’s no way to know that for certain.
We ordered some stir-fried greens, we ate the fried greens, you can get these everywhere. Next.
The casserole of eggplants in a sweet, savory, and slightly spicy sauce was a highlight. These carefully trimmed columns of eggplant lightly battered, fried, and cooked a second time in the heated casserole. The flavors were more complex than the first two dishes, but then again that’s really not saying much, and the rich sweet sauce became overwhelming after a handful of pieces.
Sifton suggested that we try the lamb, so we did. Finally we had a dish that featured multiple dimensions of flavor. The lamb itself was on the small side, but tasted much more tender than it looked….. for a Chinese restaurant. Must I always disclaim?
Finally, we decided to go big in both price and flavor with a whole fish. Coated with an auspicious amount of red chili pepper, the fish is quite a presence on the table. The chili seems more for visual shock than flavor, much to the delight of my tongue. There’s much less meat than you’d expect, and picking out the bones, chili, and garlic fragments could get tricky. A solid dish, though again like the theme of this article, the dish isn’t anything special.
I hope Pete Wells does better with Chinese food.
What does this rating mean?
Hunan Kitchen of Grand Sichuan
42-47 Main Street
Flushing, NY 11355