Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The perfect pork

Ever since I moved to the northeast in 2006, I've been looking for the "right" version of one of my favorite Chinese foods, shredded Sichuan pork with garlic sauce. I grew up in Houston with a specific version of this popular dish and it's in my top 4 of favorite foods ("4 things" - August 30, 2007).

I'm happy to say that after five years of searching, I've finally found a reasonably similar version and it's just two blocks away in Manhattan.

The restaurant is called The Grand Sichuan and it's very similar to a restaurant called Grand Sichuan Eastern (minus the "The") where Puck and I had lunch together for the very first time back in 2008 (it's a block from where I used to work at Agent K). That restaurant has some wonderful spicy Sichuan dishes, but their shredded pork is all wrong.

The Feng Ling (the restaurant in Houston) version of this dish has the pork cut into thin strips no larger than 1/8th inch in thickness, and combines it with tender bamboo, black ear mushrooms and slices of water chestnuts in a thick brown sauce. Most of the versions I've encountered up here miss one or more of these elements - the pork pieces are too large, the sauce is too watery, or they add weird stuff like celery and carrots.

As a bonus, The Grand Sichuan's hot and sour soup is also a reasonable facsimile of Feng Ling's, although a little more watery (they probably don't add as much cornstarch), and I also tried the sliced conch in hot oil, which was mouth-numingly spicy the way Sichuan food is supposed to be. I'll definitely be moving this menu to the top of the home delivery pile.

Now if I could just find a decent crawfish etouffee and Japanese eggplant with pork dish in New York, there will no culinary reason to ever return to Houston!