The good fortune of good food

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Fortune cookies are not what they used to be. I don’t want advice, I want a prediction, a portent, a promise that something really great is around the corner.

Luckily, this fortune cookie got cracked open after a meal at Grand Sichuan House in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and I couldn’t be too upset because that restaurant is seriously the Bomb.

Sometimes I worry that I’m getting jaded living in New York. We’re constantly surrounded by amazing food, from nearly every corner of the world. The other day, i was working in Rochester, New York, and I ended up eating Chinese food at a restaurant where my meal was preceded by fried wonton strips and a dipping dish of duck sauce. I felt like I had been sucked back at least 15 years in time, because here in New York, we no longer eat “Chinese food.” We eat food from Hunan, Yunnan, Shandong, Shanghai, Canton. I can think of half a dozen Sichuan restaurants of the top of my head in Manhattan alone. I’ll have lunch at a place life Cafe China and think, “Yeah, that’s good enough for a weekday lunch,” but not a weekend dinner.

And then, I eat at a place like Grand Sichuan House, where I have to travel all the way to the second-to-last step on the very slow local R train, and life feels full of possibility and surprise again.

Our favorite was probably the cumin beef.

You know how when you look at great art or the Grand Canyon, the pleasure is so much more when you can turn to a friend and say, “Isn’t that fantastic?” Eating the cumin beef with my friends was not quite like looking out at the Grand Canyon with them, but it might be close to gazing at Bryce Canyon. Salty, chewy, crispy, tingly, it had that peculiarly dry texture of food that’s fried with corn starch. It was endlessly fascinating.

A close second was the Chong Qing chicken. There is chicken in there, buried under the peppers, with a perfect, crisp edge. The tingly, almost sour aftertaste of Sichuan peppercorns was incredibly pleasant, sharp but as pleasant as the smoothness of excellent chocolate or port.

The jellyfish was a particular favorite of mine. Korean-style jellyfish is more elastic; this had a refreshing snap and crunch.

When the waitress took our order, she didn’t quite believe it — the six of us ordered 7 entrees and 4 appetizers. We ended up eating nearly everything.

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The only thing that’s predictable is its decor. It’s bare, with the most earnest effort to decorate represented by a string of chili pepper lights hung up in a corner. While we were there, the TV was showing an extremely depressing Chinese news story on babies in China that are lactating because of hormones in the food and water. And you get the feeling that despite the love it gets on Chowhound, most of its business is takeout “Chinese Food American Style” for the neighborhood.

But we all agreed at the end of the meal that we would like to come back. “You will return”: that would be a good fortune.

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