Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:
Hunan Kitchen of Grand Sichuan
42-47 Main Street, Flushing, NY 11355

Review by MaceVindaloo

Lately, I have enjoying the fun of exploring the old style great eats that Chinatown in Flushing has to offer, away from the tourist-heavy places in Manhattan's Chinatown. So, when a friend found a review for Hunan Kitchen of Grand Sichuan in the New York Times, I didn't need an excuse, and I jumped at the chance to go.

The restaurant is not actually in the downtown area of Flushing, and it's more on the edge of the Flushing Chinatown, but is still an easy walk from the subway stop. It was also really really cold and windy that night, so I figured there might be fewer customers out, so I thought I'd be fine braving the elements. Of course, I was wrong! The restaurant was crowded with a 20 to 60 minute wait for a table on a blustery Saturday night.

I am used to being the only white person in the restaurants we have tried out there lately, and I rather relish my status as "sole honkey." I was dismayed and suffered clenching of my teeth was when I saw that the place was 1/3 full of whiteness. The second was when we were seated next to a table of them, and hear them talking about "authentic" and talking about when they were in China ... Idiots… Ugh. And it was very crowded, and clean.

We had already perused the menu before we were seated, so we more or less knew what we were going to order. But looking around the other tables, we couldn't resist making some adjustments. First item ordered was the BBQ fish Hunan style — a whole fish crispy-fried in a bed of turnips, scallions, cilantro and of course a whole mess of chili peppers. We also got Lamb with Spicy Salt, basically salt bake lamb chops sprinkled liberally with chilis and leeks; Cauliflower in Big Dish, a whole head of cauliflower cut and steamed in a spicy sauce with scallions, garlic, some kind of deep fried animal skin (likely pork) and again, a whole mess of chilis. Lastly, we added a plate of fried pork dumplings with a chili-soy dipping sauce.

All of the food was delicious, especially the fish and the cauliflower dishes. Sure they were spicy, but not so overly hot that you can't get it too close to your face without passing out. It is more a heat / glow than a sting.

On the plus side of this place, was the food was excellent and the wait staff were fast, friendly and attentive without being overbearing. They were a bit disorganized — for instance, we received three plates of dumplings because there had been no indication in the kitchen that we'd received the dish, and much of the staff spoke no English at all.

On the minus side, it was extremely crowded and seemed popular with pretentious non-Chinese — the academic looking types who say things like, "In Sichuan, this would have been served with ground salt with spices, this is not authentic ..." It was totally offensive to hear, because this stuff was really delicious, and the Chinese families crowding around the big round family-style tables were enjoying it.

Basically, the customers could be divided into two categories — local Chinese, and poser non-Chinese. I cannot emphasize how startling this was, to hear people of non-Chinese extraction acting like they knew everything. A young girl petulantly asked the waiter, "Are we getting our Dan Dan Noodles?" A young boy whined, "I don't want ice water, that's not Chinese!" He also demanded a cup for his orange soda (we suppose THAT'S Chinese, perhaps?)

Hunan province is where Mao Zedong was born and raised, and the NY Times said these dishes would have been recognized by him if he were alive to show up in Queens now. The place had some spare decoration within the clean decor — most notably a tote bag featuring a silkscreen of the Chairman's head, hanging off a control box mounted on the back wall.

Also, the staff seemed not to be able to deal with such crowds — undoubtedly due to the NY Times review. The hostess came off as confused and a bit desperate, and was handing out dining checks before people were finished with their meals, it seemed, in some hope to rush them out so to get fresh people seated. They also seemed to miscalculate the size of their tables. The fish was brought out in a large roasting pan set over a gas burner ... until one of the kitchen r unners realized we would not be able to fit all the food on the table. So she took it all away and put the fish in a bowl. There was still barely room for everything we wnated plus rice, and we ended up balancing plates on top of others.

But, I will forgive them.

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