New Sichuan Spot Near Columbia Fails To Bring The Heat
By Scott Lynch
For a well-regarded, apparently ambitious, deep-Queens/Long Island mini-chain making its first foray into Manhattan, the new Sichuan restaurant Grain House is surprisingly half-assed in its execution.
The location is certainly well chosen, in the Manhattan Valley section of the Upper West Side, near enough to Columbia to lure in students but also filled with families in search of some new neighborhood fare. The actual space itself, however, is uninspired to the point of deflating whatever expectations you allowed yourself to have when you set off for your meal.
A wide ramp flanked by institutional handrails greets you upon entering, left over from when this was a Dunkin’ Dounts two tenants ago and creating a barren expanse of linoleum leading up to a counter to which you do not need to approach (you order from your table). The decor is pure odd lot: black and white photos of China, a small wooden wall clock, a typographic poster of the alphabet hung on its side.
Staffers stare at their phones whenever there’s a momentary break in the action (meanwhile a towel-less situation awaits you in the bathroom); plates and the clearing thereof need requesting; complimentary tea is served either too tepid or scalding hot. The whole thing just feels tired, and after only a few weeks since the opening.
The Grain House menu is loaded with Sichuan crowd-pleasers and classics, and all five dishes we ate over two dinners were… just OK. Despite its “chili-pepper-icon warning” the Burning Noodle didn’t, though it was cooked with competence and packed just enough punch to satisfy on a snowy day. The Mapo Tofu arrived looking promising, all glistening in chili oil and craggy with ground beef, and the textures were as one would hope, but again, the dish didn’t live up to its fiery promise.