Friday, January 21, 2011

In the Hands of an Elusive Sichuan Master

There's no doubt that my search for the infamous Sichuan chef Peter Chang, who recently turned up in Atlanta, Georgia, was far less thrilling (and obsessive) than Todd Kliman's fascinating article in the Oxford American from last year. You should probably read his article before continuing with my post. Done? Ok, good. Maybe Calvin Trillin had a similarly dramatic adventure, but I wouldn't know, since his New Yorker piece is behind a pay wall. Anyway, Peter Chang's fabulous new namesake restaurant is set in what looks to be a country club dining room circa 1975. Hey it's Chinese food, I kid, but don't much care about the decor.

Somehow not only did I convince (connive?) four of my friends into joining me at Peter Chang's (none of them had tried Sichuan before), but they also trusted me enough to order the whole meal (after the round of wonton and hot and sour soups). Do you know how hard that is to pull off? I nearly abused that trust, but managed to order a solid introductory survey of Sichuan food (and asked for everything ma la and authentically prepared). How well that survey highlighted Chang's strengths, I'm really not sure. Regardless, we had an excellent and intriguing meal, making it all the more unfortunate that I'll probably never go back.

The first Sichuan dish to hit the table (besides the wonton soups my friends ordered) was hot and numbing dried beef. I couldn't tell whether the beef was dry-fried or actual jerky, but either way the sauce was addictive, and heavy on the Sichuan peppercorns.

Smoked tofu with peanuts was a pleasing mix of textures in a fiery chili oil. Dan dan noodles were solid, but I have yet to find a restaurant recipe that compares to Fuschia Dunlop's (my post here).

Bread puff with curry sauce was basically roti canai and the only non-Sichuan dish we ordered (even though it's apparently one of his specialties).

Smoked chicken with mustard sauce gave me the first hint of Chang's talent. Probably my favorite dish of the night, with a strong mustard taste accented by a slight sweetness and heavy ma la flavor. I had asked the waitress to choose between the two cold smoked chicken dishes (the other was the more common version with sesame paste) and she picked a knockout.

Shan City chicken was excellent-- essentially dry fried chicken with peppers and one of the better renditions I've tried.

Likewise, we had two excellent versions of dry fried green beans and cumin lamb, both sufficiently crispy and crunchy.

I loved the texture of the double cooked pork, much crispier than usual, which I prefer. It may have been slightly heavy on the soy sauce, but that's just a minor complaint about a fantastic dish.

Surveying the damage, we did an admirable job stuffing our face with as much Sichuan food as possible. I kept picking at various dishes while my friends tried to calm the buzzing in their mouths. I gotta say, I was proud of them.

Like Chang's time in restaurants, I only had a fleeting glimpse of his true skill, and I regret not having more time to explore the menu. Unfortunately, the next time I'm in Atlanta, Chang will likely have moved on. Still, I hope our paths cross again.

Peter Chang's
6450 Powers Ferry Rd NW
Atlanta, GA 30339

Peter Chang's on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. something wrong w/ ordering wonton soup?