Wednesday, March 25, 2015

so much Sichuan

My digestive system may need a break from all the spice of the weekend -- new Peter Chang location on Thursday, dueling takeout1 from Hunan Gate and Hong Kong Palace on Saturday, and PC leftovers on Sunday -- but it was totally worth it.  (We had driven out to Arlington on Wednesday night, but were thwarted by a private event closure and ended up at 2 Amys instead.)  We had better luck Thursday night, arriving a bit before 9:00 and being seated within about ten minutes (giving me just enough time to run to the Harris Teeter for an unseasonal can of pumpkin for Deanna's birthday cake).

Before we read through the menu, I immediately ordered the scallion bubble pancakes (#6) to appease my grumbling stomach.  Even better than I remembered them from my one prior PC experience (Fredericksburg location on the way back from D/D's wedding), billowing steam when I tore into the crispy balloon.  Surprisingly ungreasy, and delicious with the unusual curry sauce.  (Yes, curry sauce with scallion pancakes in a Chinese restaurant.)

Adam wanted both the dry fried eggplant (#21) and the bamboo flounder fish (#26), favorites from previous visits.  Very good -- Chef Chang knows his frying -- but too similar with their chilies, scallions, and cilantro for me to want to repeat ordering both in one meal.  (I was feeling the eggplant more than the cumin-spiced fish that evening, although it was more of a situational preference than an evaluation of the execution of either.)

Shredded tofu skin (#17) with hot and numbing sauce was a light counterpoint to all the frying.  Served cold, the texture of the paper-thin shredded tofu skin evoked delicate tangles of fresh linguine. (I've only had thicker, wider cuts of tofu skin before; this was an awesome new tofu iteration.)  Slivered celery (including the leaves) added spice-cutting freshness and crunch that I loved.  Adam wanted more acid, and maybe that would have been good, but as it was, I couldn't stop picking at the dish long after I was stuffed.  In terms of pure what-I-most-want-to-keep-eating, it was neck-and-neck with the eggplant for the evening's second place.

My favorite dish of the meal was also the most surprising: Grandma's Noodle (#11 - "noodles topped with chili powder, scallion, garlic, cilantro, soy sauce and finished with a splash of hot oil").  The named suggested some sort of rustic, homey dish, and the noodles looked the part.  A puddle of the garnishes -- chili oil and flecks vibrantly, almost gorily red on the green scallions and cilantro -- sat in the middle of a pile of otherwise dry wide-cut noodles.  But the flavor was a revelation of Sichuan peppercorn, which set my mouth literally buzzing with its floral elegance.  (I have never experienced such a tingling sensation from the peppercorns, despite many orders of ma po and other peppercorn-employing dishes.  Nor have they ever read so rose-flavored to me.)

Although the five appetizers we ordered would have been more than enough food for two people, I'd wanted another fish dish.  On the waitress's recommendation, we went with the flounder and eggplant with pickled peppers (#68), "steamed in a special chili sauce."  Despite its three-chili designation, it wasn't overwhelming spicy if we ate around the slices of green chili flecking the blanket of diced pickled red peppers and garlic, which obscured a layer of fish atop a bed of tender eggplant spears.  The tart peppers and pungent garlic made for a surprisingly light dish that was a nice change of pace from the oilier/fried/spicier fish preparations.  We barely made a dent in the giant bowl, but it made for great leftovers.    

A great, inexpensive meal (even with our overordering).  Adam spotted Chef Chang at a nearby table at one point in our meal.  I've read complaints that his restaurants can't match their initial consistency once he moves on to open a new spot and isn't in the kitchen regularly, which may be an additional reason -- beyond my desire to eat those noodles again! -- to hurry back before his attention switches to Rockville.

1 In the only direct head-to-head dish, ma po tofu, six of us split evenly on which we preferred. I was in the HKP camp, but Adam voted for HG.
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