This week, Pete Wells set out on a quest to track down the elusive Peter Chang — a celebrated Chinese chef known for hopping between three of the five blandly-named suburban Virginia outposts that bear his name: Peter Chang China Café, located in Short Pump; and Peter Chang Chinese Restaurant, located in Fredericksburg, and another Peter Chang Restaurant, located in Virginia Beach.
In Williamsburg, Wells praised the pigs’ feet stir-fried with dried chiles and Sichuan peppercorns, noting: “The Sichuan hot-and-numbing effect put an electric charge in the sticky, crunchy bits of skin, but the spice never overpowered the deeply flavored pork. Tea-smoked duck stir-fried with sticks of ginger, another high point of that meal, was more restrained, but just as flavorful.”
However, dish quality varied from restaurant to restaurant, with Wells noting: “in Virginia Beach… I ate crispy pork belly that looked like the great bamboo shrimp I’d had in Short Pump but didn’t have nearly the same impact.”
He spent much of his journey on the lookout for the Chinese-born Chang, who he caught a glimpse of in Short Pump. Perhaps it’s no coincidence his dinner in Short Pump was also his best. Wells praised the “spicy dan dan noodles with an expertly gauged sweet-sour ratio and a numbing blast of Sichuan peppercorns; outstandingly crisp and tender twice-cooked pork; beef with tofu-skin noodles lightly scored on one side to catch the searing chile oil; and, to tamp down the fires, cooling chunks of firm raw cucumber dressed with garlic.”
The meal led Wells to conclude that Chang, a one-time chef at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. is one of the finest Chinese cooks in the country. Wells wrote: “This was Chinese cooking with true finesse. The muscular Sichuan dishes were unusually well balanced, while the charm of some others was arrived at through subtle and delicate means.”
Read Wells’ full review here.
Adam D’Arpino is the Restaurants Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @AdamDArpino.