20A Maryland Avenue, Rockville, MD 20850 (http://peterchangarlington.com/)
** and 1/2 (Good/Very Good)
Chef Peter Chang used to be a difficult man to track down. His story, at this point, is relatively well known. Once the chef to the Chinese Ambassador in Washington, D.C., Chang took his show on the road – and on the run – to various small restaurants up and down Virginia, constantly moving out of fear of being caught. Word would quickly spread of his whereabouts, crowds would follow, and – poof – Chang would move on. After many years, Chang has finally settled down and opened up several restaurants, including two eponymous locations in Arlington, Virginia and Rockville, Maryland. A recent familial outing at the Rockville location for my dad’s birthday revealed that the rumors of Chang’s skill are without a doubt true; and that his restaurant offers the best Chinese food to be had in the DMV.
The first thing you notice walking into Peter Chang is the crowd. Word seems to have spread like wildfire, and people were lined up to see if the Hubei-born chef lives up to his
lofty reputation for delivering authentic Szechuan cuisine. Service is efficient, and neither warm nor
cold. Although our server is quick to bring drinks, the menu is so expansive that it takes a few additional minutes to figure out what to order. We decide to start with a traditional appetizer (at least in our family), Pan Fried Dumplings, and some house specialties, the Scallion Bubble Pancakes and Dry Fried Eggplant. The dumplings have a paper-thin
exterior with a savory, but ordinary filling. They are given a nice enhancement with the soy and hot garlic sauces provided for dipping. Meanwhile, the pancakes are fantastic: light, flaky orbs of fried pastry which are a stunner in both presentation and execution. The pancakes are mild in flavor and served with a curry sauce that makes this winning dish all the better. Likewise, the crisp stalks of eggplant are given the hot and numbing treatment with Szechuan peppercorns; the spice is both weird to the senses and deliciously addictive.
Moving along t0 the main courses, we select as many as we can from the massive tome of a menu. For the most part, we find success in our choices. Hot & Numbing Flounder with Tofu in Clay Pot is soul satisfying, with its perfectly poached fish and soft tofu simmering in a spicy broth with great depth of flavor. A dish worth returning for any day of the week. Golden Mountain Chicken sits on the opposite end of flavor spectrum, with julienned, battered and lightly fried chicken tossed in a slightly sweet and spicy sauce. It is another tasty and addictive dish; one that most reminds me of the hot and crispy beef at a local Chinese takeout spot, only vastly superior. Another standout is the Boneless Whole Fish with Pine Nuts, which provides an elegant presentation in addition to a savory red sauce with hints of fruit. The fish is crisped beautifully and nicely contrasts with the succulent meat.
Guangong Beef is the one toss up of the meal. While the beef is as fiery as promised, the cilantro is a bit overwhelming: a take it or leave it dish. Bok Choy with Tofu Skin sounded bland at best, but the freshness of the bitter green, was a perfect contrast to the mild garlic white sauce. A must have vegetable. We round out our dinner with Lo Mein; the thin, stir-fried noodles nicely seasoned (is there such thing as bad lo mein?), but ultimately not a stand out as compared to the otherwise fantastic offerings.
It took a long time for Peter Chang to settle down. While the DMV has plenty of strong ethnic offerings, the chef brings some much needed life to Chinese-focused restaurants, and is bound to be welcomed with open arms. You’ll see no complaints from me. Bottom line: Peter Chang is the real deal…and he’s finally here to stay.
Atmosphere: The restaurant sits on the corner of a shopping row in Rockville Town Center, and the interior is clad with wooden (and marbled) tables, chairs, and banquettes. Vibrant colors paint the walls giving a warm feeling to space. Service is brisk, knowledgeable, and efficient; but not overly friendly.
Noise: Moderate-High. The crowds at Peter Chang can be big, and the accompanying noise reflects that. That being said, our table could converse without too much difficulty.
Recommended Dishes: Scallion Bubble Pancake, Pork Dumplings, Dry-Fried Eggplant, Hot & Numbing Flounder with Tofu in Clay Pot, Boneless Whole Fish with Pine Nuts, Golden Mountain Chicken
Reservations: Recommended. Friday night was bustling, with tables fully taken, and a line of people awaiting their turn for the Szechuan specialties.
$$ – $25 to $50 for dinner for two