Thursday, February 9, 2012

Peter Chang Descends on Richmond

Peter Chang's lamb chops with *cough* a few dried red chili peppers.
He came. He saw. He cooked 25 different dishes, and like a bedraggled pack of wild animals we ate all of it, stopping only briefly to wipe the sweat off our brows while marveling at the fact that our lips had gone completely numb. The ever-elusive Peter Chang has done it again, swooping down on some poor unsuspecting Southern village with his army of Szechuan peppercorns, red chili peppers, chili oils, scallions and black vinegar, and with the deftness of a cleaver splitting open a freshly smoked duck, successfully made the whole lot of us his personal food bitch.
There were steamed Shanghai-style dumplings filled with ground pork-- so light and delicate yet still yielding to the tooth served with a pucker-up sour dipping sauce redolent with vinegar, ginger and garlic chives. Peter Chang's wife, Lisa, is a pastry expert in her own right, so perhaps these delightful bamboo steamed purses were one of her unique creations?
The beauty of Szechuan cooking is the careful marriage of its seven basic flavors: pungent, sour, hot, bitter, sweet, aromatic and salty. It's culinary balance in its purest form. It's an experience. From tickling the lips with numbing Szechuan peppercorns to drying the tongue with bits of tannic bitter melon, flavors arrest the palate in symphony's not quartets. It's playful cuisine designed to challenge the senses with seemingly infinite variations of texture, taste and sensory hot followed by cool.

Dry fried eggplant is crispy on the outside yet melts in the mouth once its outer shell has been broken. Chili peppers and peppercorns become almost prickly on the tongue yet subside as the soft, mild vegetable settles in. Classic shrimp toast is accented with spicy salt and freshly ground shrimp resting atop bread that is expertly deep fried while crispy spring rolls are far from the regular stuff and are filled with coriander and fish. Hot and numbing dry beef does exactly that, yet still retains its signature Sichuan jerky-that's-been-deep-fried quality, which results from a laborious four-part cooking process.

Those were just some of the passed appetizers and snacks we sampled. There was still dinner.

And, what a meal it was. Arriving family-style, with one seemingly endless dish passed around after another, our senses were teased again and again. Slippery Dan Dan noodles, which one well-known Richmond chef comically renamed "Jesus noodles" because they're that stinkin' good, arrived to the table swimming in a broth of chili oil, preserved vegetables, black rice vinegar, sherry and ground pork topped with minced scallions.
It wasn't long before a hand swooped in to stir the entire concoction (that hand belonging to Mary Lee, wife of Chang's business partner, Gen Lee).
And so it went. Course after course, hot pot after hot pot, it just kept coming, and we couldn't get enough of it. From a spicy sour chicken soup that we were instructed to top with rice a la chicken gumbo to the milder "House Special" fish filet, which married meltingly tender tilapia in a subtly hot broth laced with ginger, wood ear mushrooms, cabbage and broccoli.
Hot pot of sour chicken arrives.
Ate it gumbo-style.
A pork rib and wild mushroom soup cleansed away the heat with bits of on-the-bone braised meat swimming in a umami-laden clear broth of mushrooms and mini dumplings.
Jumbo shrimp were butterflied and topped with a three-pepper mixture and were beautifully presented with scattered bits of cilantro and scallions.
Alas, all good things must eventually come to an end, so we wrapped up our meal with a particularly stellar sesame bun filled with sweet red bean paste and called it a night.
To wit, Peter Chang's latest venture, which rather ironically sits front and center in one of Richmond's least adventurous eating destinations forcing it rather sadly to compete with 1500 calorie slices of brownie sundae cheesecakes and faux Chinese chain food conglomerates begs the question: how will Richmond ultimately respond to the arrival of the man Todd Kliman from The Washingtonian calls "the perfect chef"?

Without question, foodies of all shapes and sizes will flock to Chang's latest west end eatery, but will anyone who actually lives there be pulling up a chair on a regular basis (which is an important factor when it comes to the longevity of a restaurant)? Part of me wishes that the Short Pump crowd will rise to the occasion while the other half, the really selfish half, wants the whole kit and kaboodle to move closer to the city. Here's to hoping for a happy medium.

In the meantime, enjoy a few more tasty photos from last night's event and get thee to the Chang stat.
The man, the myth, the generally happy guy, Chef Chang.

Peter Chang
11424 West Broad Street
(804) 364-1688
Sun-Thur 10:00 am - 10:00 pm
Fri-Sat 11:00 am - 10:30 pm

©2012 Fatback and Foie Gras. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.
Pin It Now!


  1. Yum!!! Can't wait to go

  2. Wow--that looks like an amazing meal. I love spicy food, but that pile of peppers on the Sichuan lamb scares even me.

  3. Cucina,
    That lamb dish was incredibly hot, but like so much of Chang's food, it was also quite balanced. The burn gets addictive after a while :)

  4. Nice pictures, Kendra. Spicy = Yummy! Addictive, yes!!!

  5. A movie of the grand opening itself

  6. I have been for lunch already. I took a large group from work, and they all pronounced it excellent. They noted that the food was more artistic, higher quality, and even of more quantity, than at the other places we have gone for team lunches.

    BTW - he also intends to open a restaurant down in Carytown or The Fan, I read somewhere, while Short Pump will be his home base to train chefs. This makes sense since he still lives midway between Charlottesville and Richmond.

    I tried the pork belly appetizer, and it was absolutely amazing! I will definitely be back.

    1. This is great news about Carytown! Thanks for sharing.


    2. BTW - totally packed Sunday night. We had a reservation, which right at 5:15 was not needed but within minutes would have been. By the time we left it was tough pushing through the crowd to get out.

  7. Went there Tuesday night as soon as I heard they were open. Was expecting a crazy rush, but there were very few patrons at 6:30 pm. This was great because I had an opportunity to chat at length with Mary Lee and Gen Lee the co-owners along with Peter Chang. Ended up having the dry fried eggplant appetizer, house special fish filet, tofu with vegetable in clay pot and the mixed vegetable lo mein. The fish and the eggplant were delicious and different, the tofu very flavorful and the lo mien decent. The interesting tongue numbing sensation of the Sichuan peppers on the dry fried eggplant was the most strange sensation. Somewhere between a burnt tongue and topical anesthesia at the dentist. I know that sounds bad, but actually it was very invigorating. Not for the tame palate. I have a reservation this Saturday and hope to experience some more of Peter Chang's fabled cuisine. Hope business picks up for this joint. I would welcome the chance for eating authentic Chinese cuisine. Gives me another alternative besides my goto place for authentic Chinese cuisine - Full Kee Restaurant on Horsepen Rd..

    1. Topical anesthesia is the perfect way to describe it! I hope he does well, too. We want the Chang's to stick around :)


  8. I was VERY sad to find out that the lamb chops pictured here, that have to some extend haunted my waking moments all week, are not available on the menu!
    There is even a picture of them on the menu, but I inquired and was told that was a mistake and they do not serve the lamb chops. I was at a loss for a couple of minutes since I had no plan B, that is the entree I had in mind for dinner from day one. I was quite disappointed!

  9. Al, glad to hear the place was packed, but bummed that you didn't get to taste that lamb. That dish was the one that clearly packed the most flavor punch (i.e. burrrrnn). It's well known that Chang likes to do his own thing and changes his menu regularly (or so I've heard) so not really surprised that dish has magically disappeared. I really think they should add those chops to the menu. It was one of the best dishes we tasted all night.


  10. Ate lunch there today and it totally rocks. For some reason you have to ask for a knife.

  11. Great review, though I do take issue with your assumption that West Enders and the Short Pump crowd are not sophisticated enough to "pull up a chair on a regular basis." There are plenty of "adventurous" and excellent restaurants in the Far West End and Short Pump that are doing just fine: Lehja, Anokha, Umi, Osaka, Patina Grill, Eurasia and Portico, to name just a few. Why not give these restaurants a break and lose the West End bias?

  12. I agree with Jessica. Many of the "Short Pump" crowd are old Fan residents who have settled out West for various reasons, probably related to work and children. There's a general excitement around new and original restaurants opening. Please don't generalize because you are wrong.

  13. Hi Jessica and Anon,

    Thanks so much for visiting my blog and chiming in. Like you, I am really excited about Chang's coming to Richmond and joining some great restaurant's already in place in the west end (Lehja, Anokha etc...all wonderful establishments) as Jessica mentioned.

    However, I must add that my goal with this post was not to generalize about people living in Short Pump or anywhere in the Richmond area for that matter. Heck, I grew up very near the Short Pump area long before it was anything but farmland, so in a way, I call it home.

    The purpose of this post was to share (and not review FYI) my experience at a private party on opening night. As you can see from this paragraph, the issues that I am raising regarding how often Richmonder's will frequent Chang's are merely questions designed to inspire opinion and debate on the part of my readers not to generalize or assume because, let's face it, Chang's restaurant has just opened, so anything can happen and much remains to be seen for how his establishment will fare in all of Richmond not just Short Pump. Here's what I originally wrote for reference:

    " will Richmond ultimately respond to the arrival of the man Todd Kliman from The Washingtonian calls "the perfect chef"?

    Without question, foodies of all shapes and sizes will flock to Chang's latest west end eatery, but will anyone who actually lives there be pulling up a chair on a regular basis (which is an important factor when it comes to the longevity of a restaurant)?

    Part of me wishes that the Short Pump crowd will rise to the occasion while the other half, the really selfish half, wants the whole kit and kaboodle to move closer to the city. Here's to hoping for a happy medium."

    As you can see, these are merely questions, and perhaps a bit of my own selfishness in wanting Chang's to be closer to my own home in the city. Nothing more.

    Again, thank you for stopping in and sharing your thoughts. I welcome all opinions.


  14. Being from Short Pump, I must say the crowd is oddly mixed. I've mentioned this before but I think the reason a lot of Asian/Indian restaurants open in strip malls is easy parking and familiar locations. As an immigrant I know I don't like to venture into unfamiliar neighborhoods, I still don't. I remember when I first came to the US 15 years ago, I came with the wave of IT boom and all my co-workers were Indians and all of us were learning to drive because where we came from we had public transportation we didn't need to own a car. Most of us buy homes in suburbia because can you imagine parking in the Fan? ;)
    Anyway, to get back to Peter Chang, I think he wants to tap into the Indian immigrant market who loves spicy food. I see enough vegetarian options in his menu and not all Indians are vegetarian, they like lamb too. And where do they live? Suburbia.
    I have theory about why in Walmart strip mall too but I may be wrong because I have not been to Walmart in a long time and not sure about the demographic of the shoppers there now.

  15. Most excellent observation Veron! I didn't even think of that reason, but makes total sense. I can see how Richmond immigrants, especially those from India or other spice-loving countries, would really enjoy Chang's cooking. Either way, all I've been hearing is that the place is packed, so that's good news all the way around.

    Thanks so much for chiming in (and for the well wishes regarding the television stint *grin*).



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...