The Best Thing I Ate This Week: Dinner at Peter Chang
Chili oil and I have a bit of a history. I worked at a Chinese restaurant the summer after I graduated college. Before I was trained to be a waitress, I working in the kitchen doing prep work until one fateful day. As I refilled the table-sized containers of red chili oil, the spoon I was so carefully ladling with slipped from my grasp, plunged into the larger container and the oil shot into my eyes! I flushed my eyes with water and blotted them with towels; even my arm was burning from the messy splash. Needless to say, I stopped working there shortly after that. I blame it on the chili oil.
This fiery component is a staple among Chinese Szechuan cuisine and was either tossed or infused into the Szechuan-style dishes my husband and I had this past weekend at Virginia Beach’s Peter Chang, which opened at the tail end of 2013. (No, there is no affiliation with restaurant chain, P.F. Changs.) Peter Chang is a renowned chef known for working in and opening up restaurants, before pulling disappearing acts to go onto his next food venture. He’s opened a handful of locations in Virginia including Williamsburg, Charlottesville, Glen Allen, Fredericksburg and soon enough, Arlington.
Friends—or fellow Peter Chang followers—warned me to come with an appetite as the portions are massive; after all they serve family-style. I obeyed.
First came our scallion pancakes. I envisioned 2-dimensional, fluffy traditional pancakes. Two balloons were delivered, hardly able to fit on the plate. Once we popped the bubbles, steam rolled out and we tore off pieces to dip them in a sweet curry sauce.
Quickly after that came the crispy pork belly. Scallions and cilantro leaves were tossed between crispy, salty, hearty slivers of pork belly amid dried red chile peppers and, of course, chili oil. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t near-full after the appetizers.
A foggy cloud hovered over the stone pot as our entrée, Peter Chang’s duck, was delivered. The broth carried a variety of mushrooms, red chiles, leeks and ribbons of tofu skin among the most flavorful, succulent duck.
It’s the kind of dish that makes you sweat between the eyes. A heat that wasn’t shy, the spice even teetered my husband’s heat tolerance. I kept asking myself, “Why are you still eating?” With the flavors, the spice, the scallion pancake I ate with the duck and the broth—there was no way I’d be turning off the switch to my appetite. After all of our noshing, slurping and sweating, somehow we took enough home for lunch the next day. It’s safe to say, I’ve never had Chinese food this good. Goodness gracious, I think chili oil has redeemed itself.