“Chang, a native of Hubei province, was considered one of the top-ranked chefs in China when he landed the head chef job at his country’s embassy in Washington in 2001.” Dave McIntyre
Real Chinese Food…What is it? Have you ever eaten it? If you’re not sure, then you probably have not. A lot of what we know as Chinese food is not authentic Chinese food eaten in China. Strange, huh? Makes you wonder how these “Chinese” dishes that we know so well came to be. As you can guess, Peter Chang offers you “real” Chinese food. Keep reading to find out more about the deliciousness that we tasted there.
We heard some great rumors about Peter Chang’s restaurant before it even came to town so we were hoping eventually we’d get to review the restaurant. We recently came back from a trip to Hong Kong, so it made this visit even sweeter as we were reminded of our time there. However, Peter Chang offers Szechuan cuisine, which was different from anything we tried in Hong Kong (and different from any other Chinese food I’ve ever tried in the US, actually). The dishes are unique, flavorful, spicy and delicious.
We sat down with the couple who runs Peter Chang in Williamsburg and ate our whole meal with them at the table with us. This was unusual for our reviews. It was great to be able to talk with them about the history of Peter Chang’s restaurants and learn about the dishes we tasted. They planned out ahead of time what dishes they thought we would enjoy and what was the most popular. Everything sounded really exciting. We started off with what they say is one of their most ordered plates: Dry-Fried Eggplant. Sounds weird, but it was so good. Their appearance and texture is very similar to steak fries. This was spicy, as was almost everything else we tasted on our visit. My spice tolerance meter is not quite where I would like it to be, so I had to restrict myself on how much eggplant I could eat. I wanted to keep eating them, though! The other two appetizers we enjoyed were Cilantro Fish Rolls and Scallion Bubble Pancake. I love cilantro, so the fish rolls were right up my alley. The fish inside almost melts in your mouth. For the Bubble Pancakes, I was simply not prepared for how amazing they looked when they brought them out. They really are huge bubbles! It was definitely one of the most unique looking presentations I’ve ever seen. There was also this yummy curry sauce to dip your pancake in. Our next plate was the Crispy Pork Belly. This too was spicy, and ooohh so good. They called it Chinese bacon. You just have to try it for yourself. My favorite dish was the next one that came out, which was the Boneless Whole Fish With Pine Nuts. The presentation on this might make some squeamish (they leave the head on), but I thought the presentation added to the dish. The outside of the fish was crispy and super soft inside. This was one of the few non-spicy dishes we tasted, so I piled up on my portion. Another dish we tasted was Peter Chang’s Duck in Stone Pot. It had these really unique “tofu skins” in the dish that I had never seen before. They looked like strips of cloth. The texture was soft and spongy and really unique. One of our last dishes was the New Zealand Lamb Chops. They were generously crusted in a spice rub that was incredibly flavorful, while the meat was super tender. I’d say Peter Chang’s is one of the most unique restaurants in Williamsburg. The food was so flavorful and different from anything I’ve ever tasted. I’m already itching to go back.
My Favorite Thing: There were so many unique and yummy dishes, but I have to say that the Boneless Whole Fish With Pine Nuts was my favorite. The fish texture was perfect and the sauce was really tasty. And I loved the presentation.
What I would like to try next time: Tea Smoked Duck With Deep Fried Onion. The “tea smoked” is what intrigued me.
“The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is Fear Itself”
Those famous words were uttered by our 32nd President, Franklin D. Roosevelt. It’s personally one of my favorite sayings of all time. And it’s one that is helpful to us in almost all aspects of our lives, including eating. Yes, even eating.
Food can be intimidating. We like what we know, and we like to stick with what we know. It makes sense, but the problem with this is that we miss out on SO MANY new and interesting flavors simply because of that one word – FEAR. We can try to justify it and say that if we know what we like, then why would we stray from it. But just think for a second, what if you did that for your entire life? You would have never experienced the sweet joy of chocolate, or the childhood excitement of pizza, or even the wonderfully metallic taste of canned liver – well, maybe not that one. But just as you were taught as a kid to “try it, you might like it”, we need to suck it up and try something new. We just might like it.
Okay, enough of my soap box. The reason I bring this up is because of the amazing new restaurant that I’m about to tell you about – Peter Chang. It’s named after the famed chef, um, Peter Chang. He specializes in AMAZING and authentic Szechuan cuisine. Szechuan cuisine is a style of Chinese cooking that originated from the Sichuan province in southwestern China. It’s known for it’s bold and spicy flavors that comes from it’s strong use of chili peppers, specifically the Sichuan pepper. Peter Chang has made an art form of this. His dishes are unique, incredibly flavorful and visually stunning. Plus, and this is huge, it’s authentic. As Mindy noted, what many of us think of as Chinese food, is not real Chinese food. It’s an Americanized version to help please the American palate. There are some similarities, but don’t you want to try the real thing? I know you do, but fear might be holding you back. So let’s dig in, start reviewing what authentic and delicious Szechuan cuisine is like, and hopefully start conquering that fear.
We started it all off with the Dry-Fried Eggplant. The eggplant was cut and fried like french fries, but were extremely moist and flavorful inside. No ketchup needed here. The Cilantro Fish Rolls were brought out next. The outside was nice and crispy while the inside had a subtle salty flavor to it. Then came the visually engaging Scallion Bubble Pancake with Curry Sauce. The only way I can think to describe them is to say that they were like two big thin pancake balloons. This is something that kids would love. You pop them, dip them in a tasty curry sauce and then eat. It’s a must try for everyone. The Crispy Pork Belly was brought out next. For all of you bacon lovers out there, you need to try this. It’s basically fried bacon. Almost a cross between a pork rind and bacon but with a really unique flavor. The next visually stunning dish was then brought out – the Boneless Whole Fish with Pine Nut. It’s a fish fried whole and drenched in a tasty sweet and sour sauce. Again, the presentation alone makes this a dish you should try. We then tried the Stir Fried Fresh Mixed Mushrooms with Onion in Special Sauce. A nice variety of mushrooms filled the bowl, again drenched in a very flavorful sauce. I typically am not a mushroom guy, but I would order this dish again. The Bamboo Fish came next. These were slices of fried fish with cumin powder, pepper powder, green scallion and cilantro. Another incredibly moist and flavorful dish. The presentation was nice as well. And then came Peter Chang’s Duck in Stone Pot. I LOVED this dish. It contained duck, tofu skin, mushrooms, leeks and szechuan chili peppers. What made the dish for me though, believe it or not, was the tofu skin. This is NOTHING like the typical tofu you might think of. Don’t think of those mushy bland little cubes. This tofu looks and feels like thin strips of cloth, yet they melt in your mouth and have a very distinct and meaty flavor to them. I’ve never had anything like that before. Not even close. We ended the review with the New Zealand Lamb Chops. Oh man, the intensity of the flavor here was awesome. The lamb chops were seasoned so well and the meat was incredibly tender. This was a fantastic dish. And a great way to cap off a fantastic review.
One thing to note before we end here, please be aware that most of these dishes are very spicy. So if you love spicy foods, then you HAVE to come here. If you don’t like spicy foods though or simply can’t eat them, still come! They have plenty of dishes that don’t bring the heat, but still bring the flavor. Just ask them to tell you which dishes are not spicy. So please give this place a try. And whatever you do, do not order the “norm”. If you’re looking for the old stand-by chinese food (i.e. Kung Pao Chicken, General Tso’s, Fried Rice, etc.), you might as well go somewhere else and avoid the lines. But I strongly encourage you to take just one night off, and try something new. It’s just one meal out of the thousands we have in our lifetime. You might discover a new favorite dish and at the same time conquer an old childhood fear.
My Favorite Thing: This was another tough one. There were so many unique and incredibly flavorful dishes. But I’m going to say that my favorite was Peter Chang’s Duck in Stone Pot. It’s the tofu. And I seriously never thought tofu would ever be a deciding factor. Ever.
What I would like to try next time: Beijing Smoked Duck. I’d like to try the flavor of something, especially duck, smoked Beijing style.