Due to journalistic standards (and word limits), much of what I wanted to write concerning Chengdu Taste didn’t make the self-edit. The best tidbits missed the editor’s trim. I mean, you don’t want a wall of text on a blogging-driven media platform; god forbid someone throws a tl;dr in the comment section. It can ruin one’s primordial writing side gig.
But the TMZ-esque demand to gleam more information regarding this Sichuan is clearly there; a few folks were dying to gossip about what Jonathan Gold ate in his visit(s) to Chengdu Taste since he twitted his first visit. Without further ado, here are 3 of the dishes:
Top to bottom: younger sister’s ma la diced rabbit, green chili water-boiled fish, summer ice powder jelly
Mr. Gold also tasted the toothpick lamb, the cold noodles, and the dry pot ribs. Are these the tastiest dishes at Chengdu Taste? Perhaps. Do they carry the most comical and exotic literal translations? The younger sister’s secret diced rabbit certainly does. The green chili water boiled fish, and the mung bean noodles (literally the “heart-broken” cold mung bean noodles), as well as the summer ice powder jello being the only availale dessert at this time are some of the most pushed dishes by the staff.
Honestly, the appeals of the generically flavored agar topped with un-ripe mangos, fermented rice (same vein as rice brew), and sesame powder is difficult to understand. The ice powder is actually made from soaking seed of “nicandra physalodes”, shoo-fly plant, and adding gelatinizing agents. The seeds are known to have diuretic, cooling, and anti-inflammatory properties. However, a plain bowl of sugary ai-yu jello, or black grass jello, appeals to me, a non-Sichuan-er, about 200% more. But the appearance of the jello and the odd, oxymoronic translation are surely catchy. More importantly, the restaurant is so absolutely proud of the fact they import their own shoo-fly from China, above and beyond the normal food ingredient distribution channels it’s difficult to say no to the staff recommendation. Beyond that dessert then, what exactly should one order?
Start off with the above: the “tyrant” pork shank improperly coined “special sauce crura”. Why? Because Chengdu Taste is about the “nouveaux Sichuan”, and the restaurant repeatedly stress: “辣不代表是川菜” — Sichuanese isn’t all spicy. The latest 2013 “pork pump” in an unctuous (yes, unctuous) shank of pig, well over a pound in heft, marinaded, steamed, then dressed in a slightly sweet, slightly ma la sauce. There are 2 pork pumps on the menu both listed as “crura”, both bone-in and tender, but this particular version is less Hangzhou, more Sichuan. Further drawing on the mantra of a balanced Sichuan profile, go for the mama’s pickled chili water-boiled fish instead of the typical water-boiled fish. There’s nothing uniquely Chengdu about this dish, but the preserved chilis bring bursts of vinegary goodness that is a key flavor within the 8 flavors of Sichuan:
One of the surprising dishes is the simply and untraditional “earth bean” ie: potato seen above. Instead of the typical al dente julienned potato in venegar sauce, Chendu Taste parboils the potato and woks the ensemble with cumin and seasonal. The results are addictive, and dare we say, “nouveux”, but also probably homely to the natives. Instead of the cumin lamb which every Sichuan restaurant offers in SGV, go for this cumin scalloped potatoes and/or the non-spicy saurkraut stewed meats (available with any protein per request).
Chengdu Taste’s test may deen their green chili items unique and traditional, but they themselves recognize “冒碗火锅粉” (Chendu smorgasbord mung bean noodle hot pot) may be most evocative of the Chengdu flavor for the ex-pats in Los Angeles. So order that (listed as spicy vegetarian pot, $9, there’s also a protein style available that comes with a mix of 4 meats), a bowl of rice, and note what you’re eating happens to be similar to the staff meal (which is a variation on Duck blood hot pot) which has chitlin, duck blood and… wait for it.. SPAM:
I get the buzz. The buzz is real. The staff speaks English. Waitresses are friendly (I’m rather in love with the fragile sincerity of Ms Yang Yang). Perhaps they got a slight uptick from a JG endorsement Mid-July, but 20% of their client was already non-Chinese during first 3 weeks of opening. That probably has nothing to do with Chow/bloggers, and perhaps more to do with a front page placement on Yelp.
On the other hand, unlike the wagon hoppers, prosaic wontons in chili oil, dan dan noodles, and mung bean cold noodles (Flavor Garden also has a fantastic version of lian pi, as does Chuan Ma, etc) doesn’t make me jizz. The utilitarian pot-as-a-meal dish of 毛血旺 (duck blood, fish, chitlin, and ham hotpot, similar to the staff meal seen above), on the other hand, is always a telltale signature of a legitate Sichuan restauarnt. What’s coming up for the restaurant? More OG Chengdu snacks of cold cake (凉糕) which will alleviate the summer heat as well as the spiciness, and the aftermath of Gold’s review.
828 West Valley Boulevard
Alhambra, CA 91803