I made my first visit to Tasty China since it’s been confirmed that Peter Chang is back in the kitchen. Various people on 285 Foodies have been discussing their meals over the last ten days, with very positive reports.
I started with the wontons in hot oil “soup”. I use the word soup lightly because you are not supposed to drink much of the broth. It’s horrible for you and is solely meant to provide flavor to the wontons, though this hot oil mix was lighter (making use of more stock, less oil) than in prior visits. Fuchsia Dunlop did a great blog post on the topic of Chinese food being categorized as greasy.
Of course we had the fried eggplant. Fluffy and lighter than ever, they were wonderful. Not overly ma la (hot and numbing).
One of the Peter Zhang’s blackboard specials was hot and numbing tofu skins. This cold dish was simply Sichuan peppercorns, cilantro, and these amazingly awesome thin and chewy ribbons of tofu covered in an red oil dressing. It’s like they stacked many layers of really tough tofu exterior on top of each other then cut these layers into strips which stayed together, for the most part. Very noodle like. The best part was that the tofu had obviously been prepared in a manner such that they took on a good deal of star anise and cinnamon flavor. I’m not sure if they simply soaked them or steamed them or what.
My favorite dish of the night was the fragrant duck special. Fragrant things (xiang liao) generally refers to cassia bark (similar to cinnamon), star anise, Sichuan pepper, cloves, and maybe cao guo (a dried fruit with a cardamom like flavor).
The duck itself is prepared by marinading a whole duck in these spices with some Shaoxing rice wine. The duck is steamed, cooled, then deep fried. This particular preparation was likely cut into serving pieces, then “fragrant fried” (tossed in a wok with oil to activate the spices), with a boat load of red chiles and Sichuan pepper, finally tossed with a lot of cilantro, mostly stems.
The large portion of whole duck was amazing, particulary the breast pieces – super crispy skin with a thick layer of duck fat that melted into the layer of tender duck beneath it with every bite. It wasn’t greasy, the ma la was in full effect, lots of heat from the chiles, but my mouth wasn’t on fire, partly thanks to the cooling effect from the cilantro.
It’s the best dish I’ve had at Tasty China.