And the verdict?
Chengdu Taste is good. It is real good. But America’s finest? That is bold. The US is probably the best place outside of China where to sample great Sichuan fare and competition is fierce from cities like New York, Philadelphia (Han Dynasty, we are talking to you) and San Francisco, where this regional style of Chinese cooking has had a bigger following than in La-La Land. But perhaps the spinning community tables of Chinese numbing delights are starting to turn? By the look of the food at Chengdu Taste, it is definitely up there with the best. The dan dan noodles are great although they are outshined by the magic mung bean jelly noodles with chilli sauce. They are really the perfect cold dish to start off a dinner with. Then there is the kung pao - the Sichuan classic that has been so wrongfully mistreated by American Chinese take-outs through the years that no sane cook between Beijing and Baltimore would ever take credit for its grotesque appearance and taste. Here it is however far from that soggy mush of sugar and cornstarch, being poured over year-old peanuts and ill-fried chicken fillets. Instead a plate of vigorous poultry simmers beautifully in a blend of mala freshness and earthy nuttiness. For long a lost treasure OF the Dark Ages, this dish has now reached its renaissance.
Most memorable is however the house signature toothpick lamb with cumin. Not a traditional Sichuan dish per se, these small succulent pieces of meat on a stick take influence from the northwestern Xinjiang region where the cooking tradition is formed heavily by muslim culture and the historical ties with the Silk Road commerce. The Quest could dedicate a lifetime to these juicy bits. In fact, an extra portion was ordered to go and stored in the fridge between the seats of the rental SUV that drove happily home down the freeway.
If the finest Sichuan restaurant is still up for debate, these little nibbles are not. They are the best toothpicks of lamb with cumin in America.