Tea and Water
Red Chili Chicken Skewer
Pork with Garlic Sauce
Beef with Crispy Rice Crust
Guess Guess Shrimp
Sauteed Wild Yam – Black Fungus and Bell Peppers
Toothpick Lamb with Cumin
Dip Fried Chicken Cube – Double Fried, Double Peppers, Boneless
Tan Tan Noodle
Dry Stir Fried Pig’s Intestine
BYODessert by Hexx
Finding that previous sensitivities to heat have significantly been blunted over the past year and a half, a number of factors potentially at play, it was while dining at Yunnan Garden next door that a plan was hatched to gather up a group for dinner at California import Chengdu Taste on Schiff Road, eleven of twelve original invitees sitting down at a round table around 5:30 near the back of the room.
Originally opened in the San Gabriel Valley around 2013, and written about by Jonathan Gold with verbiage that has read like an ode to Chengdu-style cooking ever since, it was over a year ago that the family-owned affair began to expand its reach outside California and with locations now in both Nevada and Hawaii the mini-chain has shown no signs of slowing down, though a look at the current menu does show some adaptation to the local palate.
Famed for its heavy use of all-things pepper, the taste of Chiles in many forms ubiquitous in all but a few dishes where the sweetness of Bell Peppers are better suited, those entering Chengdu taste will find the setting familiar with a tight kitchen offset to the left of entry while the dining room spreads outward, accolades and a few decorations on the wall plus seating for perhaps a hundred available with a menu containing a near-equal number of items.
Considered one of the lightest styles of Chinese cooking, the lack of starchy carbohydrates as the base of most dishes seeing many items served with Sauce or Broth, it was with several items already in mind that an order of ten items was written in pen on a guest check and divided into two rounds, the sever at first interpreting this as the group wanting some now and the rest to-go, but quickly understanding the intent and doing a beautiful job of making sure that Water as well as Tea were always full and that the table was never over-burdened.
Trying best to place ‘milder’ dishes first, the vivid aromatics of Sichuan peppercorn first perfuming the air and later causing its characteristic numbing effect while Chili Oil is restrained in favor of dried or fresh Chiles, an opening bowl described as “Red Chili Chicken Skewer” was soon presented as a chilled dish with several skewers emerging from intimidating red murkiness, the rubber band’s removal liberating everything from Black Fungus and Wild Yam to Feet and Gizzards, a veritable ‘choose your own adventure’ dish that was well received and quick to leave lips tingling in anticipation of what was to come.
Consuming a lot of water throughout the evening, others packing in mountains of White Rice to quell the heat, both the thinly sliced Pork with Garlic Sauce and bowl of Peppercorn-laden Tan Tan Noodles were portioned far smaller than other plates and generally not as interesting in terms of their concept compared to other local places, the Beef with Crispy Rice Crust and “Guess Guess Shrimp” taking a completely opposite slant by offering enough to feed at least two with the starch provided by what was best described as “savory Rice Krispie Treats” and Wok-tossed French Fries, respectively.
Rounding out the opening act with slippery Wild Yam on a large plate with tender Black Fungus and crisp Bell Peppers, course two first featured the aforementioned Noodles and Toothpick Lamb with Cumin, the later quite frankly looking like something straight out of horror film and completely saturating the air within seconds, but in reality a beautiful plate of gamey Meat that is boldly accented and perfectly tender with built-in finger food convenience.
Passing on the Pork Intestines next door, but this time finding the group more agreeable to taking a chance, Chengdu Taste’s Offal comes in several varieties including hot pots, stone bowls and stir fry, the later rendering previously the previously dehydrated guts crisp on the outside but tender within amidst both Bell Peppers and Dried Chiles while the Sauteed Eggplant comes in a deep bowl filled with Sauce that is one part sweet and one part warming, the “Dip Fried Chicken Cube” offered bone-in or deboned essentially Chongqing Spicy Chicken that is not quite as crisp as the one next door, but still very worthwhile thanks to both the juiciness of the bird and a substantial amount of smokiness.
THREE AND A HALF STARS: A bit more pricey than Yunnan Garden, but at the same time also featuring better service, Chengdu Taste has a lot to offer in terms of menu variety, the best bet being to gather up a large group of adventurous diners and order based on whatever sounds best with relative assurance that all of it will be spicy, but not the sort of spice that will have you up all night in gastrointestinal distress.
RECOMMENDED: Red Chili Chicken Skewer, Beef with Crispy Rice Crust, Guess Guess Shrimp, Toothpick Lamb with Cumin, Dry Stir Fried Pig’s Intestine.
AVOID: Tan Tan Noodles and Pork with Garlic Sauce were fine, but not on par with the rest.
TIP: Reservations are available by phone, and recommended on Friday and Saturday nights when a wait is common. No desserts offered, thanks to Ari for the Hexx Chocolates, now featuring the Dominican Republic.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor.