My Heart’s Aflame For Chengdu Taste (My Mouth Too)

September 24, 2013 | By | COMMENTS

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This is the place. I’ve been in L.A. for two years, stalking my way around the San Gabriel valley, slurping noodles at Tasty Noodle House and tearing into salted egg yolk pastries at Sea Harbour. Secretly, I was looking for a place that would put our favorite New York Chinese restaurant, Grand Sichuan, to shame. The only thing that was in the same ballpark was Chung King where I went with Zach Brooks last year. It was ok, but it didn’t blow me out of the water. I’d pretty much let go of the idea of supplanting Grand Sichuan since most of my San Gabriel experiences were Cantonese. Then, last week, I met up with Ganda and Zach for lunch at a place that Kat Odell recommended during my podcast: Chengdu Taste. And the rest, as they say, is history.

What I was really looking for was a place to take Craig and our friends Mark and Diana to show off the superior Chinese food here on the west coast. My first attempt at that, Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village, was a total disaster. We were made to wait 90 minutes after being told 30 and others were shepherded in despite arriving after us. Craig blew a gasket at the table when they said they were out of soup dumplings. We left that experience with the Chinese food equivalent of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

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Chengdu Taste has a very different vibe. It’s bustling at lunch, but the service is warm and friendly. After Ganda, Zach and I placed our order, our waitress–who got a kick out of our selections (which included rabbit and dan dan noodles, served spicy, as intended)–offered to bring us over a free bowl of noodles. That’s what you see at the top of this post and they were a whopper of a thing. Spicy, slick and jam-packed with texture and flavor. I broke out into a sweat and it was just my first bite.

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What really did it for me, though, were the string beans. This was a standard staple for us at Grand Sichuan: “Dried sautéed string beans with pork.” Chengdu Taste puts the Grand Sichuan string beans to shame. A few reasons: these beans were remarkably fresh. They had a brightness and a verdancy that positively screamed California. Then there’s the matter of their preparation: the wok used must’ve been blazingly hot. The beans had a texture that could only happen when you put something in a vessel so hot, the outside is immediately charred and the inside wilts only slightly, remaining, as the Italians, would say “al dente.” The final balance of flavors–with chiles and soy sauce and pork–were totally in balance. I couldn’t stop eating these. They’re a marvel.

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Like good foodies, we ordered the Jonathan Gold-recommended Diced Rabbit with Younger Sister’s Secret Recipe. Gold’s description of the dish is, as usual, on the money: “utterly bony, buzzing with salty, fermented heat.” It’s funny, that description describes both what I liked and didn’t like about the dish. Bones? Didn’t really like (they were tricky to work around; I know, I know, I’m supposed to like gnawing at bones. But I don’t.). Flavor? Top notch. (Though, you should know, the dish is served cold. In case you don’t like cold rabbit.)

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The cumin lamb on toothpicks was my other favorite dish. The menu has two cumin lamb dishes and our waitress explained that one features lamb on toothpicks, the other doesn’t. We picked toothpicks. This made the lamb almost like a passed appetizer at a Bar Mitzvah and it was all the better for it. The lamb was moist on the inside, crisp on the outside, and punchy with cumin and chile flavors.

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Finally we ordered the dan dan noodles which the menu lists as “tan tan noodles.” These, too, were pretty special. The noodles themselves weren’t at all greasy; they tasted fresh from the water (I asked Ganda if she thought they were made in-house and she said no because of how uniform they all were). Still, they tasted like they were made in-house which is saying a lot. And once again, the balance of ingredients made these more dazzling than the greasier, over-saturated version I was used to eating in New York.

And that pretty much sums up Chengdu Taste: my favorite kind of Chinese food prepared with more care, more subtlety, and better technique than any similar meal I’ve had before. It’s, without question, my new favorite Chinese restaurant in California. I’m already planning my next trip back.

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Categories: California, Restaurant Reviews, San Gabriel Valley

  • Janice

    YAY! I moved from NY a long time ago and Chinese is the only cuisine that I have not found a replacement for. SGV, here I come!

  • http://www.shopdisowned.com/ dani

    Looking at that bowl of noodles makes me want to partake in a noodle bowl again tonight (despite the fact that it was my dinner yesterday lol).
    Looks amazing!!!!

    <3 dani
    http://blog.shopdisowned.com

  • http://la-oc-foodie.blogspot.com/ H.C.

    I loved the dishes of ChengDu Taste too, but not sure I’d want to wait in a crazy long line for it (hoping it’ll become more tolerable as the “J Gold Effect” wears down).

    Also, for me at least, there was also the case of getting *ahem* ChengDudu. I guess I could avoid that by going for the milder dishes, but that probably misses the point of going here.

    Oh yeah, sorry for TMI.

  • Marcella Lee

    Everything you described sounds right up my alley, especially the dan dan noodles. I agree that lots of bones are off-putting, even though they add flavor and authenticity. I love ordering the curried goat from my local Jamaican restaurant; the flavors are killer, but the amount of bones in the dish is a struggle.

  • Adrian Reynolds

    AG, the first pic also dan dan noodles?

  • Adam Amateur Gourmet

    Nope, she didn’t really tell us what they were. Somebody may have said “cellophane noodles” but I might be making that up.

  • aimeemao

    Those green beans are so amazing because they are deep fried before going in the wok! Sinful, but delicious…!

  • tunie

    Ahh…so that’s what’s happening there. They look different and more delicious than any green beans I’ve ever seen. Anyone interested in Chinese cuisine in Cali will really enjoy this read in Lucky Peach:

    http://lky.ph/post/49513967003/hua-hsu-wokking-the-suburbs

  • Anonymous

    I’m going to China next week and I so exited reading Your post. yum yum

  • Suzsqueak

    You have to try the boiled fish with green chilis, the next time you go there. It was amazing and the portion was enormous. There were so many fish fillets in the broth I though they had given us a double order and it was on most of the tables in the restaurant.

  • http://www.eatitatlanta.com jimmy

    Don’t think so. They call it “dry fried” which is cooked for a long time with a small amount of oil in a wok. They eventually wrinkle up like that.

  • Ganda Suthivarakom