January 20, 2014

Chengdu Taste, Alhambra

Chengdu Taste has become a popular dining destination on Valley Blvd in Alhambra. The hour plus wait could give Boiling Crab, just down the street, a run for their money. At 11:30am on a Saturday, the wait was already one hour for this decent sized restaurant with a maximum occupancy of 55 people. Popular items one would expect to find at a restaurant like this are all there, on the 100+ item menu. Don't worry if you're dining with heat intolerant friends, the menu had several non spicy dishes including eggplant with garlic sauce and wonton soup. 

Although, if you're looking for intense levels of numbing spiciness, this is not the restaurant for you. Compared to the dishes I tasted in Chengdu, China, the heat level at Chengdu Taste is considerably milder and dishes are lightly sprinkled with chili peppers. Regardless of your heat tolerance, Chengdu Taste is wroth a visit. The dishes are well balance and brought us back to the flavors of this region in China. 

Being our first visit, we let our waiter guide us in our selection and he did not steer us in the wrong. 

Mung bean noodle with chili sauce
This simple yet complex dish was the perfect start to our meal. The mung bean noodles are slippery, thick and soak up all the flavors of the house made chili sauce. The sauce is a mixture of oil, Sichuan peppercorn, chili peppers, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, soy beans, garlic and probably a handful of other ingredients. Sweet, tangy, spicy and salty all perfectly balanced made this sauce addicting. Unfortunately, the restaurant does not sell it by the jar, even though they should. This is a must order and don't make the mistake of sharing it with everyone at the table. 

Boiled fish with green peppers
Don't let the Serrano peppers and Sichuan peppercorns scare you off. The filets do not pick up as much of the spiciness as you might expect. The fish was light, tender and flaky. The broth was infused with the numbing flavor of the Sichuan peppercorns. And below all the fish were bean sprouts and bamboo shoots that added a clean flavor to the dish. 

Toothpick cumin lamb
The cumin lamb is probably the most popular dish at the restaurant. The reason they put toothpicks in each piece of lamb is to prevent it from sticking together during the cooking process. Each piece of lamb is generously coated in cumin with sprinkles of chili peppers. The lamb was tender, juicy and slightly fatty. It's easy to loose track of how many you've eaten until you see the pile of toothpicks in front of you.

Griddle cooked beef 
The idea of this dish is to cook your protein of choice with a variety of vegetables. This version was beef slices cooked with cucumbers, mushrooms, celery, onion, lotus root and potatoes. The dish had a little heat from the peppers and a lot of flavor from the beef. The vegetables were nice and crunchy, with the exception of the mushrooms, which soaked up the savory sauce in the dish. Don't be alarmed by the amount of oil in the dish. The flavored oil is what gives this dish its wonderful pepper taste. 

The food did not disappoint and my tongue appreciated the lower heat level. Jonathan Gold was spot on when he described the food at Chengdu Taste as "lighter, cleaner and less likely to wake you up in the middle of the night with chile-oil induced nightmares."

Chengdu Taste
828 West Valley Blvd
Alhambra, CA 91803

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