Omnivore - Lunch at Peter Chang's

After 16 dishes, the mystery only deepens

I went back to Peter Chang's for lunch Monday with seven friends. We ordered about 12 dishes, bringing my total sampling there to 16 dishes.

I expected, after so many different tastes, that my mind would finally wrap itself around Chang's cooking. Instead, just as many others have said, the more I eat, the more baffled I become. It's like some kind of metaphysical exercise: the more you learn, the less you feel like you know. So you want more.

A few things crossed my mind during lunch. Numero Uno is that Chang's cooking is not nearly as fiery as I expected or remembered from my one meal at Tasty China. Two of my friends are hyper-sensitive to spicy food and and had no difficulty with it. Another was quite disappointed that it was not hotter.

I'm not sure why that was so, unless it was extensive use of mala, the Sichuan sauce that contains numbing peppers as well as hot chilies. I found the heat moderate during my earlier visit too. Is Chang is cooling it down for the sensitive?

Another surprise was being served dishes that were somewhat deviant from their description by the menu or the server. I actually asked my server if she could ask Chang to send out whatever he liked. She replied that "our kitchen doesn't work that way"...unless you don't ask for that, apparently. The deviation was minor in most cases, but a heap of broccoli with one dish was an unexpected and unpleasant substitute.

Check out "Grazing" later this week for more.