Anyone out looking for a bit of Sichuan tingle (minds out of the gutter, please) has already heard of Chengdu Taste, the recently opened San Gabriel Valley restaurant that is awash in tongue-numbing peppercorns. Formerly the Golden Shanghai on Valley Blvd., Chengdu Taste moved into the neighborhood swiftly, bringing a cloud of tweets and Instagram photos with it. Apparently, this is Sichuan cooking that hasn't been seen in a while.
You'd never know it just from walking in, though. The monochrome walls, birdcage lighting and hanging opera masks look more like a movie set version of a Chinese restaurant than the actual thing. Even the wooden chairs have been hastily pulled from the back lot art department; and the coffee cup logos carved into each seat are more Central Perk than Chengdu Taste. Still, the place has an amiable attitude, with a kind waitstaff willing to wade through the finer points of the peppery menu.
Speaking of which, Chengdu Taste is a heat lover's heaven. The plastic menu pages are littered with little chile icons, the international sign for tongue-searing tastes. Check the “crawfish and crab” section for seafood with a seriously spicy kick, or basically anything under the ominously-titled “Mom's Preserved Chili.” If you're really feeling dangerous, move to the “Special Orders” section, which require a day's notice, but carry the dreaded — or coveted, depending on your perspective — three chile icons. Order at your own risk, and don't say the menu didn't warn you.
Most every other dish exists somewhere in the gray area between mild and mind-melting. The noodle dishes can be mixed in with the peppery sauces at your leisure, which means the more intrepid diners at the table can bear the brunt of the furnace if need be. But for some entrees, like the wontons with pepper sauce, there is no escaping the tingle.
Many are underlined by the little red and green balls of numbing goodness known as Sichuan peppercorns. They exist in a place beyond heat, where all that's left is the slightly prickly dance of an anesthetized mouth. It's sort of like falling asleep on your arm, then waking up with a good-but-bad-but-good tingle in your muscles from a lack of blood flow. That's what Chengdu Taste will give you: a starry, dazed palate that's been overwhelmed by sauces, spices and oils from a region in China so famous for the stuff, it's become recognized as a UNESCO gastronomy site. Chengdu Taste hasn't yet earned their own UNESCO status in the few weeks they've been open, but with a growing fan base and focused kitchen pushing out quality of regional delights, a petition in their favor seems only a matter of time.
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