By now you may already know that waiting for a table during peak hours at the insanely popular Chengdu Taste in Alhambra is the equivalent of languishing away at a disaster relief center while hoping against all hope that someone will come give you nourishment. The hungry humanity is manifold. The wait is long (upwards of two hours). But, the prize is a taste of Chengdu.
Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan province in Southern China and is famous for its spicy fare. Although not quite the scorched tongue policy of Sichuan cuisine in Chongqing, the food still holds respectable heat without sacrificing actual flavor.
A good example of this balanced heat can be experienced in Chengdu Taste’s hot pot or, as it is known at the restaurant, “Boiling Meat in Sichuan Style Special Hot Sauce.” (Many of Chengdu Taste’s menu selections carry quirky names.)
Unlike some Sichuan hot pots, Chengdu Taste’s fiery brew doesn’t arrive bubbling like a witch’s cauldron, however, the contents might resemble things a witch might toss into one. Ingredients like chitterling, beef tripe, and purple blocks of coagulated duck blood (euphemized as “red tofu”) make up the offal portion of the hot pot. Tender wisps of beef and salty Chinese ham with the texture of miniature cushions account for the other meats and practically melt in your mouth.
The red broth is murky, oily, and dotted with chili flakes. Initially the spiciness will sting, but the flavor rapidly fades into something complex and savory. Hot pot and steamed rice go together like milk and cookies, so the Chinese love to eat it that way. Hot pot is not a soup but really a dish designed to make rice go down deliciously.
If the Sichuan cuisine you know involves only pain, give Chengdu Taste a try and discover how pain can also be really, really tasty.
Chengdu Taste, 828 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, 626-588-2284.