Hot, Numb and Happening
To truly experience a Chinese dinner, gather up some friends and dine family-style, because one dish cannot sum up the thrilling ride and dazzling fu he wei, the complex flavors, of Sichuan cuisine.
Peter Chang China Café's 80-item menu makes that ride possible. I suggest ordering at least one mild, one sweet (or sweet and sour), one hu la scorched chili, and one ma la dish. The simultaneously hot (la) and numbing (ma) characteristic is the hallmark of Sichuan cooking. It's the result of marrying chilies with Sichuan peppers, the fruit of the prickly-ash bush that creates a tingling, buzzing sensation on your lips and tongue, whose antidotes are something creamy or sweet, not water.
Located in the same Short Pump strip mall as a Wal-Mart, Peter Chang's is bright and pleasant with pastel walls, photos of Chinese landscapes and silk flowers on ledges, along with colorful silk butterflies suspended from the ceiling. Reservations are advisable; on a recent Tuesday night the dining room was packed and a dozen diners were waiting outside. A note on the window indicates the restaurant is suspending takeout orders for now.