Chengdu Taste has been forefront on my radar ever since I got a note from QAW saying it very easily could have been the best Sichuan meal he has had in a very long time. And special thanks to fellow CHer Steve Drucker for getting us a reservation (I don't think there is an official "reservation policy" but Steve having a friend who spoke Mandarin secure us a table).
Let me start with what I perceived as the only con of the meal which is atmosphere. There is none. The room is fairly sterile and chaotic. Not in a bad way chaotic but rather waiters constantly buzzing tables and the endless procession of people trying to secure tables (when we left there were easily 10 people inside the restaurant and an additional 20-30 outside). I did not count the amount of tables inside the restaurant but my guess is close to 8 four tops and a smattering (3-ish) of 6/8 tops.
We were originally suppose to be a gathering of 8 people but as does happen in Vegas, three of the eight opted out last minute. I will try and minimize the blow by blow details of each bite and list the dishes we had.
Wonton in spicy chili oil. One of the best I have had anywhere. Perfect balance of sweet spicy tingly goodness. Originally 1 ordered and so good we ordered another.
Mung bean jelly in chili oil (chilled). I have never had nor have wanted to have mung bean jelly. That has now changed going forward. This was a delightful dish with the mung bean jelly like soft strands of udon noodles. I am certainly not a veteran of this dish but those that are considered this to be an excellent version.
Sliced beef and tripe salad (chilled) in chili oil. Again, excellent. I have had only one better and it is the one at Nan Xiang in Flushing. I will say that the Nan Xiang version is more of a sledge hammer of flavors while CTs version is very well balanced and nuanced.
Cumin lamb on tooth picks. I think this is CTs signature dish, and rightfully so. Perfectly spiced, cooked too perfection little bites of lamb shoulder. Like the wontons, these were so good another round was ordered.
Braised fish and silky tofu in chili oil. This was ordered because the green chili oil version was not available this evening (along with the duck tongue). This was a good dish with good spice levels and flavors but a distant 2nd to my favorite version from Cafe China in NYC. Very good but not great.
Diced rabbit in mother-in-law sauce. While many at the table loved the ingredients of this dish, for me and a couple others, the rabbit was sooooo boney it took the pleasure out of eating this dish. The flavors were excellent (chili oil, scallions and other veggies I believe) and again the balance of heat was perfect. It's just those darn bones…
Crisped rice with shrimp. This was a very interesting dish and not at all what I was expecting. The rice was more puffed that was crispy. Like all the other dishes this was well balanced with a tinge more sweetness and a level higher in spice, mostly because of the fact that I ate the peppers (dried red chili and serrano).
Ma Po Tofu. QAW had extolled the virtues of this dish so there was no chance we would not order it. My experience with Ma Po tofu in the past has never been good so I was a little hesitant to try. But at a meal like this you HAVE to try everything at least once. Thank God I did. What a wonderful dish. Nice textures, the tofu headlining (we commented that a bit more silky, fresher would make it even better) with the minced pork and sauce perfectly complementing.
Fried rice. Cmon, seriously! Who orders fried rice at a place like this? Make sure you order the fried rice here!!! WOW! I'm not 100% sure which version we ordered (QAW help me out if you'd be so kind) but my guess is we ordered the Chengdu Style fried rice. Everything about this rice was perfect. Texture, flavor, spice…EVERYTHING. It's fried rice so don't expect a life changing dish but it was one of the best I have had. Perfectly complementary to the entire meal.
Sichuan Potatoes. Think potato chip, almost. Fried twice and perfectly spiced. Without a doubt get these as a side. A wonderful plate.
Stir fried greens with garlic (maybe a watercress???). They did not have the snow pea leaves so we left it in the hands of our waiter, who was simply wonderful and patient! Like the potatoes, a great dish and a perfect side for the meal.
So in short, as long as you are not one of those diners that need an Adam Tihany designed room, constant adoration from the waitstaff and don't need the owner to fawn all over you, RUN to Chengdu Taste, do not walk. My advice is to go early (we arrived at 6pm and the place was 3/4s full and 15 minutes later there was a line) and order often. This places is a must!