I haven’t exactly been shy about the fact that despite a prime location near the Pacific ocean, Seattle remains without world class Chinese food, unlike Vancouver and San Francisco to the north and south respectively. That said, at least when it comes to Szechuan food, we do have some solid spots. World class? No. Very good? Yes. If you don’t feel like heading all the way to wastelands of the eastside for Szechuan Chef, you can head north to Chiang’s Gourmet. Chiang’s has all the charms you would expect from an establishment that occupies a former A&W restaurant. But if you’re going to Chinese food for the decor, then maybe you’re already happy with the Chinese food Seattle has to offer. (That said… the red and black leather banquettes are iconic at least.)
Standouts at this particular meal include the hot and sour soup which had a really clean flavor. The vinegar was present but not overpowering. Sometimes balance is difficult in hot and sour soup. Kung Pao chicken was beautiful to behold. So many Chinese restaurants oversauce their dishes. Here the sauce is thick and almost gritty in a good way. It sticks to the meat and vegetables like the food will stick to your ribs. Tender juicy chicken chunks coated in spice and just the right amount of oil will make you very happy. The Dry Sauteed String Beans feel the most authentic to me (based on my limited understanding of what Szechuan authenticity is like). This signature coating of enormous quantities of minced sauteed garlic. At first you think there was a spill in the kitchen. But then you know that this is serious business. Garlic is competing with the string beans for the role of main ingredient. It’s not a fair fight.
And finally… potstickers.
Why this deceptively simple concoction of steamed and then pan-fried dough wrapped around a little ball of ground pork should hold such a grip on my imagination, I don’t honestly know. Should I be ashamed of being so in love with a cliche of Americanized Chinese food? There are a few foods that show up in almost every culture. Dough wrapped around meat is one of those cornerstones of almost every cuisine. And while ravioli, kreplach, mandu, gyoza, and pelmeni are good, it’s the potsticker (or the Chinese Ravioli as I called it growing up — apparently according to wikipedia this is a strictly Boston phenomenon) — that outstrips them all. The potstickers at Chiang’s Gourmet are able representatives of their species with slightly thicker definitely not greasy shells, and flavorful fillings. I happily ate every last one.
Those red and black leather banquettes may be from a bygone age of restauranting [sic], but I’d happily settle into one of them, surrounded by the bustling and crowded (in a good way) family-run/family-attended environment of Chiang’s Gourmet any time.