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THE WEEKLY DISH

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

TOM SIETSEMA

ATTENTION, HEAT-SEEKING DINERS: Once a chef at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Peter Chang went on to seduce fire-eaters with his boldly seasoned food at China Star in Fairfax followed by TemptAsian Cafe in Alexandria. Earlier this month, Chang relocated to China Gourmet (9901 Lee Hwy., Fairfax; 703-293-9898), where the local food mafia and in-the-know Chinese diners began swarming as soon as they discovered the whereabouts of the talented 42-year-old chef.

Last week, I was among the lemmings there, though Chang's new boss, Jerry Lan , didn't make it easy for me to reacquaint myself with the chef's cooking. Upon being seated I was handed a menu that looked like a standard-issue, Chinese American lineup of dishes. "I didn't drive an hour from Washington in rush-hour traffic for General Tso's chicken and a Zombie cocktail!" I mentally protested. When I asked the waiter if there was another menu, he left and returned with three sheets of paper that turned out to be a list of dishes with Chang's stamp on them. "This is our translation from the Chinese," he shared. "The new menu will be out soon."

The couple at the next table didn't know to ask for an alternative menu when they arrived, and they stared longingly as my table became crowded with the dishes I had enjoyed at Chang's previous places of employment: peanuts boiled in vinegar, wine and hot peppers. Sliced chilled beef, fragrant with five-spice powder. Rich "salty duck." Scallion pancakes, as puffed up as balloons until I ripped into them and they released a blast of hot air. "My, that looks good," the man next to me remarked. "It is! It is!" I replied. "Be sure to ask for the 'other' menu next time."

Lan expects to have a new sign out front -- Szechuan Boy is Chang's clever idea for the name of the restaurant, he says -- and a fresh, fully translated menu on hand sometime this week. Maybe then I'll take the opportunity to find out what "Husband-and-Wife Lung Slices" taste like.

Entrees $6.50-$13.95.

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