With the opening of the 8,000-square-foot Q by Peter Chang in a glass-wrapped office building in Bethesda, fans of the peripatetic chef now have 10 places in the Mid-Atlantic to explore Chang’s personal style of Chinese cooking.
Admirers of the food created by the one-time chef of the Chinese Embassy are streaming in with high hopes, fanned in part by a name intended to set the $2 million, 200-seat project apart from the collection.
Q stands for qijian, which refers to “flagship” or “home” in Mandarin, says Gen Lee, the chef’s consultant.
As such, there await a host of new things to eat: Peking duck, coral fish, dim sum on weekends — “a little more of everything,” says Lee, who gave Chang this advice: “Don’t stay behind the wok anymore.” Pay attention to plates going out into the dining room, in other words. Supporting the cause in the kitchen are nearly 20 cooks, mostly Chinese, says Lee.
That Peking duck, served as an appetizer, could use some intervention by Chang. Carved in the kitchen, the fowl, served with a sweet garlic sauce, has twice arrived at my table tepid, and one time on the dry side.
More of a show is the aforementioned coral fish: scored snapper, dipped in cornstarch batter, deep-fried and displayed on a pool of red sauce that strikes a nice balance between sweet and sassy. (Picture Cheetos springing out from a fish carcass.) The crunchy ribbons taste mostly of batter, but that doesn’t stop pals and me from mindlessly denuding the sculpture. Spying the dish on our table, a hostess tells us Chang practiced scoring on newspapers back in his cooking school days, real fish being too expensive.
“Vegetable box” looks like thin slices of meatloaf with gravy. In reality, it’s one of my favorite meat-free dishes: kerchiefs of pan-fried, steamed tofu skin wrapped around minced water chestnuts, carrots and more and finished with a sauce teased from mushrooms. A frame of crisp bok choy lends the sepia plate some welcome shade.
The dim sum I’ve dispatched makes me want to book more time at Q on weekends. The pearly shrimp dumplings and the juicy, roe-topped pork shumai prove best-in-class, as does the glossy steam bun stuffed with slightly sweet bits of chicken. See-through vegetable dumplings, staged on a pandan leaf, pick up heat from their spicy garlic sauce.
Some of the food will be familiar to Changians. I, for one, am happy to round out fresh ideas here with, say, tried and true dry fried eggplant or shaved double-cooked pork spiked with hot chili paste.
Q is the chef’s largest and most stylish dining room yet. Green, the color of life, radiates from menus and booths alike, while the perimeters of the space are dressed up with laser-cut wall accents. Light boxes the size of elevators hang from the ceiling; private rooms should have zero problem finding parties to animate them.
Given Chang’s track record, I figure time will smooth some wrinkles, one of which should be easy to erase.
Would someone — anyone — please pick up the phone when customers call?
4500 East-West Highway, Bethesda. 240-800-3772. qbypeterchang.com. Dinner entrees, $16 to $28.
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