For years, dedicated Changians had hoped their leader, master chef Peter Chang, would return to the Northern Virginia region where his spicy-and-numbing Sichuan cooking had transformed him into a cult figure. On Tuesday, Chang's followers received some welcome news: The former Chinese embassy chef would return to the D.C. area, but in Rockville, where he is expected to open the eponymous Peter Chang early next year.
Federal Realty Investment Trust, owners of Rockville Town Square, announced that Chang would open his first Maryland restaurant in a 3,100-square-foot space in the mixed-use development, already home to chains such as Five Guys, BonChon Chicken and Noodles & Company. The developer offered few details, not even an address for the forthcoming restaurant.
But on the phone from Las Vegas, where he now lives, Chang's business partner, Gen Lee, filled in some blanks. Chang's sixth restaurant will apparently take over the space currently occupied by Taste of Saigon at 20-A Maryland Ave. Taste of Saigon should be gone by November when Chang's team will take over the space and begin renovations. Lee hopes to open the 80-seat restaurant by January, if everything proceeds smoothly.
Lee confirms that Chang had been scouting locations in Northern Virginia, hoping to return to the area where the chef first made a name for himself in a quick succession of restaurants, constantly forcing his followers to search for Chang's whereabouts, like CIA spooks hunting for a top operative. (If you'll recall, Calvin Trillin recounted the Changians' pursuit of spiciness in his delightful 2010 New Yorker story, "Where's Chang?")
But Northern Virginia didn't pan out for Chang. Lee says the spaces he and the chef scouted were either too expensive or the wrong location. At the same time, Lee says, Federal Realty kept pursuing Chang for its Rockville property. The developer had already established a solid relationship with the chef in Charlottesville, where Chang opened his Peter Chang China Grill
Bistro in the Barracks Road Shopping Center owned by Federal Realty.
"They always loved us," Lee says. "They said, 'Why don't you open one in our center'" in Rockville?
The space, Lee says, is smaller than Chang would typically like and, as such, may require a pared-down menu compared to the ones at the chef's other restaurants. But Lee says many of Chang's favorite dishes will be available, including the duck in stone pot, scallion bubble pancake and other specialties. Chang is also expected to offer some home-style dishes in Rockville under the category, "Grandmother Home Cooking." The same dishes are set to debut at Chang's Charlottesville restaurant next month. (See the menu below.)
Lee describes the "grandmother" dishes as "very, very traditional" preparations in which the chef relies on fresh ingredients and basic techniques, the kind of cooking you would find at home, not typically at restaurants. It's part of Chang's plan to keep introducing American diners to more authentic styles of Chinese cooking, Lee says.