To those Northern Virginia Changians who have been anxiously awaiting master chef Peter Chang's return to the land where he first became a cult figure, you might want to ponder these two words:

Whenever lease negotiations are finalized on the Oriental Gourmet space in Arlington, Chang plans to open a casual, more stripped-down version of his usual Sichuan experience, according to business partner Gen Lee. They even have a name selected: Peter Chang Wok. Expect a slightly smaller menu than the ones you find at Chang restaurants in Glen Allen or Charlottesville. We might even need to brace for the possibility that certain Chang touches, such as a basil chicken concealed in a fowl-foil skin (see photo below), will somehow be modified in the fast-casual setting.

Several factors apparently influenced Chang and Lee's decision to go fast casual in Arlington. First, a planned Rockville Town Square location caters to a more "high-end" customer, Lee says, and needs to be a full-service, sit-down operation. Second, the partners are looking in the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood for a 6,000-square-foot space that could, when finished, serve as Chang's fine-dining flagship. Those planned projects, plus others already operational in Virginia, wouldn't leave much bandwidth for the team to run another full-service restaurant.

"It's too much of a headache for a full-service restaurant," Lee says. In the same breath, though, Lee calls the Arlington project a "test case" to see how everything runs — and, presumably, how customers respond to it.

But before any woks are fired, Chang and Lee must first get a lease in hand. Negotiations have dragged out longer than either expected; this is starting to make them nervous since they have already put down a deposit to buy the business from Oriental Gourmet's owners. The situation has earned the chef a scolding from his own daughter, Lee jokes.

"You're supposed to get the lease first, then you buy the business!" Lee mimics Chang's daughter, Lydia Chang.

One of the reasons Chang and Lee decided to move on the Arlington space, Lee says, is because the Rockville project has encountered numerous delays. Chang and Lee had already assembled a kitchen team, and to keep them around until opening day, the partners have placed the cooks on the payroll and have been training them at other locations. It's costing them thousands of dollars a month. So they viewed the Arlington location as a solution: They could take over the space and, with a few cosmetic changes, put their cooks to work quickly under the Peter Chang banner.

That's still the plan, Lee says, once the lease is finalized. And when will the lease be finalized and the Arlington location open for business?

"Any minute," Lee says. Lee and Chang plan to redesign the Oriental Gourmet space in the evenings — replacing the carpets one night, updating the furniture the next — so Peter Chang Wok can get operational within a matter of days from the lease signing, instead of weeks. (Oriental Gourmet, by the way, remains open.)

As for Rockville, crews are already at work in the former Taste of Saigon space. Pending final inspections, Lee and Chang plan to open in Town Square by April 15.

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