Chinese master chef Peter Chang has abandoned plans to open a fine-dining restaurant in the Navy Yard and has instead signed a lease for an 8,000-square-foot space for a similar project in Bethesda. Gen Lee, Chang's long-time business partner, says the change boiled down to location and economics.
"This one is a much better location and much [more] affordable price," said Lee via telephone. "It's a reasonable price. We were looking for a total of 8,000 square feet."
"This place gave us a lot of allowance" money for the expected $1 million-plus build-out, Lee added. "They really want us there."
As first reported by Bethesda magazine, Chang will open on the ground floor of the LEED-certified 4500 East-West Highway building. Qijian by Peter Chang will be the first restaurant wholly owned by the chef, Lee said. His other restaurants all have partners, including Lee, who's serving as a consultant with Qijian.
The goal of Qijian (Mandarin for "flagship") is to elevate Chang's cooking to fine-dining status, while stripping away any fusion that has crept into the chef's food. The restaurant will likely be divided into a 5,000-square-foot main dining room and kitchen as well as a smaller, 2,000-square-foot space. The larger room will offer an a la carte menu dedicated to more upscale interpretations — think: high-quality ingredients and more refined platings — of the fare found at Chang's current restaurants.
The smaller space is expected to include a tasting-menu experience, one Lee compares to José Andrés's Minibar, where the James Beard Award-nominated Chang will roll out a highly refined series of Sichuan and other provincial dishes. "Just to show off," Lee said with a laugh.
Both dining rooms, however, will not tone down the dishes for the D.C. market. "I tell Peter, "We make a good living now. We really got to think about real, authentic Chinese food to go along with the fusion'," Lee said. "We're going to pull back again to real, real, real grandma's cooking."
The split concept, Lee said, should prevent Qijian from suffering the indignity of Secret Chopsticks: Chinese chef Robin Li's restaurant, which featured only pricey tasting menus, closed after a tumultuous three-month run in Rosslyn.
Qijian is expected to open in April, Lee said. Aside from the two dining concepts under one roof, the restaurant will also feature an expansive craft bar program, a relative rarity in the world of Chinese cuisine. Once Qijian opens, you can expect Peter Chang, the chef once famous for his peripatetic ways, to settle down in the D.C. suburb.
"He will be there day and night," Lee said.