We returned to Tasty China twice. The first time in September was when Peter Chang was rumored to be back and in October, it had been confirmed that he had indeed returned. Both times, but particularly the second, the food was excellent and the place has become one of our favorite places to eat. Well with one caveat (to be discussed later).
The food came out surprisingly fast. And that's not even speaking relative to last time's disaster. Granted there were less people in the restaurant, but the waitresses seemed to be different from last time and actually competent at running things: getting tea, chopsticks, dishes, bill, etc.
Pumpkin balls （南华并）- Deep-fried mochi balls, pretty similar to the kind you get in dimsum, except this was filled with red bean paste and the sticky rice mochi had a slight tint of pumpkin. Pretty tasty stuff, mainly because the things were freshly fried, not oily, and just the right balance of filling, mochi and batter.
Roast fish with scallions - Really fragrant, smelled nice as they placed it on our tables. Not sure why it's described as roast fish, when in fact, it's deep-fried. The fish is covered in a bit of batter, with salt, cumin and hot peppers being the main flavors. Just nicely executed. Enough spiciness to give things some heat, but not enough to overwhelm the subtlety in other flavors. Basil, hot pepper
Golden ribs - Also nice. Piled on by some crunchy bits, that are seafoody - I want to say some deep-fried bonito flakes, an interesting play against the ribs, which are fairly lightly flavored (perhaps a slight tinge of savory/sweetness combination)
Beef, tofu and chili - Surprisingly not as insane as it looks. I'm always surprised to see that the glowing orange hot oil does not have as bad of a kick as I think it should have. With the tofu, it reminds me of mapo tofu, except instead of ground meat, it has tender slices of beef and an emphasis on the subtle spiciness of red chili peppers and sichuan peppercorns.
Certainly, a solid dining experience. But given what all of the write-ups of dining experiences with Peter Chang, I was expecting one of those masochist/pleasurable experiences like I've had previously with Sichuan food: the chili's slow-burn that crescendoes to the point where your lips, tongue, gums, teeth are pulsating, your stomach is packed full, you are sweating from the heat ... yet your brain thinks it's been a great dining experience and wishes your stomach could just fit one last small bite in. I just did not quite encounter that intellectual dilemna here. Certainly, we will have to return to see things improve from here.
Just a very good dining experience.
Tofu skin in spicy oil (麻辣腐皮) - Nice stuff. Seemingly fresh tofu skins (versus I guess dried and re-moisturized stuff?) with a good kick. Cilantro a nice variation in texture and flavor. We were slightly sniffling after this one (the way spicy foods tend to give you the sniffles), but in a good way.
Steamed fish with pepper (Special) - Certainly, look-wise, it's a total WTF?!? But its looks were a lot more deadly than it actually was, particularly, since we started transferring the hot peppers out.
Once you get past the mountain of baked chili's (The fiancee thought they just put the entire bowl, covered, directly over the stove, which resulted in the chili's on top to dry out), there were some juicy fish pieces with a lovely soaked in pepper flavor without too much heat. There was almost like a black peppercorn taste that had seeped completely throughout the fish pieces, also with hints of the red pepper flavor. The broth itself was great; intellectually it made sense that it was some sort of fish stock, but it was far richer than I thought a fish stock could get, so I'm not sure if some pork or heavier stock was added or whether that's just some amazing fish stock.
Beef with Pancake - This was listed on the specials menu and had a deceptively simple name. It was ground beef with jalapeno's (seeds removed), scallions and onions. The "pancakes" were more like a plain version of the sesame bread that they also serve here. Not as spicy as it would seem, given the sheer amount of chili's, kind of tasty like beef and green pepper stir-fry combination, except with the spiciness amped up.
This certainly was a very good meal and service was also smooth and responsive, in spite of how busy things were that night.
After these two good meals, we no longer really fear not having a good meal, food-wise or service-wise. The only real hesitation that I mentioned above is that my stomach apparently does not appreciate all of the chili pepper flavors. The day after both of the meals, I was became bff's with our toilet and by that I mean I was sitting on the toilet (as opposed to ralphing). My fiancee who comes from an area of China, where they eat spicier foods, was perfectly fine. But next time we go, I am going to have to bring some soy milk or something to tamp down the chili's.
Update Feb 14, 2010
To celebrate Chinese New Years, we decided to go to a Chinese restaurant. But despite it being both Chinese New Years and Valentine's day, the story of the night was the service.
It was a complete and utter disaster that night. Throughout the evening, all customers (with the exception for of one drunken table) were just waiting, frantically looking for the waitresses and having to repeatedly make their requests for service. Meanwhile the service stuff frantically ran around, forgetting more requests for service on each trip from the kitchen than actually fulfilling them.
We waited 20 minutes before we got a chance to order. Others were waiting a good 20-40 minutes for their bill or to pack up their food. Some customers left waiting to be seated, left in a huff, since the service-staff didn't even seem to acknowledge them at all.
Occasionally, we heard the manager yelling at the waittresses or staff behind the scenes.
If it weren't for the drunken party celebrating a birthday there, loudly laughing and talking, the mood, I suspect, would have been much much more angry.
Strangely, our food seemed to come out incredibly quickly, with the exception of one dish, which apparently got served to the wrong table.
The main issue we faced was that we did not receive water or tea for over an hour and only managed to receive it after numerous repeated requests. Which is probably the worst thing to happen when eating Sichuan food. Even more frustrating was watching other tables around us being served tea and water, when we had come in before them.
We ended up hearing the story behind the service fiasco when we commiserated with other customers. Apparently one of the waitresses had dropped the birthday cake that was brought by the party celebrating at the restaurant that night. As a result, one of the waitresses had to drive out to get a replacement cake, causing everything to back-log and things to get absolutely mad-house.
However, judging from other customers' comments of their previous experiences and our own experience last time, where we had to wait for 20 minutes just to pay our bill (in which I ended up just waiting at the cash register), it seemed like both the manager and waitresses need some retraining in service. It was just horribly inefficiently.
Which was too bad. The food was decent and certainly if service could have gotten it together, this would have been a relatively positive experience.
Shan City Chicken (山城辣鸡) Despite the sheer number of chili peppers, the chicken itself did not have that much heat. The batter was a mixture of salt, garlic and chili pepper flavor and some pieces seemed to get more flavoring than others. For something fried, this was very non-oily. There was, however, a good proportion of batter to chicken, such that with certain pieces, you couldn't even tell this was chicken.
Braised fish w/ soft tofu in hot chili oil (水煮豆花鱼) - Decent. Fish nice and soft along with the soft tofu. A decent amount of heat but not overwhelmingly hot. There were also crunchy soy nuts, I think.
Dry-fried green beans (干？四季豆) A little on the salty side, with some other flavoring (a bean sauce?)
Sesame bread (蓟马大饼) A large bread, probably 1-2 inches thick that had been pan fried in some light sesame and cumin flavoring. This was the dish that got sent to the wrong table and to add insult to injury, we had finished our meal, by the time we received the bread.
I get that service is a difficult thing, but when it was this bad, something really needs to change. I have heard about a few other decent Sichuan places near the Buford Highway and we will be trying those other places out before returning here anytime soon.
I really didn't know what to expect of this Tasty China, after reading about some of the breathless praises of its former star chef, Peter Chang. New chefs have since taken over the kitchen, but the word was that dishes still had a high level of quality.
Unfortunately, we suspect we may have misordered, since we ended up getting 3 appetizer sized dishes.
Fish Cilantro (Corriander) Spring Roll (香菜鱼茸卷)- Freshly deep-fried is always a plus. But perhaps if there was more filling, I would be more impressed. I did catch small glimpses of the fish and cilantro flavors, but it was mostly the crunchy wrapper that I tasted.
Dry Fried Eggplant w/ Hot & Numbing sauce (干煸茄子) - These things being described as french fries was a spot-on. A nice crunch to the outside, contrasting with the soft oozing eggplant texture inside. Would definitely ask for it less salty next time, since in addition to the minor kick, there was the salt kick as well.
Husband & Wife (夫妻肺片) - Thin beef and tendon slices in a spicy, sichuan peppercorn sauce. This is the Sichuan stuff that has that slow burn that continues to build up as you eat more. Nicely done. (Sigh. I inexplicably managed to neglect taking a picture of this dish.)
Certainly these dishes were solidly done. And we left the restaurant full, but because of the particular dishes we order, it felt oddly unsatisfying, eating the equivalent of 3 appetizers. I'm sure we'll make our way back sometime and hopefully next time, we pick dishes more sagely.
585 Franklin Road Southeast Marietta, GA 30067-7760 (Map)