by Brent Lee
It seems to me there are two types of Chinese restaurants in DC. Some offer a more Americanized version of Chinese food; hot and sour soup, kung pao chicken, moo shi pork and the ever popular General Tso’s chicken. Then there are the places that offer something a bit more adventurous and bold that might not be suited to everyone’s taste palate. Chalin’s Restaurant on Connecticut Avenue offers both, but excels in the latter.
When my family and I moved to the Van Ness area a year ago we decided to try this place that we had passed so many times traipsing up and down Connecticut Avenue on our way to the suburbs for “authentic” Chinese food. On our first visit we ordered some dishes considered Chinese standard fare but quickly noticed the servers bringing out some amazing looking hot pot dishes and other items we hadn’t seen on the menus we’d been given.
After discreetly inquiring about these, we were informed by the server that these were items on the “Chinese” menu. Perusal of this menu revealed several more exotic dishes and many that we had never heard of, such as jelly fish with sesame sauce, sea cucumber (“cooked your way”), Peng family’s tofu, shredded pork with bitter melon, and Imperial Concubine beef. No wonder there were so many Mandarin speaking patrons who seemed to be “in the know.”
The chef at Chalin’s, Mr. Ling, trained in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. Not surprisingly the best food at Chalin’s reflects these intense flavors characteristic of Sichuan cuisine. There is liberal use of chili oil, garlic, ginger, peanuts, sesame paste, as well as spices like cumin and star anise. Perhaps most characteristic of Sichuan food is the tongue-numbing tingle of the Sichuan pepper.
Here are three examples of some of my favorite dishes so far.
Besides these great flavors and aromas that always bring me back to my one and only visit to China a few years ago, there are two other great things about Chalin’s: They are affordable and they deliver, usually within 30 minutes of ordering.
I’m hoping other adventurous eaters might let me in on some of the other treasures on the “hidden” Chinese menu at Chalin’s.
Chalin’s Restaurant, 4250 Connecticut Avenue, 202-966-1916/1942, www.chalins.com
Dine-in and carryout hours: 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. daily. Delivery hours: 11:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m. Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-10:00 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.
Appetizers start at $2.50, most entrees priced under $20.