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Golden Mountain Chicken (Photo by Ash Daniel)
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Interior of Peter Chang Scott's Addition (Photo by Ash Daniel)
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Cilantro Fish Rolls (Photo by Ash Daniel)
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Bartender Jamie Lynch (Photo by Ash Daniel)
When Peter Chang came to Richmond, the buzz was deafening. The farm boy from Hubei province had been the hot ticket in D.C. as chef at the Chinese Embassy before making an escape worthy of a John le Carré novel. With his immigration status in a gray area, he became a bit of a rogue chef, bouncing from restaurant to restaurant and achieving a nearly mythical status as the increasing number of fans of his Sichuan-influenced cuisine flocked to each new spot. In whose kitchen he would appear next and when would he finally open his own place were the questions throughout the Mid-Atlantic. In 2012, all eyes turned to Richmond when he announced his very own restaurant, and a Short Pump strip mall became a destination for both locals and pilgrims in search of his wickedly spicy dishes.
When news broke last winter that Chang would open a second Richmond restaurant, this time in Scott’s Addition, every self-described “foodie” in town was a-twitter at the possibility of sampling Chang’s food nearer the city’s center. Certainly, it was to offer a slightly condensed menu, but what it lacked in Volcanic Fish, it made up for in beverages: Peter Chang Scott’s Addition would be the first Peter Chang restaurant with a specialty cocktail program, one that would soon outshine Short Pump’s beer-and-wine-only menu.
But would it be as good as his flagship in Short Pump?
Early buzz said no. Signature dishes such as Golden Mountain Chicken — a tightrope act of thin, crispy strips of chicken in a sticky-sweet glaze — were unbalanced, resulting, in this case, in a congealed, sugary mess. The in-your-face heat of other plates, typically thoughtfully seasoned, were overly hot, leaving guests with little to no sense of what the ingredients were. Had Chang stretched himself too thin across his expanding restaurant empire? Fortunately, no.
Peter Chang Scott’s Addition has hit its stride. Today, the Golden Mountain Chicken comes out looking like a pile of individual twigs, each morsel waiting to be plucked and savored. The Hot and Numbing Beef appetizer, once simply hot, is now a perfect crescendo of increasing heat. That’s the genius behind Chang’s food: the nuance. Take the Hunan Fish: In another Chinese restaurant, the flounder would be battered and drowning in sauce. Here it is lightly brushed with a chili-and-jalapeño-infused black bean paste, creating a firm crust and a moist, flaky interior. The heat is obvious but when you bite into the accompanying crispy snow peas and leeks, you can still clearly taste each component.
While much of Chang’s culinary fame centers around heat, some of his most interesting offerings don’t even rate a one-chili warning symbol. The clean simplicity of his Cilantro Fish Rolls, crispy and delicate, or the Smoked Duck Roll with Fennel, deeply smoky and at once creamy, are appetizers you might order for the table, then regret having to share.
The space is trendy and slightly industrial, hard concrete surfaces and warm wood with bright-red paper lamps, a stark contrast to the dour strip-mall décor in Short Pump. Combined with the craft cocktail offerings, created by Derek Salerno of Shagbark, the warning of a 20-minute wait for the big soup buns isn’t so bad.
Like any other Peter Chang restaurant, service is a bit haphazard and slapdash. Questions are often answered with a lot of “umm’s” and furtive glances, as if servers are unsure what to do or how to answer. Sodas get refilled quickly, but you often feel a bit forgotten. Food comes out when it’s ready and hot, but there’s a good chance someone at your table will be waiting for their dish, or an appetizer will arrive with the entrées. One wishes as much attention were paid to service standards on the floor as the food preparation.
Scott’s Addition was once known for empty warehouses and a strip club. Now, in addition to its new craft breweries, industrial loft apartments and coffee shops, the spicy food of Peter Chang Scott’s Addition is helping to make this neighborhood the hottest spot in RVA.
Peter Chang Scott’s Addition
2816 W. Broad St., 728-1820
Hours: Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. and 5 to 9:45 p.m. Friday: 11 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m. Saturday: noon to 11 p.m. Sunday: noon to 9:30 p.m.