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Charlie Chiang's on Pickett Street- Szechuan menu

I had heard for some time that you could request a Szechuan menu full of interesting things at (and ONLY at) the Charlie Chiang's at 660 South Pickett Street, Alexandria.

I went today at lunch with ... well, it doesn't matter, my ENTIRE family is unadventurous so I'm on my own.

The service was good, but the place seriously needs a top-to-bottom cleanup followed by a coat of paint. Some people were seated in their little sort of "back room even though it's in the front window" alongside piles of storage boxes and stuff that belonged in a closet. I enjoy venturing into little "hole in the wall" places, but most of those I've seen were more careful about their appearance than this. A lunch buffet looked unappetizing.

The Szechuan menu came on request (no puzzled looks or trying to talk you out of it) and was in both Chinese and English, with a moderate range of appetizers and soups and a broader range of entrees you won't find on a regular menu. Conjveniently, one asterisk for "hot," two for "very hot."

My brother ordered Chicken with Cashews. My reaction to a taste of it: characterless. But hope remained for my Pork with Hot Peppers. It was a bit more like Hot Peppers with Pork. Maybe 2/3 julienned peppers (I believe almost certainly jalapeƱos but I could be wrong, and be aware I have no problem with jalapeƱos in my Chinese) and 1/3 or less pork. No Szechuan Peppercorn flavor. My own verdict: edible, but nothing special.

Maybe they do better at dinnertime, or maybe with some of the more exotic dishes, but I think I'll stick to TemptAsian for "authentic" and Golden Dragon for "pretty darned good."

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  1. Out of curiosity, why would one expect a dish titled "Pork with Hot Peppers" to contain Szechwan peppercorns?

    1. Perhaps I am confused - why mightn't I?

      Not that I think they're mandatory, but they appear so often in the dishes at China Star and TemptAsian, and they aren't exactly mentioned in each dish's menu listing - they might be appropriate (as in Ma Po Tofu) or they might not.

      I merely mention that they didn't occur in this dish.

      5 Replies
      1. re: wayne keyser

        You seemed to be implying that lack of Szechwan peppercorns meant "less than authentic", which would hardly be true. Many authentic Szechwan dishes have no Szechwan peppercorns in them.

        I apologize if I misunderstood what you were saying.

        1. re: wayne keyser

          TemptAsian does seem to use sichuan peppercorns *alot* When I sampled the place a few years ago, the same sichuan hot peppercorn sauce seemed to be used in every dish we ordered.

          When Peter Chang was still at China Star, I remember a dish like 2/3 hot peppers and 1/3 chicken ribs (small chicken bones with meat??). The dish was beautiful to look at -- but you couldn't eat very much of it, yet you couldn't complain because it was so different. (Can someone who has had this dish identify the part of the chicken in it?)

          1. re: Minger

            Are you sure it wasn't the rabbit dish? Ma La rabbit perhaps? It was small pieces with a lot of bone.

            1. re: bacchante

              I don't remember ordering rabbit, but supposing I am wrong, what part of the rabbit would produce these tiny bones each with meat wrapped around them? I thought perhaps they were bits of rib.

              1. re: Minger

                It's hard to say without seeing the bones. For either, neck bones will be sort of round with lots of points on them. Ribs are long and thin, and I guess when the breast is whacked up, they would be short and flat. If chicken wings are whacked into tiny pieces, there will be round bones without points. That would be about it for chicken, since leg and thigh bones are pretty big even when whacked up.

                Whenever I stew rabbit, there are all sorts of little bones in the bottom of the pot that I can't really identify, and I don't even whack it into small pieces but tend to cut it into pieces similar to what you would do for fried chicken.

        2. Wayne
          It has often been me who has posted favorably about this place, tho I haven't been there for many months. The dishes you mentioned I don't recall being on that menu at all---unfortunately, tho I have a copy of the menu, I can't double check because it is at this moment in a moving van with all my other stuff wandering up and down the east coast. But I digress. In any case, unless there have been some big changes there, you ought to give it another shot. The various dumplings and ma po and similar dishes have always been good. I would also suggest the country-style (home-style?) dishes.

          1. Then I will try to get there again.

            In clarification, the Chicken with Cashews was my non-Chowhound brother's choice from the regular (not the Szechuan) menu.

            2 Replies
            1. re: wayne keyser

              My wife and I love this place. Formosa Cafe was our favorite before it changed name to Sichuan village and moved west. Temptasian is also a favorite(yes even after "Mr. Famous Chef" jerked people around and jumped to another retaurant for a few weeks and then dissappeared). We find that both Temptasian and Chiang's are good for certain dishes. You really need to try 10 or 20 over a period of time to find out what they do well and what your taste is. We love the Pan Fried Salty Pork (not what you expect--lots of green onion and thin slices of pork in a brown incredibly tasty sauce) and the Dry Fried Chicken from the Chinese menu. The "Hot" Shredded Chicken from the appetizer page of the chinese menu is also good (its actually cold, but very spicy). Had the Beef with vegetables a few weeks ago-- Floating in red pepper flakes and spicy oil. Again, very good, but way spicy. Beware with these dishes. The dried fried chicken is the same thing called "Sichuan chili chiciken at Temptasian. Me thinks it's better at temptasian though. They always warn us about how spicy it is. We had Chinese people comment on the spicyness of it from other tables. It will numb you for sure. It is salty at temtasian. Back to Chiang's. We order one thing from the American menu : the tangy/spicy dumplings with peanut sauce. Chiangs is cheap and well worth investigating in depth.
              At Temptasian, we love the DanDan noodles and the Spicy Beef Roll.

              Chris

              1. re: wayne keyser

                ONe more note on Chiangs: They are not the most consistent. We've had better luck later in the week than on say a Monday/Tuesday. Definely have a few different people with slightly different styles working the woks etc...

              2. Tried to go to this place tonight, but sadly is no long called Charlie Chiang's... does anyone know if it moved? Thanks!

                6 Replies
                1. re: goldendragon822

                  The new name is Chef Chen's or some such. I just assumed that it was the exact same place but they finally dumped the worthless franchise. Did you notice any change in the menu or staff?

                  I certainly had no feeling of sadness upon seeing the name change and I'm a big fan. I saw it as a very good thing as now they can highlight their strengths instead of the standard items from the chain.

                  1. re: malveaux

                    The Charlie Chiang's in Shirlington is closed. When it was first boarded up, a sign said they were still open during renovation, but no more. The renovation is proceeding, with a 'new look' that might possibly be Japanese (lots of unadorned blond wood), or I could see Charlie Chiang's re-opening with that decor, but nobody's posted anything.

                    Anyone know?

                    1. re: wayne keyser

                      Went to the Picket Street outpost about a week ago and noticed the name change. The lunch buffet/Mongolian grill had not changed one bit.

                      Re: Shirlington outpost, here's a Washington Post article. I think there was also something in Today's weekend section...

                      http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/...

                      ...."Seven months and $1.6 million later, the family behind the business is getting ready to show off the result, which includes a top-to-bottom, front-to-back renovation and an expanded name: Charlie Chiang's Ping".....

                    2. re: malveaux

                      FWIW, I'm pretty sure Charlie Chiang's isn't a franchise; it's a small local chain. The owners also opened one location in Florida, but that isn't a franchise, either; IIRC, it's because Charlie now spends most of his time in Florida golfing and the kids run the business, so they opened one in the town where he spends his time.

                      1. re: malveaux

                        I'm not sure if there was change in the menu or staff (first visit). When I inquired about the "Szechuan menu", I was told it didn't exist anymore.

                      2. re: goldendragon822

                        Their website (http://www.charliechiangs.com/novadc....) doesn't list the Pickett St location anymore, and I don't see any new locations there, so it looks like it just closed (or perhaps someone bought out that location, since others are saying that the food seems the same).