December 4, 2023


Food & Travel Enthusiast

Delicious 68 restaurant review: Damascus cafe specializes in Sichuan dishes

The takeout menu declared that chef Jinsong Xie won the Ideal Sichuan Chef Competitiveness in 1996. “He worked at some of the most acclaimed dining places in China, which includes the historical five-star Jinjiang Hotel in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan,” it ongoing.

I did not have substantially of a clue what any of this intended, but it was enticement sufficient to get powering the steering wheel of my vehicle and drive north to the upper reaches of Montgomery County. I observed Delicious 68 tucked into a corner of a strip centre, which also hosts a gun store, a CBD dispensary, a Point out Farm agent, a salon and a combined martial arts studio (motto: “Leave egos & excuses at the door”). The regional water tower looms above the center, searching like a Funko Pop! figurine painted in Damascus Significant School’s colours.

Delicious 68 has not returned to indoor eating, so when I very first arrived, my route into the key place was blocked by a pair of tables. A girl guiding the counter, on the other facet of the eating place, questioned me what I wanted. We experienced to speak, as my colleague Tom Sietsema could possibly say, “with a lifted voice.” I purchased the Chengdu fish fillet and some scallion pancakes.

With no desk at which to dig into my meal, I retreated to the auto and pulled out my steering-wheel tray table for the unfold. The silken slices of flounder in my Chengdu fish fillet have been buried at the base of a quart container, less than a forest flooring of dried Chinese peppers and red and environmentally friendly Sichuan peppercorn husks. I experienced to use the vacant facet of a clamshell container to compose an entree of rice and fish. The ivory fillets had been just about creamy, coated not just in chile oil but in what tasted like doubanjiang, a spicy fermented bean sauce. The slippery fillets have been piquant. They smelled of pine needles and green tea. They manufactured my palate hum with the unmistakably sour and metallic notes of Sichuan peppercorns.

I knew correct then I experienced to study more about chef Xie.

This turned out to be less difficult claimed than carried out. I converse no Chinese dialects and Xie didn’t experience cozy sufficient with his English to carry out an job interview without the need of an interpreter. I drafted May well Kuang for the job. You could know her as the experience and co-proprietor of Fantastic Wall Szechuan Dwelling on 14th Street NW, in which her husband, Yuan Chen, is a grasp chef from Chengdu. Kuang didn’t want me to expose any of her or her husband’s background right up until right after the job interview. She feared it may intimidate Xie.

Sitting in his vacant dining home just one early morning, Xie minimize a figure a lot more youthful than his 53 decades. Tall and slender, outfitted in a Spyder fleece jacket and denims, Xie explained he opened Tasty 68 seven decades ago following emigrating from China in 2002 and kicking all-around restaurants in Maryland, West Virginia and the District. He picked Damascus as his base of functions mainly because the rents are much less expensive and the level of competition not as fierce as in D.C. appropriate.

Xie, it turns out, is not a master Sichuan chef, but he analyzed underneath one for additional than 10 decades at the Jinjiang Hotel, the historic property famous for hosting international dignitaries, including many presidents from around the globe. Lu Chaohua, one particular of China’s most revered chefs, plucked Xie from obscurity and set him to operate in the kitchens at Jinjiang, instructing the youthful cook anything he is aware of. It was a 10 years-extended apprenticeship that formed Xie as a chef.

The very best way to faucet into Xie’s expertise is to get from the “chef’s special” and “classic Chengdu cuisine” sections of the menu. I have eaten my way by way of lots of, if not most, of the dishes underneath those types and have found substantially to admire: cumin lamb, gentle on spice, but additional tender than the jerky-like preparations discovered at other places Chengdu spicy hen, these breaded nuggets whose warmth is secondary to the savory scorch marks still left by the sizzling pan, a cooking response known as “wok hei” spicy crispy fish, a pile of battered-and-fried flounder fillets whose heat releases ancillary fumes, a garlicky aroma that perfumes every bite.

But I’ve also sampled more than enough dishes to place a sample: Sichuan dishes that ended up skimpy on mala, the cuisine’s celebrated numbing and spicy characteristics, or even just the la, the heat so attribute of the province’s cooking. I requested mapo tofu in which the chile oil lacked the anticipated fireworks. I attempted an entree of double-cooked pork in which the pork tummy had been stir-fried with bell peppers alternatively than prolonged scorching types. Even the Chengdu squid with spicy salt and sizzling peppers — a name that telegraphs its intentions — escalated its heat slowly and gradually, chunk following bite, as an alternative of blasting its way to my heart.

In the course of our sit-down, I questioned Xie about his approach to Sichuan cooking in Damascus. I wondered if he toned it down for all those unfamiliar with the delicacies, reserving the true pyrotechnics for the Chinese American shoppers who make their way to Delicious 68. He reassured me that he prepares his signature dishes the very same for all people. But later I talked to an personnel who advised me the locals, typically talking, adhere to Basic Tso’s rooster, orange hen, beef and broccoli and other Chinese American carryout staples.

Which created me assume of an choice concept: Does Xie, additional or a lot less, pull his punches across the board, unconsciously catering to the neighborhood where he has planted his flag? I can not answer that, but I do know a single way to acquire gain of Xie’s expertise. Ask for the kitchen prepare your Sichuan dishes further spicy. Or, improved however, really do not get forward and just talk to the workforce driving the counter. Notify them that you want the serious matter, Sichuan dishes as Xie would put together them in Chengdu.

I did just that a person afternoon at Tasty 68. I was rewarded with a mapo tofu that was conversant in the lip-tingling language of mala. But the genuine present was my get of sliced fish in fiery sauce. My flounder fillets had been slathered in a dim paste, concocted with ungodly quantities of pink chiles, Sichuan peppercorns, fermented beans and more, the pepper seeds sitting atop the combination like highway caution indicators. Two bites in, and I began to feel it: The chile warmth igniting my head like a furnace, the sour electrical energy of the Sichuan peppercorns racing down my jawline.

This was it. This was why I drove an hour to Damascus.

26131 Ridge Highway, Damascus, Md. 301-391-6138 or 301-391-6139

Hrs: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday by Saturday midday to 9:30 p.m. Sunday.

Costs: $1 to $19.99 for all goods on the menu.