Takeout review: Chengdu Gourmet | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Takeout review: Chengdu Gourmet

click to enlarge Takeout review: Chengdu Gourmet
CP Photo: Maggie Weaver
There are two menus at Chengdu Gourmet: one for American-style Chinese dishes and the other for traditional Chinese fare. If, like me, you grew up on Americanized Chinese food, the first menu — which bills sesame chicken and egg rolls — will feel familiar. The latter will likely not.

Chengdu Gourmet has been intoxicating Pittsburghers with the intense flavors of authentic, Sichuan cuisine since 2015. Those who know cuisine from the Sichuan province know it’s associated with spice; its namesake peppercorn is not simply hot, but also numbing. The sensation, compared to the zing of carbonation, primes the palate for heat to come while several aromas evolve as the spice moves from binding to an intense flavor.

I ordered a feast of dishes from the restaurant’s traditional menu, starting with Sichuan dumplings and cold sesame noodles, followed by a smattering of vegetable dishes and two meat courses: double-cooked pork and beef in a hot, spicy broth.

Spice was strong in almost every dish, which made the sweeter items even more pronounced. Eggplant in a thick garlic sauce was cloying compared to the hot, red peppers sprinkled in an otherwise mild cabbage dish. A friend compared the dumplings to sweet breakfast sausage when put up against the striking flavor of fermented beans and spice in Mapo tofu, a popular dish in Sichuan, consisting of tofu chunks in spicy, oily sauce.

Plates of crispy, charred green beans, fresh stir-fried snow pea shoots, and a bacon-like, double-cooked pork were welcome, mild palate changes. The pork dish, a unanimously loved choice, was gloriously — yet not overwhelmingly — fatty and rich.

It was worth noting that the spice, particularly in the beef (made Chongqing style, similar to the broth of a hot pot, featuring lotus flower and tofu) wasn’t unpleasant. The aroma of the bright red broth opened up to a complex mix of garlic and other spices. The beef was one of the spiciest dishes all of the heat was held in the broth so good that I pushed through the spice to keep eating, eventually getting used to the burn.

If you’re new to Sichuan cuisine and are more familiar with an American style menu, I suggest doing research before ordering at Chengdu Gourmet; the menu is vast and a bit overwhelming. (I’m lucky to know a friend who has lived in China, so I often order based on a combination of her recommendations and Google research.) And, make sure to grab a few friends to eat with you. The best way to enjoy a meal from the Squirrel Hill restaurant is by trying as many dishes as possible.

Chengdu Gourmet. 5840 Forward Ave., Squirrel Hill. chengdugourmetpittsburgh.com