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All You Can Eat

Trend-setting restaurants, Northwest cookbooks, local food news and the people who make them happen.

March 3, 2009 at 9:30 AM

No Wei! It’s a small world after all — at Chef Wow

I love my Eaters — All You Can Eat blog-readers. Yes: I’m talking about you — the food-savvy folks who do your best to make sure I don’t miss a trick, whether it’s a restaurant closure or changeover, a YouTube video I shouldn’t miss (I’m still dying of laughter over this one) or a don’t-miss-it Eater Feeder recommendation — like the one I just got from Wes Neuenschwander.

Wes read my recent post about Everett’s Chef Wow and felt obliged to offer what he called “a little background” — or, to be more precise, a little more background (I’d already read the bio on the take-out menu procured by Skip Nelson, my Chinese-food-lovin’ mailman — who was onto the place immediately after it opened last month). Wes writes:

Chef Wow is the first restaurant owned and operated by Wei (Charlie) Chen, formerly the frontman for the original Szechuan Beanflower — back when Chef Huang ran the kitchen and established its reputation as a go-to place for genuine Sichuan. Charlie moved with Huang to Szechuan 99 a couple of years back but was always looking for a place of his own. Chef Huang is still at Szechuan 99, but the place doesn’t seem the same without Charlie there to greet and guide the diners (I pretty much

always just let Charlie surprise me with something — either on the menu or a

true special). Tonight will be our first time at Chef Wow since it opened a couple of weeks

ago. He’s promised me some special dishes. Will let you know how it goes.

Wait a minute! — I wrote back. “Charlie” Chen? From Szechuan 99? You mean this guy? The waiter who always seems impressed when we order “the good stuff”? The one I gave a shout-out to right here on the blog when I wrote about favorite waiters?

Funnily enough, Mac, Nate and I had an incredible meal at Szechuan 99 a few weeks back — among the best we’d ever eaten there (and we eat there a lot). That said, service was slow, as only one woman worked the room, the phone kept ringing off the hook for take-out and we were lamenting the the fact that Charlie — who could single-handledly run the place with a smile on is face (see above) — was nowhere in sight.

Wes replied:

“Yep, one and the same Charlie Chen. He took one of the chefs from Szechuan 99 with him and — with the help of his `girlfriend’ Leann — opened Chef Wow, his long dreamed of `own place.’

photo by Wes Neuenschwander

While the menu is, in some respects, less adventuresome than either Szechuan Beanflower or Szechuan 99 (reflecting the rather obvious demographics of his little South Everett Hwy 99 strip mall location), he’s definitely put his own stamp on the lineup (and expects to add more).

My wife Gail and I did make it up there Saturday, as planned. We had an absolutely fabulous meal — perhaps the best Sichuanese meal we’ve ever had — orchestrated pretty much by Charlie, with only a little input from us. Though the chef (Chef Wah -> Chef WOW!, get it? Pretty clever cross-linguistic play on words, I thought), is from Beijing he’s worked in several Sichuan restaurants and under Charlie’s tutelage has definitely got his Sichuan chops down.”

So, what did Wes and Gail eat? Glad you asked:

“Steamed dumplings with a thin garlicky soy-lime sauce: Hands down the

best dumplings we’ve ever had (even better than Fu Man Dumpling House).

Flavors balanced, yet distinct and intense. Sublime. (And you can get them

to go by the bag – just like Fu Man.) The sauce was much more akin to

Vietnamese nuoc mam than the thick, syrupy Chinese sauces served with this

dish.

Kung Pao Chicken: Charlie surprised us with this one, as I usually avoid KPC like steam table egg rolls. Simply stunning. And now a theme emerges: not only the best and freshest ingredients, but ingredients prepared in way that each flavor jumps out from the intensely flavorful background. And another theme: WOW!

Fried Egg and Tomato Noodle Soup: I was first introduced to this Sichuanese homestyle classic back in the Beanflower days when I took a Hunan born and raised co-worker to lunch. She and Charlie composed a 90-minute lunch extravaganza that alternated fiery hot appetizers and main course with cool and sublime. Rich and silky, I’m so glad this one made the trip north with Charlie.

From the `Steak’ section of the menu: Grilled Lamb. Reading the menu you’d think you’ll be getting biscuits and gravy with these guys. Fortunately it’s a Sichuan classic that Charlie has been talking about since his Beanflower days. ‘Sichuan BBQ’ is what Charlie calls it and it’s an apt description except it’s very thin, intensely seasoned and grilled to a carmelized yumminess over a very hot flame. Now I see what he’s been raving

about all these years.”

OK, Wes. You had me at “Charlie Chen.” I’ve waited too long to be Wowed. See you (and Charlie!) there, and soon.

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