A Chinese restaurateur with a cult following will open his first restaurant in Arlington in two days.
Oriental Gourmet in the Lee-Harrison Shopping Center just closed this month, but chef Peter Chang‘s team is full steam ahead in trying to transform the space into Peter Chang Arlington, set for a soft opening at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday.
Chang got his start in the U.S. cooking at the Chinese Embassy before serving his speciality, Szechuan cuisine, at little-known China Star on Main Street in the city of Fairfax. He moved around Northern Virginia to a restaurant in Alexandria and back to Fairfax, before moving to Georgia, picking up devoted followings in each area.
Chang’s followers are so devoted, and his nomadic tendencies so consistent, that a lengthy New Yorker magazine profile was devoted to them — despite Chang having never opened a restaurant north of the Mason Dixon line.
Recently, he’s started opening up Peter Chang restaurants in areas of Virginia farther south, starting with Charlottesville, Richmond, Williamsburg and Fredericksburg. Chang’s daughter, Lydia, said “Everyone is excited” for her father’s return to his Northern Virginia roots.
“We’re here to provide amazing, authentic Chinese cuisine,” Lydia Chang told ARLnow.com in the under-renovation restaurant space this morning. “Peter loves Northern Virginia and he knows there are a lot of people who appreciate authentic Chinese cuisine. He’s just here to do it right.”
Doing it right means a sit-down Chinese restaurant serving more than 100 menu items, including many of the dishes that have grown Chang’s following: dry-fried eggplant, duck in stone pot and pan-fried steamed pork belly. Lydia Chang said, if he wanted, her father “can create hundreds of different menu items.”
Restaurant openings, especially in Arlington, are notoriously fraught with long delays, often being pushed back months, even years. Some may be taken aback at how quickly Chang plans to open — just a week or two after the closing of Oriental Gourmet — but blazing his own path is nothing new for the mercurial chef.
“It’s not anybody else who wants to do this, it’s Peter’s decision,” Lydia Chang said. Pushing back the opening “is not our style. We’ve been talking about Northern Virginia for years. He’s always wanted to come back.”
The soft opening and early weeks will determine Peter Chang Arlington’s hours, Chang said. The restaurant is planning a grand opening Wednesday, March 18.