Location: 13051 Newport Ave, Tustin, CA 92780. (949) 324-5558
Date: December 10, 2022 and February 23, 2023
Rating: Best Chinese in the Southland
Among my friends Chang’an is a highly controversial Chinese restaurant. Personally, I think it has hands down the highest quality Chinese food in California, really the best I’ve had outside of China. But it’s high end, and in Tustin, and very expensive. There is a certain contingent who likes their Chinese grungier and at a better QPR feeling this is “more authentic.” The reality is that both are different aspects of modern China. Chang’an is extremely “authentic,” just to the style of recent high end eatery cropping up in China’s major cities. A good example would be Shanghai Tang.
They are also known for their elaborate table-side Peking Duck and are the winner of my in depth Ultimate LA Peking Duck Guide.
It’s located in this “French Chateau” like structure way down in Tustin. The drive is a real pain.
The decor is at a different level.
The have a dedicated peking duck oven!
One of their several bars.
For our first meal we ate out on the “floor” near the giant screen (oddly playing Christmas videos). For the second, we had the awesome private room.
Gotta have champagne for:
The duck was covered in Baijiu and lit on fire to crisp (and flavor) the skin.
Skin was thin and mildly crispy, aged ducky flavor, served with traditional brown sugar. But still this way of doing the duck, better for the meat, compromises the skin ever-so-slightly = 6.
Natural cane sugar for dipping the skin into.
Pancake was thin and translucent and there were plenty of them = 10.
Accoutrements were scallion and cucumbers as usual plus pear = 9. Hoisin was good to great. Slightly thin maybe, sweet and savory, quite pungent = 8.
Meat was served 2 ways, both with some skin on the white meat, straight up = 10 where it was really juicy and full of flavor.
The burrito/bing together was a 7/10 or perhaps 8/10 as I didn’t pack it right. I should have made a second but I didn’t want the extra carbs.
The smoke machine was used to smoke this second batch of duck meat.
Watch it in action.
A second half of the meat was served smoked which was very different, a bit more like ham, and quite lovely = 9.
Dec 22 wine. It takes something racy like this to pair with numbing clam.
Spicy Arctic Surf Clam with Green Sichuan pepper 青花椒炝北极贝. Fabulous dish with chewy clam and pungent citrus-tinged peppercorns and a slightly sweet soy base. Underneath were unwraveled green onions. We ordered two of these they were so good.
And Bovon just had to “do his thing” to the dish for the photo. The combo certainly didn’t clash with the clam and even the peppercorn, but it did mute the peppercorn, which to me was a slight distraction.
Crispy Beef Tongue 脆皮牛舌. Fried, rich, but very delicious. The center was dense and chewy and the fry nice and light. The sweet and “spicy” sauce livened it up a bit.
Taking it up to the next level we “decorated” with uni and caviar! Actually the caviar really helped the dish.
Tossed Cilantro, Scallion & Red Peanut Salad sweet & sour vinaigrette 陕西大拌菜. Extremely elegant salad. I could have eaten 2 all by myself. Very tangy with great texture, crunch, and tangy flavor.
Cucumber & Cold Noodles in chili sesame or hot and sour sauce 老陕凉皮 (麻酱/ 酸辣). There were two variants here, the spicy bean sprout noodles and a less spicy sesame cold noodles. They were fairly good, and better than last time as they started the meal. Texture was great on both. I particularly liked adding some of the even spicer “bread sauce” to the spicy noodles.
48-Hour Braised Sea Cucumber (per person) twenty-two different herbs and spices 招牌葱烧海参佐黑松露饭(每位). Wow! This was hands down the best sea cucumber I’ve had. They make a supreme stock and then slowly rehydrate the dried sea cucumber in it so that it absorbs the lovely and complex flavor. The rice is special Japanese snow rice with a very aromatic sauce. Really special.
Stir- Fired Lychee Prawns with Sweet Sour and Spicy Sauce 贵妃荔枝虾球. Very sweet. The cashews were candied. The sauce was sweet. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and quite nice. The fried balls were lychee deep deep fried covered in caramelized sugar.
Snow Crab with Egg pancake 风花雪蟹配鸡蛋煎饼. Eggy versions of the spring pancake with a very salty and delicious crab and seafood mix. Almost like a dry XO sauce it had little dried shrimps and scallops in there. Insanely savory.
The ultimate umami salt pancake with the crab mix and a huge blob of caviar!
Dec 22 wine.
Live Fish (Seasonal/Reserve only) Market Price 时价. In this particular case Turbot. Steamed with scallion and soy. I usually find this a bland dish but the succulent quality of this lovely fish and the perfect sauce made this dish insanely good. It was even better topped with lots of caviar!
Turbot in action.
On our second visit we decided to prep the Turbo a different way: Live Turbot Soup. I’m not sure what this was called, but this soup prep of the Turbot was incredible. The broth was mixed fish and chicken and seasoned liberally with white pepper. It was stunning. The chunks of fish were melt in your mouth and filled with that gelatinous softness that great turbot has. Amazing!
Live King Crab “ginger and scallion.” I’ve never had this particular variant on the ginger and scallion. Instead of being a wet wok version, this was deep fried and then stir-fried with ginger and scallions in a spectacularly effective manner than leant it amazing Wok Xi (aka char flavor). Really delicious.
Live King Crab legs steamed with garlic and vermicelli. Perfect light and sweet version of the leg meat.
Jeff just had to Uni and Caviar this up too!
The crab shell returned with steamed “tofu egg.” Very loose light version of this dish. It was good but I actually prefer it as a more “solid” mass of custard.
Spicy Stir-Fried Wild Mushroom Morels with Shanghai Bok-Choy 辣炒羊肚菌配小棠菜. Delightful veggies. I just love morels.
Cucumber & Cold Noodles in chili sesame or hot and sour sauce 老陕凉皮 (麻酱/ 酸辣). I didn’t see any cucumber. These noodles were just spicy. They were fairly good, but the monotone of flavor made them one of the “worst” dishes of the night (given that every thing was great).
Extremely clean and concentrated.
Qin Style Roast Lamb Leg 秦味烤羊腿. This dish was insane. I didn’t deal with the buns but the lamb was super hot and intensely flavorful. It just melted off the bone and had this sizzling fat and intense smoked and crunchy chili flavor. Insane!
Close up of this perfect spicy meat.
Buns for the lamb.
Bovon caviared the buns!
Braised Abalone and Pork Belly with hand made steambuns 一品鲍鱼红烧肉. Not the strongest dish. The pork was very good with that braised star anise flavor and tons of fat.
Peppercorn Ice Cream 花椒冰淇淋 (每位). Very mild peppercorn flavors and very cold (and hard). But still good.
Tangerine Ice cream was hard but had a delightful flavor.
Strawbaccio Gelato — an awesome dairly Strawberry base with house-made Bronte Pistacchio DOCG “Fudge” — made by me for @sweetmilkgelato — whacky combo day — #SweetMilkGelato #gelato #dessert #icecream #FrozenDessert #nomnom #dessertlovers #dessertporn #icecreamlovers #gelatoitaliano #foodporn #gelatolover #food #foodgasm #foodblogger #dessertgasm #desserttime #foodphotography #gelatoartigianale #gelatomania #dessertlover #icecream #icecreamlovers #strawberry #pistachio #pistacchio #fudge
Dec 2022 wine.
Overall, I think this is some insanely good Chinese food. It’s not just great for Chinese, it’s really up there in terms of meals available in Southern California. The downside is the distance — easily over 2 hours in traffic — and the price (can be several hundred $$ a person if you are getting King Crab, etc.). I feel it’s worth it, and so do all the people I went with, but some of my other friends do not like the QPR. It’s definitely not a “value.”
Decor is great too. The atmosphere is “interesting.” Service is earnest and quite excellent for Chinese but still fighting its own instincts. They want to serve in Chinese order and they want to serve FAST! (almost everything at the same time). We have our own preferences for order, designed to match the wines. Many items here are pre-order only, like the duck and crab. The duck in particular is a bit odd. The very strangely limit you to one a table. Really two would be good with a large party. And they have an extremely specific pre-arranged time where they are GOING to serve the duck. By default this is the minute of your reservation — like start milling around the table discussing seating and here comes the duck! So it’s very important to arrange this specific time some distance (perhaps at least 30 minutes) AFTER your reservation time. And it’s then difficult to arrange for it to be after all the seafood (because you don’t know how long that will take). But these little idiosyncrasies are well worth putting up with (IMHO).
Chang’an also blends a number of Chinese regional styles. It’s nominally celebrating the city of Xi’an and so has significant Shaanxi influence, but certainly isn’t a classic Shaanxi place. It has Beijing dishes (like Peking duck) and some somewhat Cantonese dishes. All are filtered through both a higher end and slightly western Chinese lens.
Highly, highly recommended — but know what you are getting into.