Spicy Talk Bistro may be new to Redmond, but for more than a decade Chef Cheng Biao Yang blazed a trail for Szechuan pepper fanciers with two Seven Stars Pepper restaurants in Seattle and Bellevue's Szechuan Chef.
After weaving our way through downtown Redmond, executing a convoluted series of turns, we pull into the cyclone-fenced parking lot of a small strip mall behind Frankie’s Pizza & Pasta. I dubiously eye the red neon sign relentlessly blinking O-P-E-N on the unprepossessing facade of Spicy Talk Bistro.
My neighbors are taking me to their new favorite Chinese restaurant, which just happens to be 20 miles from where we live. Totally worth the trip, they promised. And they were totally right.
Spicy Talk may not have much street appeal, but the interior is as warm and soothing as a bowl of its Dan Dan noodles.
Most Chinese restaurants are big, bright and noisy, filled with large round tables that make it hard for three or four to feel cozy. But Spicy Talk has soft lights and a relaxing vibe. There’s a reason Chef Cheng Biao Yang and his wife, Hoang Ngo, added “bistro” to the name.
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Yang isn’t new to the area. For more than a decade, he’s blazed a trail for Szechuan pepper-azzi to follow from his two Seven Stars Pepper restaurants in Seattle to Bellevue’s Szechuan Chef (all since sold). After a restorative trip back to China, the couple started fresh early last year with Spicy Talk.
“Fresh” is the operative word for the ingredients here, along with, of course, spicy.
The whole red Szechuan peppers are easy to see, but don’t underestimate the potency of the sliced green peppers, prominent in dishes like Wild Chile Beef and Twice-Cooked Pork. Both are wok-tossed riots of meat and vegetables, cabbage, scallion and still-crisp celery among them.
My friends introduced me to some of their must-haves. They include a delightfully dainty green-onion pancake; soft, cumin-laced lamb; and wonderful hand-shaved Dan Dan noodles that float with petals of chicken breast in a ginger-jazzed sesame and soy broth.
We also had Chong Qing Chicken, popcorn-sized, fried-chicken nuggets wokked with green beans in a fiery red chili sauce, as well as fried tofu. Those golden ingots, alluringly dusted with sweet-and-sour seasoning, could be the Chinese answer to French fries.
When my friends forgot to order one of their standbys, the thoughtful waiter didn’t. He brought a plate of cool, crisp cucumber chunks sprinkled with sesame seeds as a starter, reminding them, “You always have those.”
On a subsequent visit, I discovered several gotta-gets of my own. Delicately fashioned pork-filled wontons dabbed with red chili sauce are as good as — maybe better than — the ones at Din Tai Fung.
Dried long beans and fermented black beans pack some deeply delicious umami flavors into smoked pork — a mix of fatty belly and lean loin meat.
Finely minced aromatics and pale leaves of chicken breast embellish yellow fried rice, suffused with gentle curry spice. Ginger, scallion and cilantro weave a different but equally magic spell over squid and young bamboo shoots, a unique meeting of surf and turf I found both funky and fabulous.
Salted A Choy greens, offered as a special, had a mild taste and crisp stems that were briny and almost pickle-like: a nice respite between pepper-packed dishes. So was the sweet black-bean sauce smothering whole tilapia, also among the specials.
But for the muted lighting that casts a gleam on the ebony tables and ivory vinyl upholstery, Spicy Talk looks like it could be a Montessori classroom.
Bright orange handprints and footprints stenciled randomly across the fir-green walls create a playful atmosphere, reinforced by the multihued mobiles of textile, wood and metal that dangle everywhere.
The high-backed booths are as comfy for two as they are for four. There are large tables, too, should you bring a crowd, which I might just do next time I drive 20 miles to what is now MY new favorite Chinese restaurant.
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