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Monday, February 6, 2012

Gu's Bistro doesn't torture the mild of palate

Cumin lamb at Gus Bistro
  • www.gusbistro.com
  • Cumin lamb at Gu's Bistro
Until last week, I'd never visited Gu's Bistro, a Sichuan restaurant that opened about the same time as Peter Chang's. Chang (or "Cheng" in real life, apparently), is regarded as superhuman in talent and the mania that attended his restaurant's opening somewhat occluded notice of chef Yiquan Gu's appearance on Buford Highway.

Gu, with 30-plus years in the restaurant business, was last a chef at Sichuan House in Johns Creek, where he gained a considerable following.

I went to Gu's a recent Friday night with my regular dining pals and at meal's end, they announced that Gu's was "much better" than Chang's. Their reason was predictable. It wasn't as spicy. (Don't worry. There are plenty of dishes featuring the hot and numbing ma-la peppercorns.) Moreover, even though Gu's has an astoundingly long menu, two friends ordered the same "crispy beef" and one ordered kung pao (from an "Americanized Chinese" menu). Oy. Not exactly challenging dishes on a menu of head-to-tail goodies like pig's kidney, intestines, tail and ears.

Kidding. I didn't go very exotic myself, wanting to compare chef Gu's cumin-coated lamb to Peter Chang's. The most conspicuous difference was Gu's presentation of meltingly soft, boneless chunks of meat. Also, the intensity of the cumin seemed comparatively restrained, as was the spicy heat. (The kitchen will tone-down the chili peppers, but I didn't ask for that.)

We ordered a couple vegetable plates as starters, including spicy dried eggplant and Sichuan-style green beans, probably my favorite dish of the evening. Everything's there: hot chilies, crispy green beans that actually taste like green beans, and other mysterious spices. Order it.

Fried tilapia with peanuts and red chilies was also a favorite at the table. The least favorite was a dish of cold, shredded potatoes. The menu said it included bell peppers, but there were practically none. The effect was something like cold hash browns begging for a touch of acid or heat.

The one dish, universally recommended, that I wish we had tried is the tea-smoked duck, but that's a good reason to return. The dan-dan noodles and dumplings also gather positive reviews.

If you can manage it, try to get a group of 10 together for the Sunday dim sum special. That's the minimum reservation that Gu's requires to serve the $15 (cartless) endless meal. If someone else makes the magic 10 reservation, anyone else can go, but everyone must arrive at the same time. Call ahead (770-451-8118).

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