Gu’s Bistro occupies a quiet corner in a nearly deserted Buford Highway shopping center. It is the only dull aspect of this stellar Sichuanese restaurant. Owner and head chef Yiquan Gu is a native of Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan province in China. He brings 33 years of experience to the kitchen and was head chef at Sichuan House in Johns Creek before he and Yvonne Gu, his front-of-the-house manager and daughter, settled at the Buford Highway spot.
You might be intimidated by the massive amount of food listed single-space on a multiple-page menu. Don’t be. The trick in ordering Sichuanese dishes is to vary the textures, proteins and spice levels (spice can be adjusted on any dish upon request). And then add starches and vegetables to the mix, which helps provide balance to the meal. You should visit Gu’s Bistro in a group (the larger the better) for an optimal dining experience.
If it is spice you are looking for, try the Chongqing spicy chicken ($12.95), nuggets of batter-fried chicken, served with an abundance of red chiles and toasted Sichuan peppercorns in a wicker basket lined with foil. Dive in unabashedly if you want to experience “ma la,” the sensation of numbing your palate with tingle-inducing peppercorns to soften the spice blow from the chiles. The Sichuan -style boiled fish fillet ($12.95) – silky ivory slivers of tilapia simmered in a tangy broth and red chile oil – is also an exercise in spice tolerance.
If you want to take the heat down a notch or two, the must-haves include an appetizer of Chengdu-style cold noodles ($7.25) – a bowl of cold wheat noodles and raw sprouts flavored with crushed garlic, sweet soy sauce and chile oil. Also wonderful: a dish of sweltering eggplant chunks ($9.95) stuffed with ground pork and glossed with a thick, gooey garlic-ginger sauce.
Tea-smoked duck ($14.95) is one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes and rightfully so. A mixture of tea leaves – primarily jasmine – is used to smoke a whole duck, which is then hacked into chunks and served bone-in. The duck has a sharp, smoky odor, and its rich and salty flesh complements the sweet and nutty house-made bean paste made with peanuts and sesame oil.
On weekends, the restaurant prepares a prix fixe dim sum feast ($15 per person) that can be reserved for a minimum party of 10 people. If this reservation requirement has been met, Gu’s will notify its Facebook and Twitter followers (www.facebook.com/gusbistroatlanta and twitter.com/gusbistro) of a “dim sum party.” The event then becomes open to any party size as long as customers make reservations and can arrive at the same time as the large party.
Unlike the more common Cantonese dim sum format in metro Atlanta, where carts of food are pushed around ripe for the plucking, Gu’s dim sum menu is predetermined and serves every participant the same dishes, which are brought to each diner one at a time. According to Yvonne Gu, the dishes are also served in traditional Sichuanese procession. She explained: “We typically alternate a spicy dish and a sweet or nonspicy dish so that the flavor of each dish is savored. The last dish is usually sweet or not spicy.”
On a recent, nearly two-hour dim sum experience, a bowl of spicy, chewy tofu intensely flavored with soy sauce served. Starchy dishes resembling congee (rice porridge) followed closely behind. Then a cool, thin bowl of peanut milk was given to refresh the palate. And then noodles, dumplings, sweet rice cakes, more noodles and more dumplings arrived – all varying in spiciness. Finally, a gooey bean powder-dusted rice cake sitting in a shallow pool of syrup concluded the meal. I counted 12 dishes altogether.
For the uninitiated, it will take multiple visits to scratch the surface of what Gu’s Bistro is capable of. But it is an enjoyable experience and one that should be shared with family and friends.GU’S BISTRO 5750-A Buford Highway, 770-451-8118 Food: spicy Chinese cuisine from Sichuan province.