With its iconic white take-out boxes embellished with a red dragon, Chinese food has established a firm place in modern American culture—at least the popular hybridized version we know to love. Most Americans understand Chinese food in a casual context, but Peony Kitchen in Bellevue is breathing new life into Chinese dishes in a stylish setting.
Situated on Main Street in Old Bellevue, Peony caters to a growing need for Chinese food served with finesse. The national flower of China, the peony, represents beauty, wealth, and prosperity — traits apparent from the restaurant’s interiors to the food and drinks. Upon entering, you’re greeted by the bustling kitchen, visible behind a large glass window. The restaurant’s design — a mixture of red brick, black steel, and floral accents for an industrial speakeasy — prepares patrons for a Chinese dining experience unlike any other in Bellevue. At 7,000 square feet, it may be the largest Chinese restaurant in the city.
Restauranteur Paul Choi has recognized the growing need for luxury Chinese food for a while. “Young people want something trendy . . . There’s nothing like Peony.”
It’s a precedent which will likely continue to grow thanks to global tech companies like Microsoft, Boeing, and HTC Corporation. As the city of Bellevue draws increasing interest from China and other Asian countries, the long-existing standard for American Chinese restaurants doesn’t meet the exceptions of the discerning palates journeying across the Pacific.
Choi is no stranger to the Northwest food scene or the challenges of opening a new restaurant. He’s already opened several others in the vicinity including Sushi Maru and the newly renovated CoCo Ramen. Essential to fulfilling his vision for Peony Kitchen is Head Chef Danna Ma-Hwang. Born and raised in Canton, China, she has become a well-known figure in the Northwest catering world. Her most notable accomplishment before Peony was catering for Chinese President Xi Pinjing and his staff during their Seattle visit in September 2015.
In preparation for developing Peony’s diverse menu, Choi and Ma-Hwang traveled extensively throughout China, learning various dishes and techniques along the way. The menu includes small plates, dim sum, and larger plates — some familiar and others more uncommon. An extensive drink menu includes the alcoholic, non-alcoholic, and hot teas. While Peony may appeal to wealthy diners, you don’t need deep pockets to eat here.
Start with smaller starters or tapas-like plates feature bright, fresh flavors like the Cucumber Salad with elephant mushrooms ($6), a textural joy and wonderful start to dinner. Follow with their twist on Shiu Mai ($12) which is topped with a delicate slice of scallop and black caviar, all of which melts in your mouth. Twice Cooked Pork Belly ($14) melts in your mouth with a sweet glaze that doesn’t overpower the Kurobuta pork. You won’t find dishes swimming in overly salty or spicy sauces. Instead the food relies on fresh ingredients and vibrant, seasonal vegetables.
If you really want to impress your dinner guests, order the Tea-Smoked Free-Range Chicken, which is covered in a glass container with extra tea-infused smoke. Once uncovered, the aromatics are released to reveal juicy chicken with a unique herbal flavor. More than worth $18. Fans of duck will want to try the Whole Five Spice Crispy Duck which is beautifully presented on a wood board with its crispy skin glistening an enticing dark brown color. It’s best consumed with the accompanying radishes, cucumbers, and grilled lemon slices, wrapped in thin Mandarin pancakes ($32).
Peony isn’t replacing beloved hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants; rather, Choi and his team are introducing a long overdue style of dining to Bellevue. A restaurant like this is best enjoyed with a group to taste a wide variety of small plates and large entrées. While more upscale in aesthetic, the atmosphere at Peony remains relaxed while transporting you to a modern speakeasy. peonykitchen.com