Sizzling three cup chicken has our critic already planning a return visit to this casual Manassas restaurant.
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My apologies for the less-than-eye-catching picture, but I was so excited when the aromas of ginger and garlic wafted from the kitchen at Taiwan Café in Manassas that I lost control of my fine motor skills. It had been a while since I’d had three cup chicken, one of my favorite Taiwanese dishes. At first sniff, I was overwhelmed. At first bite, my anticipation was met with a mouth full of plump chicken thigh caramelized to a tooth-satisfying crisp at the bottom of its sizzling pot. The slices of leathery ginger tossed in a pleasant burn. The garlic cloves? Soft and sweet as I’ve ever tasted. The basil-laden dish hissed to create a lip-smacking confluence of flavors with its syrupy sauce.
But let’s back up for a minute. Three cup chicken is so-called for its three equal portions of soy sauce, sesame oil, and Shaoxing rice wine. But it’s typically not really prepared that way. The version at Taiwan Café is lighter on the sesame than others I’ve tasted, but has enough sugar to help form a dark, sticky sauce to dress the skin-on meat. The profile is a bit like a ginger-forward yakitori, a dish that draws me back to childhood meals at my favorite Japanese restaurants.
Taiwan Café is not a destination for a luxurious meal. When I visited, it was colder inside the restaurant than it was outside, leaving me and my dining companion eating with our coats on. It seems most customers arrive only to pick up takeout, and this makes a lot of sense. But those who do are missing out on the most visceral pleasures of the three cup chicken: the gingery, garlicky smoke that pours forth from it as it pops and sizzles, the heat from the pot as a diner scoops out another bite onto white rice. For that, I will forgo takeout every time. And next time, I promise to get a better picture.
8041 Centreville Rd., Manassas
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