3940 Buford Highway, Duluth. 770-622-1191. $$
3 of 4 stars [great]
Can you think of a more presumptuous name for a restaurant than Masterpiece? Yet this modest strip-mall Szechuan restaurant in Duluth just might be one.
Chef Liu Ri worked at Peter Chang’s Tasty China in Marietta before opening Masterpiece. Clearly, Liu has learned from his former boss, but Masterpiece is a restaurant that aims for and achieves beautiful degrees of balance and flavor, rather than extremes of psychedelic heat.
Try dongpo pork, a square cut of pork belly braised into the delicate texture of custard and sauced with a dark, earthy reduction you’ll find yourself spooning over rice for one last complex taste of fermented, salty umami before the waitress can take the plate away.
Or maybe fuqi feipan, a pile of paper-thin slices of tripe, tendon and other offal tossed with a gently fiery cold sauce and cilantro.
The eggplant with chili powder and pepper ash powder is much like the popular dry-fried eggplant served at many Szechuan restaurants, but the intense heat and flavor are precisely focused.
Almost every dish I’ve ordered here has surprised and impressed me in some way.