Two Sundays ago, I was very happy to be back in my old routine in London. I meandered down Great Eastern Street, over Shoreditch High Street, down Hanbury Street, and up Brick Lane. A bit south of Cheshire Street–very close to the East London Line bridge–I saw this guy. I’ve seen him before, of course. But it’s been a while. And I hadn’t thought of taking any video previously. This time, I whipped out my iPhone, held it the wrong way (AGAIN), and made this…
Sun Wah BBQ
5039 North Broadway
Date of Last Visit: Wednesday, May 4, 2011
The Victims: Aileen, Bob, and their two young doppelgängeren.
The Background: Fact: On my birthday, I like to eat Chinese food. I think it’s a childhood thing. We always used to go to Hunan Dynasty back on Strong Island and my brother and I would split the “Pu Pu Platter” which involved fire and multiple sparklers. Kids like fire, what can I say?
For my actual birthday this year though, I was in London. No Chinese food. (Not that there’s no Chinese food in London…it’s just that I have this certain set of friends that will only eat at a certain level of restaurant.) So we went to the very white and very pristine St. John Hotel instead. (More about that sometime soon.) But the desire for Chinese food was still there…so once back in Chicago, I rallied up my troops for what I was hoping to be an onslaught of DUCK.
Problem #1: Aileen and Bob have never had crispy duck or Peking duck before. They seem unsure of the concept. Bob admits that he’s never had any sort of duck before! I pause momentarily…to get to this point in life and to have never had Peking duck or duck rillettes or any sort of duck?? I think I would die.
Problem #2: If you want real Peking duck, you have to order it 24 hours in advance. Whoops. There goes that idea.
Combine Problem #1 and Problem #2 and I order a quarter duck and proceed to drink all of Aileen & Bob’s Pinot Noir. (Note: it was not a full bottle!)
Bob let me have some of his hot & sour soup. Normally, I think sharing soup is WEIRD. But Bob’s small was so huge, there was no way he could finish it all, even with the doppelgängeren. Plus, I think the doppelgängeren are a little too young for hot & sour. This was pretty excellent and it was also super CHEAP. $4.50 for the huge bowl? Wow.
There is no vegetable I love more than Chinese broccoli. But you know what? This just wasn’t very good. I felt like it tasted bad…like it was just about to go off. Aileen and Bob kindly gifted me the leftovers; I woke up the next morning, opened the fridge, and was struck with the gaseous stink of broccoli gone bad. Yuck.
OK, so back to the duck. I thought for sure I could convince them to give me some pancakes/buns with my 1/4 duck. NO DICE. They gave me plum sauce. They gave me veg. They refused me pancakes. Only, apparently, if you order the Peking duck. We debated asking the table next to us if they would give us any of their pancakes. I even told our server I would take someone’s leftovers. No love. No love at all.
The Decor: It all felt just a little bit dirty. Again, I’m all for a good hole-in-the-wall (although Sun Wah is so big it could never be consider a true hole-in-the-wall), I’m getting a little concerned by the number of Chicago restaurants which have never seen the end of a high pressure water hose.
The Verdict: Meh. Everyone seems to love this place, but my experience was just not so compelling. And to refuse me pancakes! Blasphemy.
Lao Sze Chuan
2172 Archer Ave (in Chinatown Square, on the very end)
Date of Last Visit: Wednesday, January 26, 2011
The Victims: Grubwithus
The Damage: $24.50 each plus a $10 corkage fee.
The Background: I went to Chinatown on a dark and dreary and frankly freezing cold Chicago night. I almost didn’t make it. (When will it end? Really. When???)
But I was going to Lao Sze Chuan, a place I’d been to time and time again with my Chinese colleauges between 1998 and 2004. I used to let them do all the ordering. They liked that about me. They introduced me to tripe and changed my life.
This time, I was there with Grubwithus, the social dining experiment. (You should try it.) There would be no tripe this time. We were still all strangers to each other.
But we did start out with these very fat and very delicious pork potstickers. I felt greedy. I AM greedy.
Around this point of the evening, I lost track of my picture-taking as the Lazy Susan spun round and round and the red wine in my glass got lower and lower.
And then the desert came. Lao Sze Chuan makes my kind of dessert…Crispy Sweet Potato cakes. (You might know that I like very few desserts. I am more a savory person. However, I do make exceptions for macarons, lemon tart, mint chocolate chip ice cream, and mango sorbet.) These were, in a word, stellar. They say people drive all the way down to Chinatown just to pick up an order of Lao Sze Chuan crispy sweet potato cakes, and now I know why.
The Verdict: I love it here. Really. We also had Chef’s Special Dry Chili Beef, Tony’s Chicken with Three Chili, Szechuan Smoked Tea Duck, and Garlic Chinese Broccoli. And they were all awesome.
Date of Last Visit: 19 November 2010
The Victim: Tim
The Damage: $10 each
The Background: My employer’s location in downtown Chicago is not a bad one. If you like shopping. But if you like Chinese food (like I do), you’re in a bit of a wasteland. This is a problem for someone who was used to having Chinese food for lunch at least once at week in London.
So somewhere, somehow, I had read about Hong Kong Cafe. There was a quick search on Yelp for Chinese close to my office, which turned up raves. And then there was the LTH Forum (the local food boards), where a core of Chicago foodies declared (and photographed) their love.
It was time for a visit.
Hong Kong Cafe is on the 3rd floor of an office building full of jewelers. If you didn’t know it was there, you would never visit. We didn’t take the lift up to the restaurant, but I did think the lift was photo-worthy.
My colleague and I both opted for the lunch special. $7.45 for soup, egg roll, rice, and main. My hot and sour soup was really really good. Served piping hot with just enough of a kick to it. And full of very good things. I confirmed that this soup did not come from a bucket. The proprieters make everything fresh and on site.
My egg roll was flaky on the outside and full of more delicious things on the inside. In my haste to finish it after that first perfect bite, I neglected to more closely investigate the ingredients. The sweet and sour sauce is home made. In short, I could have done with another one of these.
For my main, I opted for the Szechuan chicken with peanuts. (Kung Pao Chicken?) My colleague and I both noted that our dishes weren’t overdone with meat like they can be in some places. For both of our dishes, the highlight was on the vegetables. (Tim ordered the Three Delicacies, which included beef, chicken and prawns. And lots of vegetables.) My dish was packed with peanuts…A LOT of peanuts. This is a good thing in my book. Ah, and the chili sauce you see there in the background? GREAT stuff. And homemade as well. Tim and I both cleaned our plates. (Although in truth, I may have left some white rice behind.)
The Verdict: Sometimes you come across a basic place where the food is made with care, the service is warm and friendly, and the price is totally right. The Hong Kong Cafe is all that, and more. Simple. I’ll be back.
P.S. For various reasons, I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus this past week. This will all become clearer later. Don’t fret. I’m sitting on a backlog of posts….Hub 51, San Soo Gab San, Shiso, and the Logan Square Farmers’ Market. Plus some more!
Date of Last Visit: Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010
The Background: American in London was on the lookout for General Tsao's Chicken. Apparently, this in an American staple. Despite my American-ness, I don't think I'd ever had it before. In my house growing up, our choices were pretty much limited to chicken and broccoli or beef and broccoli. I was never a sweet and sour fan, and I tend to gravitate AWAY from the deep fried dishes. (You've got to, with a hobby such as mine.)
Number 10 had been on my radar for a while because of a Chowhound thread or two. The Chowhound folks rave about the Szechuan items on the white board, and we probably should have thought about that as we ordered. Because in the end, it was the Szechuan items that really stood out.
The spicy aubergines were deliciously (surprise) spicy and melted away into cool hotness. I love when aubergine is cooked so perfectly as to not be too mushy. Let's face it. Eggplant gets mushy. It's a good cook that can make this work.
We had some other dishes but really, they paled in comparison and I can barely remember them. The only other dish I do really member was a sliced pork of some sort. The pork tasted old. I wouldn't recommend it.
The Verdict: I don't know if I'd go out of my way to go to Number 10 again, but if I did, I would definitely have the boiled beef and the spicy eggplant. And I would stick with the Szechuan dishes. The rest is just not very interesting.
Date of Last Visit: Sunday, 4th of July, 2010
The Victims: Echo, Bill, Echo's mom, Tong-Tong (so cute!), Ying, Xiang
The Damage: Unknown. Team China paid for me.
The Background: When I first started this blog, I had this idea that it would help me explore London.
While that was certainly true in the early days, lately I've found myself suffering from TFL malaise. If it's not in EC1 or N1 or WC1 or MAYBE W1, I really don't want to go.
So it was good that Echo prompted me to get on the DLR one Sunday afternoon (the 4th of July no less) and head out to Crossharbour for some dimsum. The DLR on a sunny Sunday afternoon is really really lovely. I need water to make me feel sane and plodding along on the driverless train through Canary Wharf and its surroundings is certainly a peaceful little journey.
I arrive at Lotus and to our table, I'm the only native English-speaker. Echo has brought her mother and her adorable daughter Tong-Tong. Three generations. Awesome. I let everyone know that I like taro. And parsnip. I'll pass on the chicken feet, but sign me up for anything with seafood. There is much consulation and then the parade begins. As always with dim sum, I have no idea what I'm eating. But it's all pretty fantastic. And the light is perfect so every photo I take comes out gorgeous. (Except for that spot that looks like steam in the middle of each photo, but that was because I needed to clean my lens.)
No idea what these were, but they looked neat, all spherical and such. (Almost like that lamb ball, huh?)
The Service: Severe. They really did not want us to order in small batches. Everything had to be ordered at once.
The Atmsophere: Kinda nice sitting there, looking out onto the water.
The Verdict: I liked it here. Thought all my food was pretty good. But I probably need to eat more dim sum to truly write anything remotely close to informative here. I'm sorry if I've disappointed you.