Chicago Chowhound Chowdown
- Seth Zurer
Anyone game for a Chowhound get-together? Korean barbecue? A rendezvous at Lems? Dim sum? Ramen at Katsu? Just gauging reactions...we can get into more details later if it seems like people want to do it.
Lao Szu Chuan sounds like a good choice. They have a very large and interesting menu. The owner/chef seems like a really great guy and I wouldnt be surprised if hed do something special for us. I wonder if theres someone in the group who knows a lot about Chinese food and would be willing to discuss plans with the owner? They seem to like making rabbit (there are 4 dishes listed) so we could take care of that piece of business too. The place is really packed on weekends so maybe a weekday would be best. Following is something I wrote about Lao Sze Chuan for those not familiar with it.
I've only been to Lao Sze Chuan twice now but Im willing to go out on a limb and say it is by far my favorite Chinese restaurant in Chicago. The menu is one of the most interesting I've seen (for example, two different cold rabbit appetizers and two hot entrees) and from what I've tasted contains many more hits than misses. Most of the food is very highly seasoned.
Lao Sze Chuan is a relatively new restaurant at the southernmost end of Chinatown Square, the newer shopping center on Archer. It's at the corner of Cermak and Archer but the entrance is in the center court. Some of the English signs say Mandarin Chef.
The room is simple but not unpleasant. I could easily do without the several TVs however. It is often crowded and there's really no place to wait. Not all bad though, it gives you a chance to scope out what everyone else is eating. Service is okay. If you can get the owner to help you order its worth it. Overall I wouldnt give it high marks for ambience but the food makes up for that.
The meal starts with a small plate of sliced cabbage in chili oil, gratis. An awfully nice dish, very simple, but very well prepared.
Clam and ribs soup is interesting but not great. A thin, greyish, peppery broth holds little chunks of ribs on the bone and clams in the shell. One bowl easily serves 4, maybe 6. Not a bad start but you can do a lot better.
The cold rabbit appetizer in chili oil is pretty good but very hot, probably the hottest dish Ive had there. Kind of one dimensional though.
Beef maw was along the same lines but not nearly as hot and had more complex spicing. It came garnished with some vegetables and peanuts. Not bad (if you like beef maw).
We had a poached fish (not on the menu, I think; a friend ordered it in Chinese) with tofu and mushrooms. This was outstanding. A whole fish came in a shallow square pan covered with a thin broth. The fish was nice and fresh and the broth was subtle but incredible. Obviously theres some real talent in the kitchen.
The smoked tea duck, made in house, is another highlight. Very meaty, not too fatty, with a very deep, complex smoke flavor. Though it's listed as a main dish, it would make a great appetizer, with drinks. Speaking of drinks, LSC has a full bar, including things like mao-tai. Apparently, they are open to people bringing their own beverages (better ask about this).
Garlic scallops was one of the least interesting dishes but not bad. The scallops were okay and there were a lot of black fungus, nice. Sauce was slightly glutinous but not very garlicky. Not too bad but you can get this sort of dish at lots of places in Chicago.
Long beans, dry-fried with dried shrimp were above average but very salty. If I have any overall criticism of LSC's food, it's that it's a bit over-salted.
Theres another green bean dish (a daily special, I think) thats even better. Here the beans are chopped into very small pieces and fried with spices. This dish was deceptively hot but everyone loved it.
Rabbit with chilies was another standout. Lots of little rabbit chunks (with lots of bone) seasoned with ginger, scallions, and spices come covered with dried red chilies. It's visually stunning--probably nearly a hundred bright red pods--and looks lethal but it's not nearly as hot as it looks.
Theres a similar dish made with chicken thats very good too (I only got to try a tiny morsel of this one).
Another excellent dish, not on the regular menu, is skewered lamb on sizzling onions. Vaguely like lamb satay, it comes on a bed of onions liberally sprinkled with ground chilies. The spicing was intriguing, reminiscent of certain types of Indian cooking.
If you have room, the "Rice Pudding (for two)" is worth a try. The translated name is a little misleading as it's not pudding and should be enough for four. It's a warm, sweet, sticky rice pancake containing various seeds and nuts.
The glutinous rice dumplings in wine sauce sounds like an even better dessert but I have yet to try it.
Like I said, Ive only been there twice so it may not be quite as good as I think. Still, I can't wait to return. This is the kind of place where I repeatedly read over their takeout menu and try to plan my next few visits. I sure cant say that about too many other Chinese restaurants in Chicago.
Lao Sze Chuan
2172 S Archer Av
Lao Sze Chuan sounds great: disregard my previous questions about tried and true vs untested. This sounds like the place. Does some one want to step in and be the hero as far as taking on the responsibility for organizing (a la Melanie Wong's suggestions)? I'd be happy to do it, but it might be helpful if some one with some chinese was in on the phone calls for reservation/the asking for something special from the chef...
(aside: el conejo would be good, but I haven't seen the door open since that fateful afternoon)
(aside aside: where's bryan? i'd think she'd be into this.)
(aside aside aside: i share cliff's lack of enthusiasm for a progressive dinner: even with the numbers that have said they'd come so far, it would be a bit of a logistical nightmare.)
re: Seth Zurer
Sounds like we have a place...
My suggestion is to come up with an appoximate price per person/number of persons and then see what kinda meal the resturant can create for that price. i know it seems a little backwards and seems to be asking to be taken advantage of, but i think it will work. afterall, many chinese families order these pre-arranged meals.
the next questions, as it seems we have some consensous on place, is what night and how many people. going during the week may make it harder for me to get a baby sitter. (although push comes to shove, i'll leave my wife at home).
I know it is kinda soon, but how about this sunday?
I would also prefer a week from this sunday, or even 2 weeks, that is the 9th of september. September 1 is Labor Day weekend and I imagine that folks have other items on their plate. But I may be wrong.
As far as money: I don't know what the price range of lao sze chuan is but I can imagine spend 20-30 bucks without a problem. I may be overestimating how much it is: some one with a menu should let me know if I've overshot the mark in my zeal to eat all the delicious things available.
Here's my calcualation of the guest list so far:
Me + 1
Zim + 3? (how big is your "whole clan" zim?)
Vital Info + 1?
Mark + 1
Total = 16 (by my count)
If I've left anyone off (or any +1's off) please speak now.
re: Seth Zurer
If it's sunday, 9/2, please count me in. I'm a native Chicagoan expatriate who will happen to be in town, and I will be more than happy to sample some new stuff, especially szechuan fare.
Would somebody please get back to me about the exact date and time and confirm the location (by email or posting on board)?
Anything else I can do to help get the show on the road, let me know.
re: Seth Zurer
1. Count me in.
2. I just got back from Chinatown. I stopped by Lao Sze Chuan, picked up a menu, and talked to a couple of waiters there. They said that they would be best able to accommodate a dinner such as ours, next Sunday.
3. I'll assist in planning any way that I can.
Lets get our $$ numbers and people numbers together...
I know that the SanFran hounds have gotten together several times: a cursory instection of their board brought up three separate outings, which seem to have gone well. (see link; NB: i didn't read the whole thread: it may have turned out poorly in the end, but the first poster seems excited).
And my father has met up with folks from the board a couple of times in DC, ususally to take them to Full Kee (deep fried softshell crabs) or Kinkeads (yum).
I'll keep looking around and if anyone from other boards that have been on such outings would care to weigh in, that'd be great too. Maybe someone will see the subject question in hot posts and drop some knowledge.
Szechwan sounds great: my only question would be whether the restaurant selection strategy ought to be focused on untested places, or places we already know to be good. I don't really know which is the way to go...i'll keep pondering that.
re: Seth Zurer
Being new to this, here are my thoughts...
It would be more fun, i think, to go to a place where there is the most opportunity to, well pig out. what i mean is that i'd rather go to someplace that where we share dishes ala chinese; have a buffet or buffet like experience, korean; or get served en bulk, ala the picada at el llano. (btw, if we do go s. american, i'll drag along a bottle or two of malbec).
that said, its been about a long while since i've been to lao sze in chinatown mall and have been anxious to return. the menu is so vast, that a large group would make great sense. another great chinese option is hapy chef, in the same mall. they specialize in family style meals and it is rather accesable. they have great "add a lobster, add a crab" deals. then, again, i'm taking my wife and kids there for my wife's birthday for lobster.
re: Seth Zurer
The SF Bay Area board is indeed a social bunch. We've held 12 meets dating back to January open to all and have many more in the works. We're lucky to have good planners who are willing to put energy behind these things. Our most recent event was at Ramblas, a tapas restaurant. We've found that letting one person choose the place and date, rather than trying to establish consensus moves things along faster.
As I said about our dinner at Banana Garden, One of the best things about our group dinners is the power of consensus-driven ordering.
Each chowhound brings a different perspective when seeing a new menu for the first time
and tapping into that collective wisdom has given us some pretty good results. Skill at
what NOT to order is as valuable as knowing which items to choose.
Linked below is Celery's advice to the LA hounds to help them get started. You might also check threads in the last week on the SF board re: cheese class and cheese club for additional rules of the road that evolved.
I think our SF chums are the most clubbable and seem to organise the most frequent meetings. I was there in April and fortunate enough to meet a bunch of them and, without exception, they were smashing people
We have had a few in London and they have been fun as well, despite Howler's lack of knowledge of matters pertaining to Indian food
Chicago is such a great eating city ( to my mind the best in the US ) I wish I could join you