Chinese

Getting the family together @chefping

Chef Ping – 1755 Algonquin Road – Rolling Meadows, IL

If there’s a restaurant I remember going to on a regular basis from my earliest childhood memories – it’s Yu’s Mandarin in Schaumburg, a solid Chinese restaurant that my family has been frequenting since I was about 6 or 7 years old.  I don’t think I’ve had any dish more often than the rainbow fried rice and the kung pao shrimp there.  Alas, about 5 years ago, the owners sold Yu’s and a number of people felt the quality dropped.   I have such a soft spot in my heart for Yu’s that it’s hard for me to tell a huge difference, and I think for the most part the dishes I’ve come to know and love haven’t changed a whole lot.  But thankfully, the former owners opened up Chef Ping shortly after to provide another solid option with an extremely similar menu just right down the street in Rolling Meadows.

Shrimp Toast

Shrimp Toast

Yang Jang Pi

Yang Jang Pi

We started  the meal with an order of shrimp toast and Yang Jang Pi.  The shrimp toast was a bit greasy but had great shrimp flavor and great texture.   Yang Jang Pi is a nice mixture of veggies, egg, and rice noodles that were sharp and a bit chewy – all mixed with a mustard sauce that gives the whole dish a bit of bite.

Tang Soo Yuk

Tang Soo Yuk

Sesame Chicken

Sesame Chicken

Next up is Tang Soo Yuk and sesame chicken.  Tang Soo Yuk is a fried beef dish served in a gooey sweet and sour sauce, not unlike sweet and sour chicken, but served with a bed of fairly colorful and fresh vegetables.   The sesame chicken was a bit overcooked, but had a nice subtle sweet favor.

Jja Jjang Myun

Jja Jjang Myun

Jja Jjang Myun

Jja Jjang Myeun

Finally, a trip to Yu’s or Chef Ping or any similar Chinese/Korean restaurant wouldn’t be complete without Jja Jjang Myeun – a Chinese dish of thick noodles, similar to a thick spaghetti with a black bean sauce that has a great umami flavor – stirred in with some pork, zucchini, and onion, and a heavy dose of garlic.

While I think most people are of the mindset that Chef Ping continues the Yu’s tradition, I’ll always have a soft spot for the original Yu’s, even with the new ownership.  That being said, Chef Ping’s does a solid job providing the same dishes at a simliar quality.

 

 

 

 

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Legit Chinese outside of Chinatown @Chengduimpression

Chengdu Impression – 2545 N Halsted Street, Chicago, IL

Outside of Chinatown, it’s tough to find really good, authentic Chinese food.  Shanghai Terrace does a pretty solid job, but given that it’s in the Peninsula, it’s quite overpriced.  Sun Wah is another classic, but much further north.   Other than those two, the Chinese selections around the city tend to be of the standard takeout variety – good in a pinch, but usually not great.  Enter Chengdu Impression, a fairly new Lincoln Park spot that we checked out just after our honeymoon (yes, my backlog is pretty long).

The menu is quite long, leaving some difficult decisions.   We kept it pretty simple – went with

Scallion Pancake

Scallion Pancake

The scallion pancakes were a bit of the weak point of the meal.  OK, nothing special….

Dry Chili Chicken

Dry Chili Chicken

Steamed veggies

Steamed veggies

For entrees, we got the dry chili chicken and the vegetable 12-delight.  The chicken was great here.  Not quite on par with the Tony Hu version, but very, very solid.  Lightly battered, great amount of spice, and a healthy portion, but solid.  The veggies were pretty standard steamed vegetables, but fresh and not oversaturated.

Soup Dumplings!!

Soup Dumplings!!

The meal ended with a plate of soup dumplings – they came out last, because they take a bit longer to cook, so if you want them, order early or maybe when you sit down, and wait a few minutes once they arrive to let the inside cool down a bit.  A bit sparse on the filling and the dumpling itself was a bit thick, but pretty good nevertheless.

Overall, Chengdu is not quite on the level as most Chinatown restaurants, but it’s a solid substitute if you don’t feel like making the trek out.  Haven’t gotten delivery from them yet, but it seems like their delivery area is pretty wide, making it an option if you’re feeling lazy too.

 

Next restaurant – have I set the bar too high?

Next Restaurant – 953 W Fulton Market – Chicago, IL

I’ve been pretty lucky to eat at Next a significant number of times – I have the utmost respect for the Achatz team, and Next continues to push the envelope and it keeps on innovating.   I was even luckier to have the opportunity to buy season tickets this year for a group of menus that sounded much more interesting than last year’s.  I’ve definitely set my expectations quite high for each meal I eat there at this point, and unfortunately, when expectations are set that high, it sets up for a bit of disappointment.  That being said, the Chinese Modern menu at Next was interesting – had some hits and misses – didn’t astound or wow me like some of the previous menus, but was still a solid effort from Dave Beran and his team.

It’s been a bit over a month, and a number of dishes stand out in my mind, and some do not, so I’ll focus on the highlights.

 

Loofah - Chinese Okra

Loofah – Chinese Okra

Pressed Chinese okra with coriander, Szechaun pepper

Pressed Chinese okra with coriander, Szechaun pepper

Taking a page from the Achatz book, the meal starts by involving the centerpiece, a large stalk of Chinese okra pressed into a bowl of tea, seasoned with Chinese spices – an interesting idea and gimmick, but an average start to the meal.

Bamboo Shoot and Lily Bulb

Bamboo Shoot and Lily Bulb

"Dim Sum"

“Dim Sum”

I was torn between expecting a solid performance of a known entity vs. embracing Beran’s expected twist on the traditional.  He came out here with three variations on Dim Sum – the left is a foam congee, the second – a pork mousse “soup dumpling”, and on the right, a scallop dumpling,  The foam congee served over a perfectly cooked pork braise was incredible, the scallop dumpling as well.  The soup dumpling is where I missed the traditional, as it didn’t have that “burst’ of flavor you get with a soup dumpling (or a black truffle explosion)

Monkfish with pickled white asparagus and shaved celery

Monkfish with pickled white asparagus and shaved celery

Coconut with crab, green chil paste

Coconut with crab, green chili paste

The coconut dish was one of my favorites of the evening – quite rich with flavor, refreshing and filling at the same time.  The crab was remarkably meaty, and was balanced perfectly by the subtle sweetness of the coconut, which was amazingly refreshing, making me wish they had saved this dish for later on in the meal.

muslim Skate

Muslim Skate

 

Tingly Squab

“Tingly” Squab

Next up, a take on Chinese street food, squab and skate wing, both heavily spiced, heavy on the peppercorns, heavy on the salt, but in the end, a small bite.

Duck breast

Beef with Broccoli

Beef with Broccoli’

Duck breast

By now, I’m starting to get unusually full for a Next menu, and the next few dishes were extremely rich, but some of the late highlights of the menu.  The Next take on beef with broccoli was interesting – glazed slices of a beef-jerky like preparation (apparently of leftover beef from the Steakhouse menu), the beefy flavor accentuated by the preparation, and some fried broccoli florets which were just alright.  The duck here was perfectly cooked and solid, but the supporting cast left a bit to be desired.

Pulling Threads  sweetbreads course

Pulling Threads sweetbreads course

The last of the savory courses was a bit over the top.  The idea is serving fried sweetbreasds, taro, and bananas, dipped in a more savory caramel-like sauce that hardens after dipping.  The textural component of this dish was fascinating, but the sauce was quite intense and a bit much at that point.

Frozen rice soup

Frozen rice soup

Dragon's Beard Candy

Dragon’s Beard Candy

Finally!  Dessert choices here were pretty solid and not overly powerful in terms of taste.  The frozen rice soup was more refreshing than flavorful, but the freeze dried english peas added a nice subtle flavor.  The dragon’s beard candy, with a light sesame flavor and some floral notes, was one of my favorite Next desserts to date.

Fortune Cookie!

Fortune Cookie!

Of course, the meal ends with a fortune cookie, containing our menus (although it may have been nicer to get actual fortunes.

Service, as alawys with Next was solid – very informative, attentive without being stuffy.  The meal was definitely pretty solid, but didn’t wow me like other meals I’ve had there and at other comparably priced restaurants in the city.  It doesn’t seem like I’m alone in thinking that one of the big gripes about Next is that it started off by billing itself as a reasonably priced fine dining experience, but at this point, it can easily get up to well over $200   I got tickets to Trio and it’ll probably be the last I see of Next for a bit (you know, the whole marriage thing and all).  But I am definitely looking forward to it.

More Asian in the Burbs #Katysdumplings

Katy’s Dumpling House – 665 N Cass Ave – Westmont, IL

A quick word about Katy’s, which Sara and I ventured out to while running errands out in Oakbrook – a work partner tipped me off to this place (his wife is Chinese AND from NYC), and I’m glad I found it – while the Asian food options are strong up in the NW burbs, out west there’s some slim pickings….

Typical Burb Strip Mall Front

Typical Burb Strip Mall Front

But they had a solid menu – the majority of it in Chinese – always a good sign.

Scallion pancake

Scallion pancake

I honestly think the last time I had a scallion pancake was in college, and I forgot how much I missed them.  These were nicely fried, the right amount of crisp with the perfect chew and thickness.  Pretty sizeable order too….

Pork Dumplings

Pork Dumplings

The fried dumplings were alright – the average part of our lunch – a bit heavy on the dough, and the pork a bit fatty and bland.  Reheated pretty well….

Dan Dan Noodles

Dan Dan Noodles

The Dan Dans were SPICY.   Spicy, but flavorful, and a slow heat that had me sweating after getting a bit into the bowl – the noodles a great thickness and perfectly cooked.  With all the other stuff we had, it was a bit more than we needed (what’s new), but a solid dish.

Soup dumplings!

Soup dumplings!

Finally!  A rarity in Chicago, so we had to grab them here – soup dumplings are exactly what they sound like – steamed dumplings with a burst of soup inside (where do you think Grant Achatz got the idea for black truffle explosion from?)   The first one I grabbed was scalding hot on the inside, so if you order them, I recommend waiting a few minutes before digging in.  The soup itself is a flavorful pork broth with a nice bite of pork (a bit juicier than the prior dumplings, probably due to swimming in the broth)  Eight in an order makes it a solid deal.

There’s a lot to like about Katy’s from what we got.  The scallion pancakes and the the dumplings were pretty standard Chinese fare, but the Dan Dan Noodles and the Soup Dumplings are standouts.   Look forward to going back and trying some of the other specialties.