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ghetto. If you walk the other way, you'll find a vibrant section of Chinatown that has lots to offer.
Last Sunday (June 24), D and I returned to Chinatown to eat at a well regarded hot pot restaurant called Lao Sze Chuan (LSC). The church service we attended at Willow Chicago had concluded and we were famished - no breakfast :( So we ran to the Red Line, rode through a couple of stops, and got off at the Cermak-Chinatown station. This time, we weren't going to get duped: we did our homework prior to ensure that we would end up where we wanted to go.
What is hot pot, you ask? Basically, it's a DIY stew. The meal centers around a simmering pot of stock which you fill with fresh ingredients so they can be cooked to your liking. Typical ingredients include thinly sliced meats, seafood, assorted vegetables, and noodles. Additional condiments are also provided.
Lao Sze Chuan is owned by a chef named Tony Hu. Apparently, he is the leading Chinese chef in Chicago and seems to be very active in the city's social circles.
What I ate:
Hot Pot Buffet (18.95 USD). We ordered a split pot: hot & spicy stock on one side and LSC's basic stock on the other. Among the ingredients were mussels, fish, lamb, beef, fish meatballs, tripe, watercress, tofu, eggs, vermicelli, dry tofu skin, Napa cabbage, and green leaf lettuce. Here's a photo of the condiments:
This meal was THE BOMB. It had been a long time since I last ate hot pot (not since Laos in 2006, actually) and eating this meal was like meeting a long lost friend: "Oh, hey, hot pot! Nice to eat you again!" I was so glad that D pushed for this. Every few minutes or so, in between bites, I praised him for his wise choice.
One of my favorite parts of the meal was breaking a raw egg into my bowl and adding steaming hot broth and goodies on top. The egg barely cooked from the residual heat of the broth and goodies creating a thickened, rich melange. It was sooo good!
The pricing scheme for hot pot at Lao Sze Chuan is complicated. For parties of two or more, it's 18.95 USD per person Friday-Sunday and holidays. On weekdays, it's 16.95 USD. If you're a single diner, a hot pot meal will cost you 19.95 USD on weekdays and 2 USD more Friday-Sunday and holidays. Children ages 3-6 eat for 12.95 USD.
Lao Sze Chuan is recognized by Michelin's Bib Gourmand and boasts a Zagat score of 24/30.
The Bill: 42 USD for two.
My Rating: out of four stars (very good). Lao Sze Chuan is open every day, 10:30 AM to midnight. Credit cards accepted. www.tonygourmetgroup.com
+ - × ÷
After a glorious lunch, D and I walked through the rest of the shopping arcade in which Lao Sze Chuan was located. We came across a Chinese bakery - ding! ding! ding!
We went inside and found - you guessed it - egg tarts!
What I ate:
Egg Tart (0.80 USD). These egg tarts were superior BY FAR to the ones I had the week prior at Wan Shi Da Bakery. Not only was the color better but the taste was fuller and had more depth and richness to it. The custard had better texture, too - less thick. The pastry shell was delicate and buttery; again, better than Wan Shi Da's product. I would definitely come back for more.
D also ate an egg tart. D is a native Hong Konger, therefore, I had to ask his opinion. If I remember correctly, he gave it about 50/100, which is pretty good considering the best he ever had in Hong Kong was around 80/100. I think D is a more discerning critic than I am!
My Rating: out of four stars (good). CASH ONLY.
Last Word: So which way is it to the good Chinatown? When you exit the Cermak-Chinatown CTA station, head towards the Willis Tower. It's a big, black skyscraper. You can't miss it.
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