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Category Archives: Sichuan

Whatever Floats Your Goat (Duck Duck Goat)

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Ah Tuesday.  The most underwhelming day of the week.  It doesn’t have the anticipation of a Friday or the dread of a Monday or even the satisfaction of getting over the peak of the work week on a Wednesday.  Thankfully, I have a wonderful Mastication Monologues post about a restaurant that will have you wishing for the weekend.

Stephanie Izard is one of the highest profile female restaurateurs who has cultivated an enormous following through her various eateries in the West Loop/slowly gentrifying Fulton Market area of Chicago, including the famed Girl and the Goat which I have also written about.  Now, she has taken her legend to another level by becoming an Iron Chef as well as opening a Chinese inspired restaurant called Duck Duck Goat, a much better alternative to a goose, I think.

Izard just making noodles (PC: WGN)

It is easy to get to by public transportation or with a car, and when we walked in, it was very busy with the lunch crowd.  From the neon lights in the front window to every inch of the interior, Izard has attempted to recreate the kitschy 1950s Chinese restaurants that tried to slap as many random artifacts on the walls and used as many brightly colored wallpapers in each room.  Even though it sounds like a madhouse, it was pleasant on the eye in its tacky glory as we took a seat at the center island bar while we waited for our third diner to join us.  We decided to try some of their mixed drinks since they looked too good to pass up.  I got the Bebop and Woksteady, the bartender appreciated by Ninja Turtle knowledge on that one, and Janice got the Lucky Duck.  I won’t go into every single detail of what went into these elaborate drinks, but I greatly enjoyed my cocktail.  It was a mix of mezcal, pineapple juice, and orange juice with lime salt coating the rim.  If you’ve never had mezcal before, it is an acquired taste.  Mezcal comes from the Nahuatl (language of the Aztecs) word “Mexcalli” (Mesh-calee) meaning “over-cooked agave” because it comes from the same agave plant tequila is made from.  However, since it is overcooked, it has a strong smoky flavor which I think gives it a more complex flavor than tequila.  The Aztecs believed the agave plant was holy and contained the nectar of the gods, and the Bebop and Woksteady was just that.  The smokiness of the mezcal was enhanced with the lime salt yet had an understated sweetness that kept it from becoming a poor man’s chelada.  Janice’s Lucky Duck was a rum based drink that tasted like a sweet, bubbly lemonade with a low-key bitter undertone.  Eventually, Janice’s friend Joe arrived, and we were seated at the table.

Looking over the menu, they even extended the same old-school Chinese vibe to the layout and pictures.  Before we got our food, Joe and Janice went on to get the Try Try Again and the Good Health cocktails.  We quickly learned that you couldn’t go wrong with their mixed drinks since everything we had was delicious and dangerous since they tasted like candy.  However, I went off the beaten path to keep it real with the Chinese menu and got an adult bubble tea.  I got the Honey Please which was milk tea infused with honey whiskey.  While I am partial to a great bubble tea, especially of the taro variety, I wasn’t too pleased with Duck Duck Goat’s take on this Taiwanese drink mainly because they went too heavy on the whiskey and light on the tea.  Once we refilled out cups, we got down to business with the foodstuffs.  Overall, the prices were more on the pricier end compared to other dim sum/Chinese restaurants in Chinatown and Chicagoland, but we learned that the price tag was justified.  It was interesting because it wasn’t as full on American Chinese as I anticipated yet it was more like an intermediate selection of more Western friendly Chinese traditional dishes with a classic Izard twist.  Plus, all menu options were on the small to medium end and meant to be shared with your fellow diners.

Chinese food has been around since the 1800s in the United States due to a high influx of Chinese immigrants to the West coast to build the railroads.  Most of the workers came from southern regions of China, especially the town of Taisan (台山市), and brought with them food that had to be either adapted for their American customers or made as close to the real deal for their fellow Chinese immigrants without having all the necessary ingredients.  Traditional Cantonese dishes do have some similarities to the modern day orange chickens and chop suey, but most mainland Chinese view American Chinese food as foreign food that their favorite tv characters eat out of white take-out boxes.  Instead of heavily-sauced meat dishes, we started with char siu bao or pork buns.  We got the baked version (叉燒餐包) which was different from the steamed type often served at many dim sum restaurants in Chinatown.  The dough was amazing.  Soft and topped with green scallions, but the filling was kind of disappointing.  I was expecting the red, sweet minced pork in all previous char siu dishes I’ve tried, but instead it was more like shreddednpork with little seasoning.  I would still recommend trying them for the dough alone.  Next up, the extremely lightly pan-fried jiaozi ( 鍋貼).  The name behind these dumplings come from many sources.  Some believe it comes from the Chinese word for “horn” like on a bull, others the early word for “money”, or possibly the word “jiao’er” meaning “tender ears” because an ancient Traditional Chinese medicine practitioner made them for his patients who had frostbitten ears.  No matter its origin story, it was a wonderful choice.  They were filled with beef short rib and bone marrow whose saltiness was sinfully rich and filling.  I highly recommend these dumplings.  Then came the chiu chow fun gor which were shrimp dumplings that were showered  with modestly sweet peanut-soy sauce and pickled red peppers.  They were also more multi-layered in terms of flavor compared to the char siu bao or the next choice in our feast.  Following these dumplings, we got, surprise surprise, xiao long bao (小籠包) or soup buns.  These unique dumplings were invented in Shanghai but quickly spread throughout China.  The ones served at Duck Duck Goat were served in the southern Chinese style with translucent skin and filled with traditional pork, crab, and broth.  If you’ve never had the pleasure of getting to know these dumplings, do not pop them in your mouth immediately, or you will be scalded with hot soup on your tongue and elsewhere.  They were just as good as the ones I had at Din Tai Fung in Hong Kong!  They were complimented very well with a lip-smacking earthy soy sauce on the side.  Finally, we ended the dumpling part of our dinner with ham sui gok (咸水饺/咸水角) or glutinous rice goat dumplings.  These were new to me, and I typically would avoid rice cake due to my experiences in Korea.  However, the crunchy, fried exterior gave way to a chewy interior that was stuffed with seasoned goat.  I would preferred it if it was served with a hoisin or spicy sauce to make this dish really pop, but Iron Chef Izard knows what’s best.  Transitioning from more tame dumplings, we went full throttle into more traditional Chinese fare that could drive more squeamish diners away:  duck hearts.  I had previously eaten parts of a duck I never thought I would when hosted by my friend David’s family in Taipei (非常谢谢!), but this is another part that I ended up loving.  Izard nailed the dish by roasting them until they had a good char and served them halved on a puddle of mild sesame-horseradish sauce.  Given the heart is pure muscle, it almost tasted like cubes of sirloin with a slight kick from the horseradish.  Hands down my second if not top dish we had at dinner. As if we couldn’t eat any more, Janice recommended that we should try the slap noodles.  The reason why they’re called “slap” is because they are slapped on the kitchen counter to remove any excess flour as they’re stretched to perfection by hand (example here).  I personally wasn’t wowed with these thicker, somewhat crispy noodles that were canoodling with shrimp, goat sausage, bean sprouts, and a strange red vegetable we couldn’t identify.  My theory was that they were cooked tomatoes.  Joe and Janice preferred it more than I did, but I think my preference for thinner or crispier noodles may have clouded my perceptions.  Noodle-wise, I was definitely feeling the chilly chili noodles.  Perhaps I liked it because it was more Korean in nature because it had the spicy ramen-esque noodles, pickled cucumbers, and was cold like naengmyeon.  Surprisingly, we had room for dessert in the form of baonuts (see what they did there?).  These deep-fried bao were similar to the char siu bao earlier in our meal, but these were more like warm doughnuts and filled with rich, dark chocolate frosting.  They were well-executed as a Chinese version of a Western doughnut, but it was nothing super innovative.

Our experience at Duck Duck Goat was definitely memorable.  I would highly recommend a visit if you’re tired of eating the same old Panda Express and want to expand your Chinese food horizons but are not yet ready to go full throttle with some chicken feet or stinky tofu.  Just remember to come hungry and be willing to share your food with others, if possible!


Duck Duck Goat Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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MSG’s Alright With Me

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Hey everybody, and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Many great events have been happening as of late including my blog now being featured on the acclaimed food blogging website TheBesty.  You can find the article here, and they will be featuring some of my restaurants in a few upcoming YouTube videos.  So stay tuned!  Self promotion aside, today I’d like to tell you all about Oriental Taste, a simple but yummy eatery located at 106 63rd St, Willowbrook, IL 60527  that has quickly become my family’s go-to Chinese restaurant when we crave some Asian cuisine.

While this place may not be as famous as some of the other Chinese establishments I’ve visited both in the States and abroad in China and Taiwan, it still manages to do serve some quality Cantonese-inspired American Chinese food at a great price.  It’s quite simply furnished both inside and outside,ls but this is a case of not judging a book by its cover as their menu will both intrigue and excite you.ls (1)  They have everything from classic egg rolls and potstickers to many different varieties of fried rice and noodles dishes.  If you’re feeling adventurous, they also have Cantonese specialties that are closer to some of the dishes I saw while vacationing in Hong Kong.  In all the years my family has been going there, it seems like we’re always the only non-Asian people who actually sit down in the restaurant to eat, but overall, it seems their carry-out business is the real money maker.  We’ve never tried their carry-out services, so I can’t offer my own opinion on the overall efficiency of this part of the business.  Anyway, for this dinner, I decided to get a plate of bbq pork chow mein, and my mom ordered the ever-popular kung pao chicken.  After a good while of looking at the various duck carcasses and pieces of meat in the display case next to the register, our entrees came out with a side of white rice and a full pot of tea.  I focused mainly on my wonderfully arranged plate that was overflowing with noodles. IMG_2752 I took three forkfuls of the noodle nest along with the morsels nestled in its golden tangles.  Each mouthful was a who’s who of textures and flavors as the noodles were prepared in the crispy, Hong Kong style, and the barbecued pork strips were succulent but not greasy, thankfully.  I’m also partial to bean sprouts, so this dish was perfect for me.  These translucent, crispy tubes were paired perfectly with the crunchy green onions that popped up every so often to pep up the meal.  IMG_2753The kung pao chicken was quite scrumptious as the juicy pieces of chicken were pure white meat, and the soy based sauce covering every inch of the plate provided a spicy zing to each mouthful.  I liked the peanuts that were added to supply a crunchtacular counterpoint to the chewier chicken and firm onion and pepper elements of the meal.

So if you’re looking for quality American Chinese fare without the bells and whistles of other chains or upscale restaurants, check out Oriental Taste in Willowbrook, IL.  It’s a hidden gem that won’t be under wraps for long.

 
Oriental Taste on Urbanspoon

I Fell Into a Burning Ring of Fire

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Hello to all out there on the interwebs!  Sorry for the immense amount of lag time between my last amazing post and this one, but I have been enjoying the last fleeting moments of my summer before going back to the grind of graduate school.  Anyway, I’m going to be telling you today about a food adventure I had this past weekend in Chinatown in Chicago.  The place in question is called Lao Sze Chuan located at 2172 South Archer Avenue Chicago, IL 60616 which is part of the new Chinatown square which is a bit further north of the older Chinatown.

My friend invited me out to lunch in Chinatown, and she asked me whether I wanted Dim Sum or spicy food.  Now, I had already went to a Dim Sum restaurant (check out one of my previous posts if you haven’t already!), so I went with the spicy food option.  Apparently, Lao Sze Chuan is one of the most popular restaurants in Chinatown, so naturally there was a wait.  However, it didn’t take long for us to get a table.  Upon opening up the menu, I was greeted with the story of the restaurant and all of the famous people who have dined there in the past including one Bill Clinton.  Anyway, there were plenty of options with spicy, chicken, beef, seafood, and traditional Chinese sections to name a few.  In the end, we ended up going with an order of Ma Po Tofu, LaLaLa spicy chicken pot, and double fried sliced pork with cilantro Jiazhou style.

I’ll start off with the Ma Po Tofu since I’m going to be up front with my dislike for tofu (sorry veggie readers).

A delight for veggies

However, I still wanted to try it since I never pass up an opportunity to try something new.  It was served in a brown, pork based broth along with chopped up red chilies, and the small tofu cubes looked like tiny spicy icebergs bobbing in the Arctic ocean.  With my small sampling, there was no arctic chill with this tofu as it was very soft and disintegrated in my mouth instantly with a brief spicy flourish.  If you’re a vegetarian, I’m sure you’d be more of a fan of this dish, but it was dead last during my trip to Lao Sze Chuan.  Moving on to the LaLaLa spicy chicken pot, I am a sucker for picking out food that has a funny name hence my choice.  Thankfully, I did not regret it at all as it arrived to our table on a mini-grill that kept the chicken nice and hot.  The perfectly grilled chicken was marinated in a red chili sauce and came with diced red and green peppers and onions.  It was bringing that heat that makes me sweat which let me know that I was in an authentic Chinese restaurant that didn’t pull any punches with their use of spices.  Even though some of their food might be hellishly spicy, it keeps on bringing people back since every table in their restaurant was full during our four-hour visit, but I digress.  The final choice, the double fried sliced pork with cilantro Jiazhou style, was just alright.  It consisted of thinly sliced pieces of fried pork along with blackened red chilies, whole stalks of marinated cilantro, and celery.

Definitely pigged out on this dish

The only downside was that the cilantro was a bit too overpowering and left a strange, bitter aftertaste.  Plus, the fact that the pork was dry did not go well with so much cilantro.  However, when I isolated the pork, it was very crispy and filled with bacony goodness along with some spicy highlights.

So as a whole, I would rate my visit to Lao Sze Chuan as very enjoyable and would recommend it to anyone looking for authentic (read: very spicy) Sichuan cuisine along with a slice of one of Chicago’s most famous/oldest neighborhoods.

Lao Sze Chuan on Urbanspoon

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