Friday, August 19, 2005

No Good Chinese Food in Chicago (?!?)

Not! 'til my dying days I will fight against two fallacies, that the New York Times aint so librul (Krugman, and thank god for Krugman excepted) and that there is no good Chinese food in Chicago. I think a lot of the no good Chinese food is propagated by the same New Yawkers who pine for a good triangle style slice. That is, it is not good Chinese food they want, but Chinese food like the take away they once got. But there is also a home grown school of Chinese restaurant detractors. This school mostly bemoans the lack of sophistication and airs of our Chinese restaurants and tends to be tone deaf to the greatness of "real" Chinese food (oil and all). For instance, this later school, push comes to shove, might point to places like Ben Pao or Opera as the few good Chinese restaurants. Me, I have a hard time hitting all the places I like, and then I run across a place like Lee Wing Wah, and I am even more pissed.

Lee Wing Wah is one of a several Chinese restaurants in the mall North of Archer, on the Northern part of Chinatown. The mall has had these restaurants for years but only now, about ten years later, does the mall feel alive. And all these years, I never bothered to try Lee Wing Wah. I am mostly a creature of habit, and while I go to a lot of places in Chinatown, I tend to have set places for things: Happy Chef for Cantonese, Mandarin Kitchen for Shanghainese (which sounds weird but makes sense if you know the back story); The Sevens, Treasure for soup noodles, Wives for breakfast; Spring World for spicy/oily stuff; Triple Crown for late night; Ken Kee if I wanted to be weird. I know there are places I need to try like Sky, and I know that others off the short list, like Lao Sze Chuan or Moon Palace can be pretty special, but like I say, I am a creature of habit. Now, a few weeks ago we finally tried the pho place in the Chinatown mall, so I guess I was inspired to seek out new things.

I gazed long into the Lee Wing Wah space because it was so packed on this weeknight. And it all looked good, especially the salt 'n pepper shrimps on a lot of tables. Mostly for Cantonese food, I've stuck (well) with Happy Chef. Happy Chef has three things I like in a Chinese restaurant: a broad and easy to navigate menu; good value and great cooking. Well, not that long ago I was noticing some great looking food on customer's tables at Lee Wing Wah, and I thought, finally, to give that place a try. Lee Wing Wah also has a broad and easy to navigate menu; good value and great cooking.

I have been to Lee Wing Wah twice. Sorry, I have not sampled too many dishes between the visits. On the first visit it was salt n' pepper shrimps, fried (crispy skin) chicken, stir fried tong choi with spicy bean sauce (not really spicy at all); "egg style tofu", and steamed oysters with black bean. On the second visit, we got the dinner for 4--crab with ginger, fish fillet with vegetable, snp shrimps and fried chicken*; we added the egg style tofu (for the kidz) and Chinese broc with oyster sauce. Not a single dish has been less than excellent on both visits. The shrimps are a little different than say Happy Chef's shrimps. The salt n' pepper make a very thick coating at Lee Wing Wah, like battered fried shrimp. Egg style tofu is called egg style because the tofu was cut to look like hard cooked eggs. It looked solid but it was just barely, and it contrasted well with typical brown sauce. Let me also get out of the way, that we picked the dish (one of my daughters picked it) from a menu with color pictures, making the place easy to navigate. The other thing about that menu is that they gave away the game on "crispy skin" chicken. That is, the picture menu translated it as fried chicken. Fried chicken, it definitely tasted more fried, more greasy than others around Chinatown, but not in a bad way at all.

I do have one bone to pick though. As I noted, there are several color pictures to help form a menu. But, but, there is also a page of lunch specials, much cheaper, written soley in Chinese characters. My first visit was for lunch, and I could have read Chinese, I would have spent even less. If anyone tells you there is no good Chinese food in Chicago, take them to a meal at Lee Wing Wah.

*The dinner for 4 is a very good deal at $39. You are allowed to substitute out from the choices; there about six alternative dishes. We asked if we could substitute out the chicken instead. They were fine with that for an extra $1.75. All in all, still a very good deal.

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