Thursday, February 15, 2007

Szchewan Restaurant, 60611 (Restaurant Review)

Well, we're both sick now -- this time with some sort of head cold. We had to cancel our dinner plans for Valentine's day and stuck ourselves on the couch with some Chinese takeout last night in lieu of a fancy dinner at HB: A Hearty Boys Spot. HB is owned and operated by the winners of the first Next Food Network Star challenge, Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh, and it's a cozy little spot with brick walls, candles, and inexpensive delicious meals. We went there last year for Valentine's day and ordered the five-course couples meal and couldn't have been more surprised -- or more pleased -- with the results, which included a whole red snapper, oysters, and savory cupcakes. The cupcake flight was really amazing and I'm still thinking about it over a year later: honey lavender, orange blossom and chocolate chili, perfectly baked and topped with a mountain of frosting. Yumyumyummm.
Unfortunately, we just weren't feeling up to it yesterday, so we got some Chinese food from our favorite place in town, Szchewan Restaurant. They serve Szechuan, Mandarin and Hunan cuisines, and even offer some Shanghainese and Cantonese dishes as well. I can't even tell you how great this restaurant is, although they don't do delivery (you can have the food delivered through a service called DiningIn, but it takes over an hour to arrive and it's cold and expensive.) The crab rangoons are to die for, and the food isn't greasy or drippy or icky -- which is sometimes the case with Chinese restaurants, I'm afraid. I love the decor -- classy but not trendy, with white tablecloths and intimate seating -- and the waiters are always smiling and friendly, although we mostly do takeout.
They also allow you to request white meat only for the chicken dishes, which is huge: very high quality food. I'd recommend asking for only white meat, because it doesn't cost any extra and I just like white meat better. Last night we forgot, though, and our General Tso's chicken was mostly dark: fine when you're eating a saucy chicken, but not so good in a soup. Why do I like white meat better? It's got something to do with the texture, and the nutrition content: dark meat tends to be fattier than white. So in matters of white meat vs. dark meat, I'm in the white meat camp. But I understand the value of a dark meat, particularly when grilling or frying -- it holds up better and is less stringy. Another great thing about darker parts of the chicken? Higher iron content. So... it's a matter of my personal taste, really.
Anyhow, if you're going to eat at Szchewan Restaurant, I can't speak highly enough of the Fried Wontons (also known as Crab Rangoons) which are fried doughy purses filled with cream cheese and crab meat. You get eight of them for only $3.95, and eight are more than enough for two people to share. They're really rich and are probably the best crab rangoons I've ever had. And I love me some rangoons. We started off the meal yesterday with their Sizzling Rice Soup, made with large pieces of fresh snow peas, mushrooms, and chicken floating in chicken broth. It's something that I really like eating when I'm feeling sick because it's so fresh, hot, and light. I also really adore their Crispy Sesame Chicken, which is strips of chicken smothered in a gooey and deliciously sweet sesame sauce and topped with tiny, crunchy noodle like things. Last night, though, we went for the General Tso's chicken, a chef's special that is made with chunks of chicken (like you see in most Chinese food places here) topped in a spicy sauce with red peppers, ginger, and garlic. I'm about to cry just thinking about how tasty it is.
If you're in the Chicago area and need a great place to eat on the Magnificent Mile, don't pass up Szchewan Restaurant. And with Chinese New Year right around the corner, be sure to make a reservation if you're planning on going this coming weekend. Or you can stop by for their extensive lunch buffet on weekdays between the hours of 11:30 AM and 2:00 PM. They also serve Dim Sum on Saturday and Sunday from 11:30 to 3:00 pm. They recommend a reservation for their dim sum, which sounds like a real experience -- not good for a first date, though, they say on their page aptly titled More Information about Dim Sum. The menu is a bit pricey, but when you consider the amount of food they give you? It's just about right.

Szchewan Restaurant
645 N. Michigan Avenue (the entrance is actually on Ontario St.)
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 642- 3900

Mon- Sat 11:30am-10:00pm
Sun 11:30am- 9:30pm

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