It was a good weekend for chowing -- my first densely chowtastic weekend in a while. Friday night, I went with 7 friends to LIttle Three Happiness, a place that Gary Wiviott has been steadily promoting in almost every chinese food thread in the last 8 months. We were not disappointed: armed with Gary's extensive posting on menu suggestions, and a vial of extra hot chili oil that Gwiv left in the Three Happiness Fridge, we put together a very good meal. Many thanks are due to Mr Wiviott.
Here are the dishes we had that were excellent:
Beef and vegetables with rice noodles
Salt & Pepper Shrimp w/ Shell
Stuffed Tofu Casserole
Stirfried Watercress w/ Garlic
Crispy Skin Chicken
We ordered the rice noodles crispy, and they were great-- i especially enjoyed the textural contrast between the creamy gooey top layer of chow foon with the crunchy fried layer on the bottom. Next time around I'll try the seafood version: the beef was fine, but the noodles were koing.
The shrimp were really great -- greasy, salty, crunchy, I could've eaten a dozen more. Stuffed tofu was pretty good -- it was my second choice: the rice casserole with Duck, Sausage and Cured pork apprently takes 45 minutes to prepare, so I'll call ahead the next time. The tofu casserole could've used a little more kick --maybe more giner in the sauce, but the texture was great, and the dish was improved by gary's chili oil -- i reallly like the braised lettuce under the tofu -- cooked just enough to wilt without getting too mushy and maintaining the crispy veggie snap. Watercress was great -- salty and garlicky -- i'm eager to explore the rest of their veggies. Crispy skin chicken was out of this world -- succulent and tender, with crunchy skin and niced spiced salt to rub in. (Gary later informed me that it's even better with a little cilantro on the side, so ask for it special if they don't bring it). Each of these dishes makes me want to go back and try the variations -- next time , noodles with seafood, roast duck, salt and pepper squid, if the dishes we had on friday are any indication the variations should be superb.
We also had:
Clams w/ Black Bean Sauce
The clams were ok -- i think i'm a little spoiled for this dish. Full Kee in DC makes a staggeringly good rendition -- very simple: just ultra fresh clams with an intense black bean and garlic and scallion sauce. Nothing extranous; nothing mushy -- just clear simple ingredients with very assertive flavors. The version we had at little three happiness (and everywhere else I've had this dish in Chicago) comes distractingly with a lot of fried pork in with the clams, and a less assertive gloppy brown black bean sauce, and clams that didn't really sing with oceaniness. Gary mentioned that this dish is uneven at Little Three Happiness, maybe it'd be better on another visit, but I'd be grateful if someone would direct me toward a version of it in Chicago that can compete with the one in DC.
Orange Chicken was ordered as a fallback for them's that were less inclined toward shrimp heads, and was mediocre -- it was notable only in teh degree to which it tasted like deep fried chicken in an orange crush glaze. And the won ton soup was ok -- we got a giant bowl of tepid bland broth with pretty good dumplings stuffed with pork and shrimp. I like the shrimp wontons at sun wah on argyle better than I liked these.
The next night, I went to Salam with a couple of friends. VI and Gwiv and others have posted about this Albany Park middle eastern place. It was pretty good. The beef dishes were the best: beef shawarma, kafta kebab, and shish kebab were all grilled well orver an open flame and tasted terrific. Shish taouk was a little stringy, but not the worst chicken ever. The felafel was very good, and a ridiculou bargain at 19 cents per piece. Hummus was nice, but could've used a little more garlic and lemon; the fould was actually bad -- a mushy bland fava mash without any particularly appealing characteristics. Nothing like the lemon and garlic filled version at King Falafil. I forgot to order the hot green sauce, and we could've used it. The sage infused tea was nice, if not exactly what I expected. You get a glass of hot water, with a lipton's tea bag and some dried whole sage leaves floating about. Arab coffee after was nice -- cardamommy and sweet, not so strong that I couldn't get to sleep. Service was fine -- neither inattentive nor over exuberant, and there wasn't that much cigarette smoke.
Next door at the Salam bakery everything was good -- both the walnut and pistachio baklavas were buttery and sweet: we tried ten different pastries, all of which were great. We also had a nice chat with the owner, who lives in Palos Hills and was extremely talkative -- we discussed national food preferences, and had a little banter about tomorrow's municipal election. He seemed delighted to meet white folk that weren't pro-war -- apparently out in Palos, he doesn't run into too many antiwar types. But that's neither here nor there. Kerensa and I may make a concerted effort in the next month or so to eat our way up and down these two blocks of kedzie
Anyhow, that's my report...I hope I'll see some of you on Saturday...