Several weeks ago, while drunkenly looking for some late night Chinese, as a default of everything else being closed, I stumbled in to one of the more historically insipid Chinese restaurants not only in Chicago, but pergaps in North America:Marks Chop Suey at 2901 N. Broadway.
Something was different about Marks that night. The disagreeable counter help had been replaced by courteous and friendly people. The walls had been painted a nice shade of eggshell blue in comparison to the grease stained white that I had seen on previous occasions.
That night, I ordered a large wonton soup which normally tasted something like eating a spoonful of salt. But, something funny happened when I sat down to eat my soup that night...it was actually good. A lightly flavored checken broth filled with delicate wontons stuffed with tasty pork and chicken.
Tonight, upon arriving home in Chicago from a week of visiting the family in god's country, I had a craving for that most traditional of Thnaksgiving Night treats: Chinese food.
As luck would find it (although I didn't know it was luck at the time), the only place open was the restaurant previously known as Mark's and now renamed Szechuan Garden.
Being substantially more sober on this visit and willing to wait for a takeout order, I settled into a chair and began to study a new and different menu than that of marks. Sure, you can still get General Tso's Chicken and Crab Rangoon. But, in addition to those old familiar Chinese American, there were new and interesting dishes including a number of vegetarian ones.
Having struck up a brief conversation with the new owner, I decided to submit myself to her recomnmendations and asked her to order what she believed to be the two best non-vegtarian dishes on the menu for me. Here's what I got:
While I waited on my order, the owners plied me with some samples of marinated vegetables (carrots, daikon, and onion) as well as a really interesting marinated soy bean.
Chicken(advertised as pork on the menu) Dumpling with roasted chili Vinaigrette. Not nearly as spicy as anticipated. However, the dumplings and filling were well prepared and excellent. The dumplings were sahped more like a hal ravioli. The skins, thin and delicate. The filling was a mild mixture of chicken and spring onion. The "vinaigrette" a traditional dipping saice accented with the addition of roasted chilis. Not bad, but not earth shattering
Hong Poa Ground Cumin Beef is a moderateley spiced deep fried beef dish lightly coated in something that seemed a bit like Panko spiced heavily with Cumin, The resulting beef was crisy and spicy on the outside, yet tender and moist inside.It was served over an excellent sir fried medely of vegetables including onions, sweet red peppers, spicy dried chiles, and mushrooms. Unlike entrees of of the notoriously bad Lakeview Chinese places, the entree wasn't swimming in a sea of greasy, gummy and unidentifiable brown sauce.
I saved a few pieces of the beef because, I imagine that it will make a great cold appetizer tomorrow.
Other interesting dishes of note on the menu are a Szechuan stewed beef with Tofu and Mushroom, Green Curry and Red Curry Chicken/Beef or Shrimp, Fish filled with Black Bean Sauce (described as a "chili szechuan miso sauce" on the menu, and a Korean style Jam Bong. Tonight's special was a tea smoked duck.
I look forward to trying those as well as others in the coming weeks. The owners indicate that the menu is a work in progress with their goal being to dslowly work off all of the old dishes from the Mark's menu replacing them with traditional and modified Szechuan dishes. They will focus a large portion of their menu on vegetarian dishes.
I'm already a fan after only two visits.
2901 N. Broadway