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Happy New Year at Happy Chef!


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Happy New Year at Happy Chef!

Vital Information | Feb 2, 2003 10:28 PM

On the way to meet some other chowhounds tonight, chowhoundita #2 expressed how lucky one of her sunday school classmates was. With one parent Jewish, one Chinese and both living in the USA, they got to celebrate three new years. Well, both my parents are Jewish, but I still like to celebrate Chinese new year too. Happy Chef turned out to be a spectacular choice. So spectacular that about 1,000 other people came tonight as well. We lucked out by eating early. It was bedlam by the time we left.

Happy Chef has menu's and menu's and wall specials, and specials advertised on the doors and fixed dinners and hot pots, but I never stray from the family style dinners based on "add a lobster" where you choose a few dishes and then, for a fixed price, add a lobster. I got my way tonight because the other chowhounds engrossed themsevlves in each other's fine company. I snuck in the ordering. Actually, with Shirly aboard, we got some expert advice on the dishes for the most luck. So, I made sure we some whole fish and scallops and noodles made it to the order.

One problem about Happy Chef's family style choices is routine-ness. Each visit produces the same dishes. To change ME up, Happy Chef took the time to alter the family style selections. We saw at least ten new dishes to choose. From that new listing, we got the string bean and beef Malaysian style. Our final selections stayed classic: the head-on prawns with spicy salt and chili, the stir fried lobster and the on-choy. What, suprise, no on-choy. It turns out this has been a running joke that I never noticed, but Happy Chef rarely has the advertised on-choy. Instead, we got spinach served the same way, with fermented bean curd.

Before all those dishes, soup. On saturday, the family and I visited Bobak's. One of the things that cracked me up about Bobak's was these packages of deli bits and pieces. Salami ends, hams worn down to knubby pieces, meats no longer capable of being sliced without loosing someone's finger sold on the cheap. I guess these misc. meats go maily for soups. At Happy Chef, they served us a soup from something, different in substance, but surely similiar in spirit. This was the odd pieces left over from dim sum I believe. A chicken foot here, chunks of lotus root there, dried oysters and all sorts of other things floated along in a murky broth that would mimic almost exactly in color, the later dessert soup. It worked. Nice start.

Then, the dishes. First came the whole fish, two as they were small. Ultimo thought them pomfret. I worried initially on seeing them, as they looked moist, like they were carelessly fried. Wrong, just a saucing of hot oil. Expertly done fish that peeled away easily from large bones.

Adding the string bean Malaysian style was a good move. Having been to Malaysia and eaten often at Penang, I found nothing particularly Malaysian about the dish. Who cared. The string beans picked up great smoky flavor from dry wok cooking and the sauce included chili peppers for some unsusual (for Cantonese) heat. Now that I think of it, the sauce also included ground pork, which really makes a mockery of being Malaysian (an Islamic country). Shrirly commented that the beef was rather superfulous, but a bit of meat helped balance our table as the rest of the dishes were seafood.

Even if it included a clothspin (!), the scallop dish was the winner of the evening. I did not realize I had basically had this dish before, only with fish fillets instead of scallops. Blocks of steamed soft tofu in a oily, rich bath on the bottom, then scallops and on top of them plenty of salty preserved black beans. The components all tasted fine, but as contrasting flavors and textures, worked best together.

Believe me, no clunkers in the batch with the rest of the dishes. Mid-meal, a huge chain-reaction of firecrakers went off. We were lucky to have window seats. The show only added to our show. Service, they tried, but given the bustle, what could you expect. Make it a happy new year yourself at Happy Chef. In the Chinatown Mall, where I do most of my Chinese eating.


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