The Wiv invited about 15 of us to descend into his RST-dubbed spiderhole for a cantonese fiesta last night. And whaddaya know, the press showed up.
Food-wise, gary ordered for depth rather than breadth : we had 1.5 crispy skinned chickens, 2 gigantic platters of evil-ronnie style clams in black bean sause atop a nest of crispy fried wheat noodles, 2 silver platters of strifried blue crabs with ginger and scallion, two plates of deep fried salt and pepper squid, two dishes of sporadically headed salt and pepper shrimps, some pea shoots with garlic, some szechuan(?) dry fried green beans with pork, and two heaping portions of crispy rice noodles with bok choy and beef, plus a hot pot with stuffed deepfried tofu and braised lettuce. All dishes were drenched at will with some of Gary's home made chili oil, which can be found in the back of the liquor/beer fridge in the rear of the restaurant. A public service!
Actually, having now catalogued the menu, it occurs to me that, true to form, Gary ordered for both breadth and depth, not to mention heft. Remarkably, after putting away all this food, the comment was made with minimal giggling that we could've done with a couple more dishes, maybe some quids and sour greens or an extra plate of crispy noodles. What's more, Kerensa and I were seconds away from descendig onto HuckFinn donuts for a donut sundae when we thought better of it, opting for a pint of B&J instead, until we thought better of that too, and headed home. All this food came out to 17 bucks/head.
Aside from chowhound regulars, we were also joined by a reporter and a photographer from the Good Eats section of the Trib, who between oohs and ahs over the array of goodies, grilled the attendees about their chowhound creds, about the good natured disagreements between the mayor and the wiv over LTH, and the recent search among board regulars for other food writing outlets. We also talked about the lively community that has grown up in the corporeal world from our insubstantial back and forth online. There wil be an article, I think, in February.
The food? In its element, LTH was dead-on last night. The crispy-skin chicken was phenomenal, the meat succulent, the garnish of lemon juice cilantro and scallion the perfect counterpoint to the savory saltiness of the skin. It was cooked to chinese standards of doneness: the marrow was bright red, and there was some pinkness around the bone, but even, the dish is spectacluar. The clams were the other big standout of the night for me: although I have never developed a taste for evil ronnie's nest of noodles; I think i'd rather have the clams on their own, or on a bed of crispy rice noodles.
I will say that this was not a perfect meal. I love the crispy rice noodles, but do not like the texture of the beef or the flavor of the sauce that comes on top of it. I could've done without the hot pot tofu, which didn't have any flavors that really sang.
And the blue crabs were completely mediocre. I know that the others at the table seemed to enjoy them, and Gary confirmed that the crabs were at a typical level of goodness last night, but I found them really unappealing. There was hardly any meat, even in the body cavities, and the meat in the legs was over done, dry and next-to impossible to extract. I know that my standard for crabs are probably untenable in chicago, but these crabs didn't bear any resemblence to the crabs of my chesapeake bay youth: sweet and meaty, with a moist succulence and easy access to clean white meat.
But the salt and pepper squid was great, big hunks of tender flesh in a slightly greasy salty batter: ten times better than the NEw Years Eve Silver Seafood rendition.
And the company was even better - we were especially lucky to have Adam Stephanides in from Champaign, and Kerensa and I enjoyed talking him and board newcomers Robert and Catherine,as well as the mysterious hungryhoward whose face shall never be published. Thanks to Gary for organizing the event.