Our friends, one of whom is native Chinese, had been talking about this place for some time and promising to bring us there. They'd discovered it -- by luck -- after being bummed out by a long line at Lao Sze Chuan. Since then, they'd returned there numerous times and really fell in love with it. So, a couple of days ago, after some planning and replanning, we all finally made it to Double Li (not easy coming from Deerfield on a weeknight). It was an experience I will not soon forget; one of those meals that, for me, changed the known landscape of what Chinese cuisine can be.
I'm not sure what we ate in some cases. Some items seem to match up with renditions described on the menu, others are close but not exact matches, and still some others seem to have been completely "off" menu. In this regard, it was great being hosted by our Chinese-speaking friend, who was able to navigate the menu, communicate with the staff and explain exactly what we wanted. And since the specials were hand-written in Chinese, her fluency paid off in that regard as well.Double Li
is located at 228 W. CermakLamb
This first dish was a complete surprise to me and a fine indication of the meal we were about to experience. Here, the thinly-sliced, seared lamb was redolent of aromatic cumin that wafted up from the table and completely engaged us. Our host informed us that cumin is very popular in western China, something I did not know and had never experienced before in eating Chinese food.Twice-cooked pork
I'm not sure what to say about this dish other than that it was delicious and contained quite a bit of pork belly. Again, the baseline spiciness of this dish was fairly high, with some mildly sweet notes balancing it out nicely.Dry Chili Chicken
I've had this dish at Lao Sze Chuan numerous times and this rendition stacks up against it quite favorably . . . fiery, crunchy, amazing. One of our friends compared eating this dish to finishing off a tube of toothpaste -- there's always one more chicken nugget hiding somewhere on the plate.Tofu
(unsure of preparation)
This soft and silky tofu really challenged my chopstick skills. It was sweet, rich, spicy and wonderfully timed within the meal. It showed up very well against the heat of the dry chili chicken and also added to the progression of heat in its own way.Fish in chili broth/oil
This pot of fish was breathtakingly spectacular. Here, 5-spice, szechuan peppercorn and chilis provided most of the deep seasoning. I'd never before had Szechuan peppercorns tingle and numb my palate so quickly. The lightly battered fish was fried and then drowned in the hot pot. The result was some delectably tender pieces of flesh that were intensely flavorful. The cabbage in this bowl, which was saturated with the amazing broth, was worth fighting over. Dayum! Peapod greens
I loved these tender greens. They were coated with a bright, snappy sauce which complemented the greens and offset their bitterness perfectly.Bearpaw tofu
This dish was yet another eye-opener. Here, tofu is mixed with finely-ground chicken and egg to produce the 'bearpaws' which are then cooked in the relatively mellow sauce. These patties were soft, silky and delicious. They almost tasted like very rich omelettes.Fresh Frog Legs
These fresh frog legs and their accompanying spicy sauce were tender and tasty. The dish reminded us of some Cantonese-style dishes but still packed quite a kick, heat-wise. This was a special that our friend happened to see posted on the wall. I'm thrilled we got to try it. I will say that the tiny froglegs were a bit of a challenge to eat in that separating the meat from the tiny bones was tedious work.Black Pepper Garlic Beef Tenderloin
For whatever reason, the owner provided this dish to us 'on the house' and it was a great final round. The tasty nuggets of tenderloin were coated in a rub of salt, black pepper, sugar and garlic then cooked in some magical way. I'm honestly not sure if they were fried or braised and seared or cooked in some other manner. The owner made of a point of informing us that many Szechuan cooks don't know how to make this dish, so I figured that asking questions was futile. Even after all the other courses we enjoyed, this one was just about impossible to resist. It managed to blast through with flavor even though our palates were pretty taxed by this point in the meal. A great finale.
What a joy this meal was. I loved just about every bite of it. It was filled with dishes, preparations and a variety of elements that pleased and surprised us throughout. Our host told us that in her experience, these dishes were prepared as authentically as any she'd ever had outside of China and that's one of the reasons why she's become so taken with Double Li. I cannot speak to that aspect but I will say that I've been craving and constantly thinking about what I ate there for the past 48 hours and I cannot wait to go back.
228 W. Cermak
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